I’ll admit. I’ve developed something of jaded palate recently, after one-too-many lacklustre experiences at the new-age style of restaurants continuously popping up across Bombay – each holding so much promise and potential at the outset, but ultimately failing to pack a punch due to an amateurish execution and shoddy service.
But perhaps the purpose of these recent disappointments has simply been to highlight the more winning and welcoming additions to the city’s burgeoning foodie scene.
Since none of us ever want to find ourselves demanding a refund on calories which didn’t taste half as good as we’d expected (or was that just me at Jia recently?), here are my top picks for the new cafes, eateries and establishments actually worthy of a visit.
Gymkhana 91, Lower Parel
Situated unobtrusively by the entrance of Raghuvanshi Mills, the beautifully-arched bay windows and striking 8-foot clock on the tiled façade are telling of the colonial inspirations housed within this cavernous space.
The clock is in fact a nod to a bygone era when clock towers would chime the end of a long day, signalling it time for the city’s gentry to return home after having spent the good part of an evening drinking and dining in the members-only gymkhanas!
The interiors are intensely nostalgic too – replete with mosaic tiles, cane-backed chairs and tables topped with marble or wood. Much like in the remaining gymkhanas of today, seating is cleverly divided across both loud and more intimate areas, while the staff are quick to warm up once a level of familiarity has been established.
The key difference is that you don’t need to be a member to retreat to this bastion of old-world charm. Widening the accessibility of Bombay’s gymkhana culture is indeed the key aim driving owner Aditya Hegde, with his family having provided catering to the Chembur and Ghatkopar gymkhanas for twenty years now.
Comfort food is at the heart of the expansive menu here, spanning Indian and club-style classics, alongside contemporary and more on-trend options. As is the true hallmark of gymkhana food, many dishes take their cue (and indeed name) from their patrons, Kuber kulchas and Rati aunties chutney edu pattice just two examples.
Chock-full of cheese and garlic – and liberally dusted over with chaat masala – the mini Kuber kulchas were all but scoffed in seconds. We could quite easily have had half a dozen more of these, but reluctantly restrained ourselves to save ample room for pillowy baos crammed with a triple variety of mushrooms doused in black bean sauce. Dumplings parcelling a curried-mix of veggies, and sushi rolls laden with cream cheese could have been entirely avoided, while a tender Tandoori paneer wrapped in a banana leaf was exemplary.
An East Indian gimlet was the perfect accompaniment – the combination of lime, coriander and gin proving soothingly refreshing on that scorching summer’s night.
We were never meant to be skinny, my friend sighed as we seamlessly moved on to dessert(s) which but naturally included a gymkhana classic – caramel custard. Soft and silky, it was doucely-sweet – not a saccharine hint to be tasted. A wasabi ice cream sandwich on the other hand was fiercely strong – too much even for this ice cream fiend, although it’s bound to delight if you’re keen on this pungent paste.
We left determined to return before too long – the vintage yet buzzy vibes, old-world charm and unapolgetically-indulgent menu proving to be just a few of the many winsome draws here.
Raghuvanshi Mills, 1st Floor, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Port at G5A, Mahalaxmi
Not too far away in the once-abandoned Lakshmi Mills, there’s a new laid-back café also brimming with warmth, quirk and character – which is unsurprising once you learn that it’s connected with the contemporary performance space, G5A.
We loved the eclectic mix of personalities spotted here, from artistically-inclined theatre-folk to students tapping away on their laptops and more intimate groups (like my friend and I) enjoying a tête-à-tête over fluffy bun maskas dipped in masala chai.
Lightly toasted yet impossibly fluffy, the sweet buns here were as soul-satisfying as we could have hoped to find at any of the Irani-style cafés they trace their origins to, a generous touch of brown sugar and cinnamon adding an intrepidly fine lift.
There was no resisting an ice cream sandwich after, featuring a dollop of classic vanilla ice cream walloped in between sea salt and Nutella cookies. Oh, the perks of an Indian summer!
Port, G5A, Lakshmi Mills Industrial Estate, Mahalakshmi.
Grandmama’s Cafe, Kemps Corner
So truth be told, I had terribly low expectations of the latest opening of Grandmama’s Cafe following a wearisome lunch at their outpost in Kamala Mills last year.
Its conveniently-close location near home and cosily-kitsch setting eventually trumped past experience – I’m being entirely serious when I say that we can count our (credible) options on the one hand when coordinating a meet-up in and around Nepean Sea Road/ Kemps Corner.
Of course having learnt from past mistakes, I strategically planned my visit post-lunch and in the late hours of an afternoon, at a time entirely suitable for a frothy cold coffee, frappé or shake (all unabashedly blitzed with a scoop – or two – of ice cream). Grandmama delivered blissfully well in these regards, her densely-layered and richly bittersweet biscuit cake even winning over my friend whose own Grandmama is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef no less!
Grandmama’s Cafe, 1, August Kranti Marg, Gowalia Tank, Tardeo, Mumbai.
Koinonia, Bandra/ Kemps Corner
But if you’re intensely snobbish about your caffeine fix, I’d recommend Koinonia – a tiny Bandra-based roastery and café championing single-estate Nilgiri beans.
Presented in an iconic syrup-esque bottle, their full-bodied cold brew has already amassed something of a cult following this side of the Sea Link… Rather fortuitous then, that Koinonia are lending their coffee expertise to a gourmet pop-up in Mélange, the wistfully elegant boutique on Altamount Road. They’re doing so in collaboration with Sage & Saffron – the chi chi catering service run by Aditi Dugar of Masque. All-in-all, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to the neighbourhood!
Le Mélange at Mélange, 33 Altamount Road, Mumbai; on all of April.
Not as new, but no less noteworthy
Hungry for more?
Have a read of my thrilling experience at Masque, where exotic, locally-foraged Indian ingredients emerged the undisputed stars of a culinary extravaganza.
Lunch today was a culinary extravaganza @MasqueRestaurant. Championing seasonal and locally foraged Indian produce, this farm-to-fork restaurant in Bombay is as much about the thrilling experience as the food itself… Highlights from our four-course meal included a cacio-cheese creme brûlée, which artfully balanced sweet, savoury and umami-rich flavours with much panache! More on my Instagram Story 📸 #Decembering #MasqueRestaurant #TheFoodieDiariesBombay
And did you also know that the Clearing House, the industrial chic restaurant in Ballard Estate, has recently introduced a blow-out Sunday brunch…
A bit nutty about these impossibly crisp yet fluffy Nutella waffles @TCHBombay, dished up with delicate dollops of peanut butter mousse! Throw in a retro soundtrack (performed live), peach sorbet bellinis, a walk around the lush surrounds of Ballard Pier afterward *AND* those ice cream sandwiches at K Rustom's (highlights on my IG stories)… A Sunday splendidly & contentfully well spent indeed! #WeekendScenes #SundayBrunchDay #LongWeekend #TheFoodieDiariesBombay
And finally, for a bite of the Big Apple (including a worthy take on Lady M’s crêpe cake), head to Bandra where a contemporary bar & restaurant – It Happened In New York – is emulating an Empire State of Mind in spirit and in substance…
With many new and exciting restaurants still slated to open this year, I still have my work cut out for me… So do check back soon, as I’ll be updating this guide with the latest noteworthy recommendations.
If you have any tips for me, please do share them in the comments below or tweet me @foodiediaries.