cafe britannia and other tales

Even though it’s quite important to fantasize and dream away to glory, it is equally important to do a reality-check once in a while. So, in that spirit, here’s my dose of reality for the day:

🙂 Moving on, if you fall in any of those two categories above, you already know that I went to Mumbai this summer and had a really nice cocktail at a really nice bar. Thankfully, that’s not all I did! It was my first visit to the maximum city. But it didn’t feel like one. Anyone who has lived in India knows that Bombay, unconsciously, becomes a part of your life. And this happens mostly through Bollywood. Words like Andheri, Dadar, Malad, Khandala, Chowpatty, Bandra, Mahalakshmi become quite familiar even if you’ve never stepped foot in Mumbai. There’s no other Indian city whose geography, society, economics, culture and politics are as well-known all over the country.

So, when I landed in Mumbai, I was not some clueless tourist visiting a new city. Although, these days it’s never really possible to truly experience a ‘new’ city given all the internet research we end up doing before we go someplace new.  But, there is something to be said about the difference between visiting places that you are just informed about versus places you ‘sort of know’. Even if both are virtual, the Leopold Cafe you read about in a Lonely Planet guidebook is not the same as the one you know from ‘Shantaram‘. It’s like watching a movie whose review you’ve already heard versus watching one based on a book that you’ve read. I knew not just the plot and actors of Mumbai, but its story and characters.

During my visit, I stayed with S (of the Harbor Bar fame) in Powai, the Morningside Heights of Bombay. Everything there seems to be owned by the Hiranandanis, but it’s still nice with the IIT campus et al.

I had gone prepared with a huge list of things-to-do and places-to-eat-at, but sadly S fell ill with viral fever soon after I landed. We did manage to visit Poona for a day before that, but then, I spent quite some time either at home or roaming around by myself. I was so-so excited when we finally went out together on a Saturday! We took the local train from Kanjurmarg station. But since I was concentrating on chit-chatting with the police-women, we ended up boarding the wrong compartment in the wrong train. Nothing too worrisome, we just got off at the next stop, Bhandup (what a cute name!) and took the right one.

Bombay local trains are a lot of fun. Mostly. They are like the NYC subway: old, dirty, crowded, but cheap and reliable. During the rush hour, the crowd can make you feel like a fly in the middle of a tornado. But at other times, e.g. when you say ‘Sutta na aahe, boss!’ to the person at the ticket counter, they can be quite nice!

We had set out to eat lunch with an old college friend, D at Cafe Britannia (read their story here). It’s an old Parsi restaurant (founded in 1923) in the mostly-businessy Ballard Estate area. The neighborhood is old, beautiful, charming and not-at-all crowded if you go over the weekend. We had reached earlier than anticipated, and they only seat you when your entire party has arrived, so we just killed time clicking pictures. Both Boman Kohinoor and his son, Afshin are adorable!

But, we had not eaten breakfast and were quite hungry. So, until D arrived, we decided to spend time at the neighboring south Indian café, National Hindu Restaurant. It’s like an old-school coffee-house where you can leisurely spend hours gossiping, reading the newspaper, just watching the world pass by. I could grow old in such a place.

Having promised ourselves that we won’t fill our stomachs, we had coffee, lassi and shared a plate of idli-sambar. One of the most painful things in life is being unable to eat properly despite the food being delicious and you being hungry, only because you also want to eat another delicious meal in the next 30 minutes. We managed, somehow.

Finally, it was time for our reservation at Cafe Britannia, but D was stuck in traffic. We, nevertheless, left National Hindu Restaurant. When we reached, Mr. Afshin very sweetly inquired why we were ‘alone’ and didn’t have any boy-friends with us. Ha ha, how cute! We sat right next to the entrance and whiled away time clicking some more pictures and pretending to read each and every word on the menu.

Then, we ordered the famous Chicken-berry pulao, vegetable dhansak and fresh lime sodas. The pulao was very, very good. Dhansak and the sodas were just okay. We would have enjoyed the pulao way more had we not just almost-filled out stomachs. We ate at a terribly slow pace while waiting and waiting for D to arrive.

The line outside Cafe Britannia was getting longer, so we were glad when D finally made it. Sadly, she is a vegetarian, so she couldn’t enjoy the tastier bit of the meal. She is not too fond of dhansak either, so we quickly wrapped up and left. On our way out, Mr. Afshin gently reminded us to bring boyfriends along when we came next.

But D had still not eaten a proper lunch, so guess where we went?

The other good thing about places like the National Hindu Restaurant is that they don’t need reservations. So, within an hour of leaving our table, we were back and ordered another set of coffees and idli-sambar. Plenty of Bombay gossip was exchanged, more rounds of coffee were ordered, new pictures were clicked. We ended up spending another hour or so there before heading out for the Fort area. The evening would be spent shopping, visiting the Gateway, riding the ferry and drinking a cocktail. But before all that happened, this was already an afternoon well-spent.


8 thoughts on “cafe britannia and other tales

  1. I spent just 6 months of my life in Mumbai but that was enough for it to become my favorite city in the country. Your post brings back lovely memories although I must admit you’ve seen more of the city in a few days than I did in my entire stay 🙂
    But how come the famous vada-pao fails to find mention here? I’m simply dying to return and enjoy the offerings by Jumbo Vada Pao chain. While returning home from work (in Powai), I would buy a cheese vada pao from their Andheri Station outlet and relished it all through the journey to Bandra.
    I’ll be in Mumbai in November and cant wait to try out some of the recommendations you’ve given!


  2. Hi Ayush,

    This was just one of the afternoons I spent in Mumbai. Will hopefully write a few more posts about this trip. In any case, I’ll send you the long list I had prepared 🙂

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