Four iconic Irani eateries in Mumbai that are worth a visit
How can you possibly write a travel narrative without including food? Food is one of the most definitive characteristics of a place. Whether it’s over a vacation or exploring a whole new city I just moved to, food has always played a significant role in shaping my experiences. I am sure most of you would agree with me.
Well, I moved to Mumbai last year and knowing that Mumbai is adept in many such iconic eateries made me glad. I had always been enticed by the old world charm of Irani eateries. I mean what an amalgamation of cultures this city is! The Parsis or the handful of remaining Jews, the very few remaining Chinese or the Armenians who at some point of time called Mumbai their home, have all had lasting impressions on the city’s history, culture and cuisine. Well, I had an opportunity to visit four such iconic Irani eateries in Mumbai in the past one year.
My rendezvous with Bombay mostly started and ended in the Fort area or in the southern part of the city. Fort area is well known for its colonial architecture that stands witness to the bygone era. It is also home to many iconic places to devour amazing food. The whole vibe of this area is exactly like the ones I had seen in the movies. So, heading off to the Gateway of India was a dreamlike experience. While seeing The Taj for the first time left me disillusioned because I had always imagined it to be much bigger.
You may like reading about my struggles of staying put in one city for more than two years. Some call it the Restless Expat Syndrome, for me it’s just the restless syndrome.
1.Britannia & Co.
So one fine rainy afternoon, I googled iconic Irani eateries in Mumbai and was immediately drawn to Britannia & Company in Ballard Estate. Britannia & Co. invariably tops the list of remaining Irani eateries in Mumbai the likes of which have significantly reduced over the years. After a journey of 1 hr in a Mumbai local, I finally reached here. The entrance to the restaurant feels like an invitation to time travel. It is ancient, the interiors, the walls, the whole ambience of Britannia & Co. is like walking into the lost era.
The walls and ceilings have discoloured patches. The dull green walls on one side are home to the three flags of Iran, India and England. A portrait of Gandhiji and Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by some other old photographs including that of the Gateway of India follow suit. There’s also a cardboard cut-out of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton that stand awkwardly in one corner of the top floor.
The other wall is a storage of sorts that houses crates of water bottles, beverages & some grocery items carefully stacked over one another. The waiters dressed in white shirts and black trousers walk around delivering orders table to table in their prepossessed demeanour. The overpowering aroma of Berry Pulao is everywhere making the whole place smell quite delectable actually. Also, if you notice close enough, quite mystically every table around has at least one plate of berry pulao on it.
What did I order?
Of course the Chicken Berry Pulao! I mean everyone was eating that, duh! We also ordered a Chicken Dhansak and a fresh lime soda to accommodate all the Parsi goodness we were going to devour that day. This was my very first time having a Parsi lunch and my choice seemed quite oblivious.
So, Dhansak is a rice dish that comes with a chicken gravy made in lentils. The rice used is brown and it is accompanied by chicken koftas. Berry pulao, on the other hand, is supposedly an Indianised version of the Irani Pulao. Now, I didn’t know that you see and I and my friend really can’t eat much. So having two rice dishes with enormous portion sizes was a challenge to finish. And I blame the waiter to not even bother to warn us before. The result was we didn’t finish it all. Honestly, I liked the Berry Pulao better than the Dhansak, which I found rather bland. The Berry Pulao, on the other hand, did justice to its flavourful spicy-sweet characteristic taste.
Wakefield House, 16, 11, Sport Rd, opp. New Custom House, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Why do I recommend?
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the taste but I would still recommend you visit this place. And It is solely because of the feel of a bygone era. The restaurant is legendary and the fact that it is popular among the locals and the tourists alike is impressive. Much is written and said about this place and a lot of foreign tourists have been specially recommended to pay a visit here. Personally, I am not yet done with Parsi food or the Irani eateries in the town and I would like to experience it once again but maybe not here.
2. Kyani & Co.
In fact, my first tryst with Irani cafes was with Kyani and Company. After a tiring trip to the Elephanta Caves, I and my friends wanted to eat something good. So, once we touched the ground after an hour-long ferry ride from the Elephanta we headed to Kyani and Company located in Marine Lines. Established in 1904, this cafe is the oldest surviving Irani cafe in Mumbai.
Amidst the hustle-bustle of the city, this structure stands strong like a witness to the whole transition of Bombay to Mumbai over the years. What hasn’t probably changed, is the feel of this eating joint. Just by the entrance on the left side is the counter that showcases the plethora of cakes, cookies, savouries and oh the very quirky brain cutlet. I am guessing that indeed was goat brains deep fried in some kind of batter.
The red chequered table cloth with the elaborate menu buried under a heavy glass slab is a common sight in most Bombay eateries. The ambience here is rustic, with high rise ceilings, wooden furniture, old pictures of Bombay from the yesteryears adorning the walls and huge glass jars filled with cookies and muffins. I guess these are all part of the quintessential charm that Irani cafes exude. It was amazing to notice how the supplies such as egg crates, water and cold drink crates lay around like they serve a purpose in bringing the ambience to life. Something similar was also an integral part of the Britannia and Co. ambience.
What did I order?
Do you know that crappy ass friend that always messes up the ordering game while hanging out with friends? Well, that’s me. Here I go again, clueless as to what should I order, I and my friends just looked around at what everyone else was eating and asked for one of each plus whatever sounded fancy on the menu card. I ordered the Irani chai, the caramel pudding, Akuri or the Parsi scrambled eggs with Pao accompanied with Pallonji, or the signature Parsi Raspberry drink. While my friends ordered the kheema pao which is a must-have for all mutton lovers.
Kothari Heights, Lamington Rd, Navjeevan Society, Ratan Tata Colony, Dalal Estate, Mumbai Central, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Why do I recommend?
The very rustic and old-world charm of these Irani cafes is unmissable. These Irani eateries in Mumbai have dwindled over the years. What earlier used to be a way of life for Iranis settled in Mumbai or the very own Mumbaikars is now seen as a vanishing trade These places are probably the only remaining connection to Bombay of the past. And that is why you should visit Kyani and Co. or any other Irani eateries in Mumbai.
While the younger crowd has conveniently moved their hangout joints to Starbucks or the snazzy rooftop pub in the vicinity, it is a happy sight to see few of them making their way back to the likes of Kyani. The food is nominally priced and the aura of Kyani is jolly. The food, on the other hand, is not something outstanding, it’s very basic yet flavorful. Honestly, if I were to meet friends and hang out over a cup of chai, I would choose Kyani & Co. merely for the vibe.
3. Cafe Mondegar
Cafe Mondegar is something you will notice as soon as you start your Colaba Causeway adventure. Located near the Gateway of India and just at the beginning of the street market in Causeway, Cafe Mondegar is probably the happiest place to be in. I have been to this place twice and never found it empty. Frequented by tourists and locals alike, this place is always buzzing with music, chatter and food.
Cafe Mondegar also finds its origins in the Irani lineage of cafes in Mumbai. Started in 1932 as an Irani Cafe, Cafe Mondegar went through many transformations and converted into a bar only in the 1990s. The walls are the signature feature of this cafe. Filled with Mario Miranda’s murals depicting the life in Mumbai and the cafe, the walls are a delight to look at. The cafe also flaunts Mumbai’s first-ever jukebox which is still fully functional.
I sat by the jukebox the whole time and the old classics kept the whole groovy feel to this place alive. The service is good and the ever-smiling waiters do a wonderful job.
What did I order?
Order beer before you decide on anything else to eat. The perfect finger food to go with your beer is the chicken/vegetarian cutlets that come with french fries and has a quite impressive portion size for finger food. I didn’t eat much here but I am sure foodies can surely vouch for a plethora of other delectable options.
Metro House, Colaba Causeway, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Why do I recommend?
The fun of chugging ice-cold mugs of beer in an overtly crowded, noisy and cramped up cafe is an unusually ecstatic experience. Again, the food isn’t probably out of the world, but I am sure they must have signature dishes that are as iconic as the place itself. Would I visit again? Hell yeah! Maybe only for the vibe of this place, but yes I won’t mind a third or fourth time once we get over this pandemic.
4. Leopold Cafe
I visited the Leopold Cafe in March of 2020, just around the time the COVID 19 pandemic set its foot in India. Leopold Cafe was, unfortunately, one of the first sites of the 26/11 terrorist attacks that wreaked havoc in Mumbai. Today after more than a decade of that unfateful day, Leopold Cafe stands witness to a Bombay that has resiliently stood the test of time akin to the very spirit of Bombay itself.
The Leopold cafe has been around since 1871 as you will see proudly flaunted on the banner at the entrance. The owners of the place are also Iranis who settled in India. The ground floor is where you will see most people huddled around a tiny round table over food and drinks and the top floor houses the bar. The ambience is that of a happy place ideal for hanging out with friends, conversations and beer.
What did I order?
I have a thing for Akuri, so I ordered one here as well with Pao. The portion size was enough for two. I also ordered for a plate of America Chopsuey, which wasn’t really a good choice for lunch though. I would, however, recommend that you try their cheesecake. Oh and don’t forget the beer.
Opposite Olympia Coffee House, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba Causeway, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Why do I recommend?
The definitive characteristic of the Leopold Cafe is its aura. It proudly overlooks the tragedy while embracing every visitor with open arms just how our lives should be. You will find this place always crammed up with people. At the wee hours, there are long ques of waiting and there is something so enigmatic about it that people keep pouring in.
My personal experience of visiting all these iconic places has been an amazing mix of fun and disappointment. Mostly it’s been the food and service that haven’t really kept up with the iconic status of these places. But ambience, the whole vibe and the fact that these places are worth visiting have weighed in higher than the other parameters.
I don’t know if I am alone in thinking that it’s probably okay to visit few places only for the ambience they offer. I mean the taste of the food you order must match the expectations but sometimes it’s okay to be able to see the larger picture. What do you think? Have you ever been to Irani eateries in Mumbai? Do let me know what was your experience like.
I have realised the more iconic a place is the fewer chances of it serving outstanding food. While I keep pondering on this realisation, I am still hopeful to find more Irani eateries in Mumbai that can prove me absolutely wrong. What are your thoughts on this? Is not so great food that big a let-down for you? Or you would rather enjoy the aura of a place and let go? Do let me know in your comments.