On the modern face of Mumbai, when malls have replaced the mills and big fast food joints are spring up in the place of the old Mumbai cafes, Cafe Leopold still stands tall. Placed at the heart of the city in Colaba Causeway, it looks no different from the lest of the restaurant in the line. And yet, when I went to review this restaurant on a Friday evening, there were at least 15 people waiting outside as usual!
An Exodus From Iran:
Every Mumbaikar is nostalgic about the 'good old days' of the Irani Cafes in Mumbai but unfortunately, that glorious chapter in the history of this city is coming to an end. Many of you may not be aware that Cafe Leopold is an Irani Cafe. It was started in 1871 as an oil store by a couple of ex-patriot Iranis. It has subsequently been a pharmacy, confectionery and is now managed by the Sheriar Jahani brothers as one of most popular hangout joints In Mumbai.
Usual Suspects At Leopold's:
No matter how professional we become, it is impossible to begin an evening at Leopold's without a sip of the heavenly Irani 'chai' (tea). If you have grown up in Mumbai and gone to any of the colleges in the city, then you would have developed a taste for the extra sweet tea that is fast going out of fashion. As we cannot move on to the tap beer on an empty stomach, it is a must to order the novelty called 'chicken omelette'. Not the best continental restaurants in the world could have come up with this strange infusion of Indo-European food!
Do not miss the tap beer at Cafe Leopold's because it is one of the few places in Mumbai that serves this kind of beer.The bar is otherwise well stocked and you can order pretty much any of your favourite drinks either alcoholic or non alcoholic.
As it is a restaurant review, it must be mentioned that from the 1980s, Cafe Leoplold's serves a full Indian and Chinese menu. But, if you are a stubborn old timer then you would probably want to have some of their Irani delicacies like Dhansuk or the Lebanese innovations like the out-of-the-world plate of Chello kebabs and deliciously buttered rice. Colaba was a largely English dominated area during the Raj and this Mumbai cafe served them 'English-style' chicken and lamb steaks with soups and salads. They still retain some of those colonial dishes and it is worth a try.
Cafe Under Siege:
Cafe Leopold's has the bullet holes in its walls like a badge of honour. The terrorist attack on Mumbai left this iconic place scarred but proud. Now, it is a sort of pilgrimage who come to see the sites of 2008 terrorist attacks when the city was under siege.
The Cost Of Living Well:
Leopold's is neither a very expensive place, nor does it get into the fine dining segment. You have to shell out about Rs 800 to 1000 for a good meal for two with a drink each.
I cannot conclude this restaurant review without sharing the most important thing about Cafe Leopold's and that is, its totally 'Mumbaiya' ambiance. The feel of the place is something that even Shantaram did not miss!