No outside food
No sitting long
No leg on chair
All are welcome whatever caste
If not satisfied tell us, Otherwise tell others”
These famous lines indeed sum up what Irani cafes are to the city of Mumbai. These café s and restaurants are places frozen in time. A few things that define Irani cafés are high ceilings, wooden floors, marble-top tables, red-checked table cloth, bent wood chairs, biscuits in glass jars and a grumpy looking Irani at the cash counter. Some call them ‘eccentric’, others ‘loud’, and some ‘friendly’, but always passionate and proud. Irani Cafés tend to gleam with an old-world charm like none other. The late 1800s and early 1900s was when these cafés mushroomed across Mumbai, making them a hub of the city’s social scene. Irani café s were the ‘Baristas’ of that time where one could sit for hours making a meal out of bun maska dipped in Irani Chai, but sadly today their numbers are dwindling and only a handful exist now. In the hope of experiencing this slowly disappearing legacy, here is a roundup of some of the best Irani Cafes that you must visit when travelling to Mumbai Start off at the famous B. Merwan & Co located in Grant Road, one of the latest Irani Cafés to fall prey to rumours of shutting shop, the time to visit this eatery is better now than never. Situated right opposite Grant Road station, B. Merwan sees a flurry of visitors right from early morning when it opens its shutters to late evenings, as patrons throng the place for its lovely desserts and for a quick bite of the famous Mawa Cake that it runs out supply before breakfast time.
Kyani & Co (Marine Lines) - Perhaps the oldest Irani café of them all, it’s located in Dhobi Talao, with Metro cinema, and St. Xaviers college serving as its important landmarks. Standing out as a proud heritage structure amidst the bustle of South Mumbai, a peek into the café will always be greeted with crowded tables and friendly staff. Must try are the Chicken Puff, Mutton Crisp Patties, Shrewsbery Biscuits and Kyani Chai Koolar & Co (Kings Circle, Matunga)- Midst the myriad vegetarian restaurants like Café Madras, Café Mysore and Anand Bhavan stands Koolar & Co, right in the centre of Kings circle. Known for its spectacular omelettes, cooked in ghee and available in various types like chicken, egg with honey and cheese etc. which are relished by people throughout the day. The place is also most frequented for its Kheema Pao and its Biryani.
Leopold Café (Colaba Causeway) - One of the few restaurants to have upped its quotient and that which has found mention in Gregory David Roberts novel “Shantaram” is the famous Leopold Café. Contrary to other Irani Cafés, Leopold not only has a wider cuisine, including Continental and Steak, but is also famous for its Beer Towers. Situated on the popular shopping street of Colaba Causeway, where one can find travelers from all over the world shopping for trinklets and momentos to take back as a wonderful memory of their visit to Mumbai
Brittania & Co (Fort) - A life-size cutout of the royal couple, Prince William and Kate along with a sign that says 'Please don't argue with the management' welcome you from the balcony as you enter this eatery, only open between noon and 4 pm, Britannia's specialty is the Berry Pulao, that comes topped with sweet and sour berries touted to be imported all the way from Iran. Must try are the Berry Pulao and Sali Boti
Jimmy Boy (Fort) - Chandeliers, wrought-iron railings and a groovy soundtrack make Jimmy Boy a Parsi cafe that stands out from the rest. Order some Chicken Dhansak, Salli Par Eedu and Chicken Farcha (a dish serving up two legs of chicken coated with eggs and fried with spices.
Yazdani Bakery (Fort) - One of the oldest surviving bakeries, head to Yazdani for some healthy Ginger or Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Twisted Khari or their famous Apple Pie. This vintage bakery transports you to a bygone era with an ancient clock, brass call bell and a hand painted board advertising Fresh Apple Pie. Try Apple Pie, Khari Biscuits and 7 Grain Bread.
As a Mumbai girl caught in the hustle and bustle of city life, I am thankful for a place where chai (tea) and conversations take priority in a setting that is not trying too hard; in fact, not trying at all — hand written menus, paint peeling off the walls and old wooden shelves, ‘change’ clearly, is not their biggest strength and this I feel is the connect you can experience only in an authentic Irani Café!
But as the old adage goes “The only thing that is constant is change”, we are now seeing a revival of Irani Café scenario in Mumbai which I cheekily would term Irani Café 2.0 and heralding this change is none other than restaurateur AD Singh with his latest venture ‘SodaBottleOpenerWala’ in BKC Mumbai (The fifth, after Gurgaon, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore), SodaBottleOpenerWala is paying homage to the legacy of Irani Cafes with the comforts of a modern restaurant.
So be it the old world charm or the new age appeal, I feel it’s time to make Irani Cafes cool again!
Take Mumbai’s Irani café trail and discover Mumbai plate by plate. Take a food walk with your friends, veer off into the bylanes of the city and marvel at the magnificent heritage structures that dot the landscape of South Mumbai as you devour the delicious Mawa Cakes!
(Team Veena World)