The Durbar hall

A view of the restaurant PHOTO: S.R.RAGHUNATHAN  

The calling card of National Durbar Restaurant offers history — it says the eatery opened in 1955. It also gives directions and contact details of the place, along with a rudimentary map. You read what Durbar specialises in: Indian, Chinese, bakery products, ice-cream and desserts. What catches your eye is the picture of a tall glass of a colourful drink topped by ice-cream. This is the restaurant’s signature offer: the falooda.

I stand at the counter to talk to Nazir Ahmed bhai, who manages the joint with help from two of his younger brothers. Freshly-baked brownies, cakes and masala buns are being fed into the glass cases in the front; faloodas, lassis and a whole list of frozen desserts occupy shelves in a cooler. It’s lunch hour and most people have ordered the restaurant’s famous ‘biryani-paya curry’ combo. Vegetarians are herded to a corner of the ground floor area “for better service”. Climb the narrow flight of steps to enter an old-style room with a rafter-supported high-ceiling, family areas behind swing doors, teakwood panels and Usha fans “that have worked smoothly since 1955”. The restaurant serves you food in white porcelain. It’s a throwback to a more refined time.

“We are from Karnataka,” says Nazir in impeccable English. “My father, who had no formal education, bought a restaurant in China Bazaar. He opened this in 1955, at the age of 25, and made it a success. The bakery was opened in 1968.” At his father’s insistence, he discontinued his studies at Loyola after PUC. He and his brother, Mohammed Iqbal, interned at the restaurant, learnt the ropes and “when father died in 1992, we took over”. Nazir never found the time for expansion or modification, and hopes his son will. “He has a BA in Culinary Arts and is trying to revamp the bakery into a modern confectionery.”

Why a bakery? “Businessmen and travellers want takeaways; I thought baked products would be a good idea. We don’t charge for packing.” In the glass case, the chocolate mousse looks inviting, as does the apple cupcake.

The cookies are made daily, cakes often. It is all customer-driven, says Nazir, after chiding an assistant for not wearing his use-and-throw apron and cap. In 1967-68, when forced to provide a Janata meal at 80p, they opened a vegetarian section and put out a rice, dal and vegetables thali. And the falooda is a family recipe, with “two scoops of our own ice-cream, fresh/dry fruits and jelly. Fifty per cent of our customers order it”. Custard pudding, badam kheer and ice-cream sundaes are popular too.

He has not air-conditioned the place. “That will push costs; I don’t want my customers to pay more,” he says.

A lot of his customers have been dining here for decades. “Been coming here for forty years,” says businessman Angusamy, counting location, quality and fair rates as Nazir Ahmed bhai’s USPs. “Prawn/fish fry, egg puffs, parottas, special meals with chicken are all favourites,” he says. “Have a tea cake slice,” he recommends. The durbar on the ground floor is open to heat, dust and traffic noise, but sit in a cabin upstairs for a view of the majestic Ripon building, Victoria Memorial Hall, the Central Station and a quiet meal. Take in the furniture custom-made by Nazir Ahmed bhai’s father. Order a meal from an extensive menu at affordable rates — a limited non-vegetarian meal and falooda puts you back by just Rs. 130. “Even an elaborate one stays within Rs. 250.”

As you chew on the mutton biryani, absorb his words: “A lot of history has happened on this stretch, but we’ve not been affected by any of it. Our customers are very fond of us.”

The restaurant is located at 3, Raja Muthiah Road, opposite Corporation of Chennai, Periamet. Phone: 2561 5329

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 8:13:20 AM |

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