World ? Asia ? India ? Mumbai

Mumbai: Restaurants

Nowhere in India is dining more rewarding than in Mumbai. The city literally holds thousands of restaurants, and being a city of migrants, every kind of Indian cuisine is represented -- though Konkan, or coastal food, is considered the local specialty. You can mingle with the city's crȲme de la crȲme at fine-dining or hip venues, or choose from a vast array of inexpensive eating places. Restaurants serving South Indian fast food (also called Udipi restaurants) can be found on every street, but if you sample only one and are willing to go the extra mile, make it either Cafȳ Madras (King's Circle; tel. 022/2401-4419; Tues-Sun) in Matunga or A. Ramanayak Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding (Main Market Building, first floor, near Matunga Railway Station; tel. 022/2414-2422; Tues-Sun). The latter is a no-frills eatery where an authentic Madras-style meal is served on a banana leaf (Rs 60/$1/ţ1), and you eat with your hands. Other Indian cuisines you will come across everywhere are neighborhood kebab places (Noorani; Haji Ali; tel. 022/2353-4753 or -3054; serves good kebabs and will even deliver to your South Mumbai hotel); restaurants specializing in local favorites like pau bhaji (mixed vegetables and bread); Irani restaurants serving fresh inexpensive breads and chai; and Chinese restaurants offering "Indianized Chinese," much of it quite good, but avoid the ubiquitous and unappetizing red "Szechwan" sauce dishes.

There's an explosion of exceptional Chinese (and other Southeast Asian cuisines) and Italian eateries in Mumbai. Royal China (two branches: Fort tel. 022/6635-5310 and Bandra tel. 022/2642-5533) is where chef David Pang produces superb Hong Kong-style Chinese; we particularly love the dim sum. At the new, stylish, and spacious VongWong (Express Towers, Nariman Point; tel. 022/875-633), Thai and Chinese food and Asian-style cocktails come with great service (don't get overwhelmed by the vast menu). For pan-Asian meals, the following come well recommended: Joss (Kalaghoda; tel. 022/6635-6908; www.jossrestaurant.com); and in Bandra the very hip Seijo and the Soul Dish (206 Krystal, Waterfield Rd.; tel. 022/2640-5555), which also has a great bar.

Trident Towers has two Italian restaurants. Vetro, with Venetian glass interiors, serves Italian from the Mediterranean region. The kid-friendly Frangipani bakes great pizzas and other Italian dishes (among other cuisines). Stax at the Hyatt Regency is one of our favorite eateries, with a wonderful open kitchen serving delicious food from the coastal provinces of Italy. If you're in Juhu, stop at Mezzo Mezzo (mentioned later in the Suburbs section) or across the street at Don Giovanni (tel. 022/2612-2372), where owner Giovanni Fredrico warns diners to expect a long wait because everything is made fresh. Nearby, Little Italy (tel. 022/2660-8815) is, believe it or not, an excellent vegetarian Italian restaurant. Not surprisingly, vegetarians are particularly well catered to in all Mumbai restaurants. Tip: Bear in mind that Mumbaikars usually venture out to eat late, around 9pm, so if you're intent on eating at a popular fine-dining restaurant and don't have a reservation, ask if you can arrive at 7:30pm.

The Thali: Gujarati & Rajasthani Cuisine at its Best -- You can't leave this city without consuming at least one thali, the meal that really tests the size of your appetite! It works like this: Sit down, and in less than a minute you're expected to declare which thali you want -- ordinary, special, and so on. Seconds later, a large, stainless-steel (or silver) plate (thali) arrives along with six to eight small bowls (katoris) resting on it. The waiters then fill every one of the multiple katoris as well as the rest of the plate with a large assortment of steaming-hot, spiced vegetables, savories, dals, beans, rotis, puris, and so on. To wash it down, you're served water and a glass of delicious, super-thin, cumin-flavored buttermilk (chaas). As you eat, your katoris will be topped up, so indicate what you want for seconds, thirds, fourths -- a veritable onslaught that won't stop until you say so. Then it's a round of rice or khichdi (a mixture of rice and dal) and, in some restaurants, dessert. Not only are thalis a great value (you pay Rs 50-Rs 250/$1-$6/ţ1-ţ3), but they come pretty close to the home cooking of the country's Gujarati (or Rajasthani) population. End your visit to Crawford Market with lunch at local favorite Rajdhani (tel. 022/2342-6919; also at the Opera House tel. 022/2361-3060; Rs 191/$5/ţ2; daily noon-3:30pm, Mon-Sat 7-10:30pm). At Panchvati Gaurav (opposite Bombay Hospital, Marine Lines; tel. 022/2208-4877; Tues-Sun 11am-3pm and 7-10:30pm; Mon lunch only), you'll pay Rs 120 to Rs 210 ($3-$5/ţ2-ţ3) for an excellent meal (they even have a non-spicy thali). Chetana Veg Restaurant and Bar (Fort; tel. 022/2284-4968; daily 12:30-3:30pm, 4:30-6:30pm [snacks only], and 7:30-11:30pm) has many options and even serves a diet thali (Chetna Lite) -- but doesn't that miss the point?

Seafood Thrillers -- Anyone with a penchant for seafood will love dining in Mumbai -- whether it's Coastal, Konkani, Manglorean, or Malvani cuisine, you are in for a treat. Besides Mahesh Lunch Home and Trishna, you can try Apoorva (Brelvi Marg, near Horniman Circle; tel. 022/2287-0335 or 022/2288-1457), which has similar Manglorean fare, as does Excellensea (Mint Rd., near RBI; tel. 022/2261-8991). The latter is on the first floor above Bharat Restaurant, a non-air-conditioned economy version of Excellensea serving the same food. Note that if you are in a Konkan restaurant, you may want to try the soul kadi, a slightly pungent coconut milk drink and a great appetizer. Also sample fresh appams and neer dosas -- both these Southern breads make excellent accompaniments to your seafood. Closer to central Mumbai is Pisces (tel. 022/2380-5886 or -4367), done up in the standard fish-themed decor but offering more variety in cooking styles. You haven't lived until you've tried the tamarind prawns (prawns amtoic) -- these alone are worth the trip. Also try the malai chingri (a cashew nut-based coconut curry with prawns). In the suburbs in Bandra, you'll get real value for money and atmosphere at the friendly Soul Fry (tel. 022/2604-6892), which makes great flaky stuffed grilled rawas (a local fish). Monday is karaoke night, and even if you can't sing to save your life, it's a great experience to watch extremely talented locals unabashedly take the mic and have the whole place rocking well past midnight. Soul Fry is an extremely lively and friendly restaurant. Its new branch Soul Fry Casa (tel. 022/2267-1421) recently opened at Fountain (near Fab India) and promises the best of the original Soul Fry, plus lots of live music to accompany the home-style Goan dishes.

Neighborhoods

Colaba (Including Marine drive) & Fort -- Now in its 34th year, Delhi Darbar (tel. 022/2202-0235; daily 11:30am-midnight; average meal Rs 350/$9/ţ4) is a Mumbai institution serving rather standard (and oily) Mughlai food. It has several branches in Mumbai, but we recommend only the one at Colaba. No one comes here for the ambience or service -- most come for the tandoori dishes or the mutton or chicken biryani. Ignore the Chinese menu. No alcohol is served or allowed. No alcohol at Koyla either (on the roof of the Gulf Hotel, not far from the Taj; tel. 022/6636-9999; www.koylaethniccuisine.com; Tues-Sun 7:30pm-12:30am). It's recommended for its leisurely ambience and setting: a candlelit terrace with Arabian music playing in the background. The most popular item on the menu is not food, but the sheesha (hookah or pipe; Rs 200/$4/ţ2), with fruity flavors like green apple and strawberry. The food is mediocre, but order some kebabs just to enjoy the cool evening breeze, or come after dinner to relax, sit back, and linger over a "mocktail." The atmosphere is laid-back and no one will hustle you out -- but service can be painfully slow. Reservations are recommended; even then, expect a wait. The Rs 100 ($2/ţ1) per-person cover charge is redeemable against your bill.

Suburbs -- Bandra to Juhu & Near the Airport -- For prime people-watching, spend some time at Prithvi Cafȳ (tel. 022/2617-4118) in the Prithvi Theatre compound in Juhu. This pleasant, unpretentious cafe is where many of Mumbai's up-and-coming and/or struggling artistes come to nosh and discuss their art. The cafe serves great fresh parathas and a variety of teas and coffees over which you can linger undisturbed. If it's stargazing you're after, the restaurant that takes the prize is the Olive Bar and Kitchen (near Pali Hill Tourist Hotel, 14 Union Park Khar; tel. 022/2605-8228), the trendiest restaurant in Bandra. This Mediterranean restaurant is expensive and the food good but inconsistent, but it's the place to see and be seen. Get there early and sit in the lovely open-air space outside, always buzzing with Beautiful People; it's a perfect spot for lingering over multiple drinks. At the other end of the spectrum is Govinda (tel. 022/2620-0337), at the Hare Krishna Temple in Juhu, where you can gorge from a 30- to 40-item all-vegetarian buffet (no onions or garlic, either). Many items are cooked in pure ghee (clarified butter), however, so expect the meal to be extremely heavy. Papa Pancho in Bandra's Pali Market (tel. 022/2651-8732) is done up like a truck stop and serves quality Punjabi food and chaat. Zenzi (tel. 022/6643-0670), the hip, warm-hued, lounge-bar-restaurant on Bandra's restaurant-happy Waterfield Road, has many spaces. You can sit in the quieter restaurant area or at a table near the long bar, which is filled with expats, upwardly mobile couples, and office workers. Better still, if the weather is fine, sit outside on the terrace. Fortunately, the great atmosphere comes with good food from an eclectic menu. Drinks are also good but cost as much as a main course. On varying nights, you may encounter live bands, DJs spinning modern tracks, or standup comedy acts to perk up your meal.

Some great dining options are available in the numerous five-star hotels in the vicinity of the international airport. Dum Pukht and Dakshin at the ITC Grand Maratha Sheraton are worth mentioning, as is Stax (mentioned above). M Bar at the Grand Hyatt hotel (tel. 022/5676-1234), closer to the domestic airport, an American-style, fine-dining grill-house, is a good place to kill a few hours before a domestic flight (the airport has no in-house dining options).

Special mention must be made of the dining options at the JW Marriott (tel. 022/6693-3000) in Juhu. Saffron is the place for unlimited kebab platters served with a heavenly buttery dal; Spices offers pan-Asian cuisine; Mezzo Mezzo is a fine Italian restaurant (get a table by the window); and Lotus Cafȳ has by far the best five-star buffets in the city.

Need a Break?

The following are pleasant places to pop in for a snack or drink if you don't feel like having a full meal. In the Colaba area are several superb spots. The recently opened Indigo Deli is very much in the image of an upmarket New York delicatessen (tel. 022/6655-1010; average sandwich Rs 350/$9/ţ4; 9am-midnight). It serves typically Western breakfasts throughout the day, and buzzes all day long. It has a variety of imported cheeses, cold meats, and fresh breads -- all of exceptional quality -- that can be transformed into sandwiches of your choice. Prices are steep, especially for wines, but you're also paying for the ambience.

At the south end of the Causeway is Theobroma, a small bakery run by Kainaz Messman and her mother, Kamal, who make you feel immediately at home. You can sit at one of the few tables and nibble on their famous brownies (10 varieties!), a chicken pesto sandwich, or one of the other innumerable rich desserts (Cusrow Baug, Shop no. 24, Colaba Causeway; tel. 022/6529-2929; sandwiches Rs 75-Rs 95/$2/ţ1; desserts Rs 30-Rs 125/75Ţ-$3/40p-ţ2). Across the street and toward the sea is Cafȳ Basilico (Sentinel House, Arthur Bunder Rd., next to Radio Club, Colaba; tel. 022/6634-5670 or -5671; sandwiches Rs 135-Rs 315/$3-$8/ţ2-ţ4; mains Rs 225-Rs 350/$5-$9/ţ3-ţ4; breakfast 7:30-11am), which does good waffles, muffins, breads, cereals, and juices for breakfast, and sandwiches, pastas, and much more throughout the day.

At Cuffe Parade is Moshe's (Minoo Manor; tel. 022/2216-1226; breakfast Rs 45-Rs 175/$1-$4/ţ50p-ţ2; sandwiches Rs 155-Rs 185/$4-$5/ţ2; mains Rs 240-Rs 475/$6-$12/ţ3-ţ6), an upmarket restaurant that offers Middle Eastern fusion food (plus wine), sandwiches, snacks, good breakfasts, and a fairly decent bagel with cream cheese (Rs 45/$1/ţ50p). Avoid dinnertime, when it's crowded and unbelievably noisy. Moshe's also has a little cafe at Kemp's Corner inside the Crossword Bookstore. Stadium (tel. 022/2204-6819) is a cheap, unpretentious Irani restaurant outside Churchgate Station where you can sip chai or a cold drink while you contemplate your next move. Across the street (though you will have to walk all around to get there) is Gaylords Bake Shop, with fresh breads, croissants, and assorted bites available all day. Geoffrey's (tel. 022/2285-1212), at the Marine Plaza Hotel, is a cozy bar, with a somewhat overdone English-pub decor.

On Chowpatty, Cream Centre serves good food, but it's not the kind of place you can linger. If you're craving rock music or a familiar menu from home, the Hard Rock Cafȳ (Bombay Dyeing Mills Compound, Worli; tel. 022/2438-2888) is not a bad option. You can hang around almost endlessly at any of the numerous coffee shops that have opened all over the city. Barista and Cafȳ Coffee Day outlets are everywhere, but more atmospheric is Mocha, which also serves specialty coffees (and fruit-flavored hookahs outdoors) at its cafes at Churchgate (Nagin Mahal, Veer Nariman Rd.; tel. 022/6633-6070), Bandra (Hill Rd., near Holy Family Hospital; tel. 022/2643-3098), and Juhu (just across from the beach; tel. 022/2617-5495).

And finally, if it's well past midnight and you're hungry, Zaffran (near Crawford Market; tel. 022/2344-2690) has good Indian food and service going till 4am.

The Skinny on Street Food -- Street food is something you should be careful about experimenting with anywhere in India. The spots we recommend are not on the street; they serve sanitized (yet authentic) versions of what is available on the street. One place where you can safely try street food while sipping chilled beer is Vithal Bhelwala, near the Excelsior Theatre, Fort (tel. 022/6631-7211 or -7212; daily noon-11pm). If you're into fusion street food, try their Chinese bhel or American sev puri! You get to eat real Mumbai-style street food under very sanitary (if busy and noisy) conditions at Swati Snacks, in Tardeo (tel. 022/6580-8405 or -8406; daily 11am-11pm). Try the sev puri, bhel, dahi batata puri (Rs 47/$1/ţ1 each), or any of the numerous snack items topped with delicious sweet, sour, and spicy chutneys and sauces (ask for milder sauces if you prefer) while you sip a hygienic sugar cane juice. Round out your meal with homemade fruit-flavored ice creams. Locals come here more for the traditional Gujarati dishes not found anywhere else. If you want to experiment, try the superb peru nu shak (spiced guava eaten with Indian bread) and panki (thin pancakes steamed in banana leaf). Come for a late lunch, or you will have to wait at least 15 minutes for a table -- a wait that's justly rewarded once you're inside. Enjoy fare similar to Swati's without the hour-long wait and in a quieter, more composed setting at Soam (Sadguru Sadan, opposite Babulnath temple, Chowpatty; tel. 022/2369-8080). Bandra's famous hygienic street-food stop is Elco Pani Puri Centre & Caterers at Elco Arcade on Hill Road (tel. 022/2645-7677), once a street stall and now an air-conditioned restaurant that uses bottled water to prepare its snacks.

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