Saturday, January 13, 2018

5 incredible Bombay cafés that made me forget Delhi

I'm a Delhi girl, born and brought up in the city of Ghalib and smoke. But ever since I discovered Bombay, I've never looked at Delhi the same way.


I love Bombay. Just everything about it - the sense of freedom, the people, the cultural diversity, the architecture, the streets, and the incredible cafés and nightlife. But by nightlife, I don't mean clubs, because I'm not so big on partying. When I lived in Bombay, the things I went out looking for were quietude, good service, and amazing food (good choice of music also did it for me). And the best part of life in Bombay is that no matter what hour of the night you decide to step out at, you'd find people and food, somewhere, anywhere.

So many people who come to Bombay complain about the food and the daily struggles of living in this city. But they don't know the half of how amazing this city can be. So I thought I'd share some things that I think make Bombay an absolutely worthwhile experience.

Mumbai the city of dreams

When I think of my time in Bombay, I am reminded foremost of the places I ate at. There were a handful of cafés that I always went back to and even now long to visit just one more time. As humans, we all long for a sense of belonging. These places gave me that sense of familiarity and belonging. Without realising it, I had come to think of them as home away from home. And moving back to Delhi - my 'home' - made me realise my idea of 'home' has changed forever. My soul now belongs in Bombay.

If you've lived in Bombay or have even passed through it fleetingly, I hope you will agree - that city is something else. So here I am, eager to shout out from rooftops why I think Bombay is amazing. I'll start with a list of the five incredible cafés that made Bombay home for me and made me forget Delhi. I hope they do the same for you.

The Marina Upper Deck - Rooftop Café (Colaba) 

This was the first café I visited on my own on my fourth day in Bombay. It was August, the sky was heavily overcast, and I was strolling along Colaba Seaface, the sea breeze caressing my cheeks. I'd been told to check out this place called 'Marina café' that was supposed to be great. I was looking around for a signboard, and suddenly it was in front of, peeking from under a heavy tarpaulin roof on the fourth floor terrace of Hotel Sea Palace. I climbed up to find the place empty and the staff idling around - it was a slow Thursday afternoon - but one glance at the vast Arabian Sea from that height, and I was in love. 

The Marina Upper Deck - Rooftop Cafe
The view from the Marina Upper Deck - Rooftop Cafe.

The Marina Upper Deck - Rooftop Cafe
The place is covered with tarpaulin in the monsoons.

And then, voila! It becomes an open-air rooftop cafe again in the winter.

Over the course of the next year, Marina became the 'hidden' gem where I took only the most special people in my life, or sometimes those I wanted to impress. It became the café I recommended to friends for their romantic dates and drinking nights. They play a lot of 80s' and 90s' English music, from Guns n Roses to even Backstreet Boys, in addition to contemporary classics. I for one always enjoyed the musical vibe at Marina. There is great variety in food and drinks, though that wasn't what I looked forward to whenever I visited. It will always be the sea, the music, and the flickering candlelight on the tables that I'll miss the Marina Rooftop café for.

Mockingbird Café Bar (Churchgate)

This place will always be my favourite book café, no matter how many new ones I discover. It was at walking distance from my office at Churchgate, and I spent many a solitary lunch hour reading and gorging on soul food at the Mockingbird Café. The walls here are done up in tasteful decor with bookish quotes and classic movie posters on the walls. With seating on two levels, the café also has an in-house library that houses books from the owner, Deepak Purohit's personal collection. A rather good-looking man with salt and pepper hair, he would often roam about the café and I had the occasional conversation with him, mostly about books and food. My favourite part about Mockingbird, however, is their knowledgeable and really friendly serving staff.

There was not a single item I ate at Mockingbird that I didn't like. They do comfort food with gorgeous presentation and a surprising mix of flavours and ingredients. My favourite memory from Mockingbird café bar, aside from all the afternoons I spent there escaping office, is of the serving staff, Mr Parvesh. Well-spoken, elderly, and fluent in English, he began talking to me one afternoon about a pasta he recommended I have - an amazing spinach spaghetti that I did try and loved (picture below). He went on to ask me where I had bought my round glasses from. He wanted that exact same pair of glasses - the green would even match his outfit - and was willing to go to great lengths to procure it. I took his number and put him in touch with my optometrist in Delhi, though unfortunately he had run out of stock and didn't think the same piece would return. But the gratitude Mr Parvesh expressed to me over our many next encounters and the unlikely little friendship we forged thus will always remain among my favourite memories.

The menu is absolutely hilarious! And I admit to having read it a fair number of times.

I get hungry just thinking about the food at Mockingbird Cafe.
Oh, the afternoons I spent here alone. 💜 Best time of my life.

Salt Water Café (Churchgate)

Salt Water Café was my go-to place for when I was feeling fancy (or when I wanted to feel fancy - same thing). A stone's throw away from Marine Drive and next door to the Mockingbird café bar, Salt Water has gorgeous wooded interiors, two-level seating, brilliant aesthetics, European food to die for, and a selection of teas and coffees that I have never found together at one place. I've had the most wonderful lunches of my life there, alone as well as with the best people. The place has a very sophisticated feel about it, but the prices are not exorbitant and their plating is literally art. My favourite moment from Salt Water Café was when I ran into my friend Sanjay there one evening, absolutely out of the blue (hope you're reading this, Sanjay!). He was with a girl - our batchmate from university - and he didn't have words to explain why he had come all the way from Malad to Churchgate to meet her when he never had time to come see me. 😆😝

Salt Water Café Churchgate
Banoffee Pie!

Salt Water Café Churchgate

Grandmama's Café (Lower Parel)

The staff probably still remember my face, given the fervour with which I frequented this place. Grandmama's Café is a French-style eatery with alfresco seating, rustic woodwork in pastel hues, big Parisian overhanging lamps, colourful art deco tiled tables, and amazing food. In my first few visits, I ordered one of only three things from the menu - Grandmama's pancakes, Cheese garlic bread, or Grandmama's poached eggs (only for breakfast) - I was so infatuated with them. But as I visited more often, mostly to relax after office, I came to love their coffee, milkshakes, selection of exotic teas (try Strawberry Champagne and Moroccan Mint), pesto pasta, and so, so much more! And then, one day when I was particularly homesick, I ordered Rajma Chawal - yes, that's on the menu at Grandmama's - and felt as if I had been transported back home. Achaar, onion rings, fried papad, and creamy rajma served with rice the way my mom would cook it - just like that, Grandmama's became home.

Grandmama's Café Lower Parel

Grandmama's Café Lower Parel
My initials right up there on the wall - my favourite corner of Grandmama's Cafe.

Grandmama's Café Lower Parel
Grandmama's poached eggs - I often made the mistake of asking for them in the evening, and they always had to remind me they were breakfast.

There is one thing I'm sure very few people know about Grandmama's Café. There is a hanging on the wall with the initials "MK" embroidered on it and a metal plate underneath indicating that these are the initials of their beloved grandmother. Intrigued by the appearance of my initials on their wall, I put in some uber effort in Googling, only to discover that this wonderful lady's name is M. Kohli. If you haven't yet figured it out, well, here it is - I have the same name. And while this little connecting link has nothing to do with my love for Grandmama's, I do love that I share my last name and initials with the boss lady who's behind this wonderful little café that I consider my foremost home in Bombay.


The Rolling Pin (Lower Parel)

This was the last entrant on my list of Bombay cafés that became home (before I left the city). Located bang opposite High street Pheonix mall in Lower Parel, it has some really tough competition in the neighbourhood and is often ignored by mall-goers. But I happened to notice the glass facade of The Rolling Pin (with an image of a chef wielding an actual rolling pin) from across the road one day and was enchanted by the term 'Boulangerie'. I mean, how many cafés have the guts to call themselves a boulangerie and risk being given a miss by a huge chunk of the population that doesn't understand what boulangerie means or thinks it is too "fancy" for them?

Rolling Pin, you had me at boulangerie.

This is one of those rare cafés where you hear the same music that's playing on their screens, and I've spent many an evening here watching Sia and Drake shake it while I stuffed my face with my partner in every crime. While I did try other stuff on their menu, including really great desserts (don't have any photos though), their mezze platter had my heart from the moment I laid eyes on it. With its creamy feta balls, perfect Lebanese dips, and crisp lavash and pita bread with za'atar spices on top - it's the best, most eclectic mezze platter I've ever had. What's more special is that The Rolling Pin has an all-vegetarian menu with a focus on healthy offerings. The day I discovered this place was the end of the era of eating out at Palladium or High Street Phoenix. I'd found my fix.

Check out each of these cafés if you haven't already. And tell me how it was! 😁


I'd love to hear about places around Bombay that make YOU feel at home. I also have a long list of other somewhat eclectic, iconic cafés of Bombay that I think you absolutely must check out. Should I do another post on Bombay cafés?

Is there any other aspect of Bombay that you'd like me to write about? Leave a comment or message me on Instagram or Facebook. I am always happy to hear from someone who's reading all that I babble about here! 😀💕

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