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Features

Mumbai’s iconic eateries

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Some have been part of the fabric of the city for over a century, others have woven their way in more recently; this selection of must-eat-there places has a little of everything, just like Mumbai

Baba Ling is usually the first person to greet you at this Colaba eatery that has morphed from neighbourhood Chinese joint to something of a local institution. Ling’s Pavillion is known for their pork done in many different ways: pillowy char sui bao, melt-in-the-mouth spare ribs, and more. The restaurant excels in serving up consistently great Chinese food. The menu is vast, but it’s the seafood and meat that has people coming back for more. Inside, the space — a mini-bridge, a koi-filled pond — seems to be from another time, before Instagram dictated how interiors were fashioned. Look up, and twinkling lights shine down from curly, wispy clouds. Dim sum may be the food of the moment, but the uncompromising menu at Ling’s Pavilion will feature it after its spotlight has dimmed as it did before. That’s the charm of the restaurant; its menu rarely changes. In a city where restaurants are constantly playing catch-up to global and local trends, it’s nice to return, time and time again, to a place that’s managed to make a name for itself on its own terms.

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Taj Ice Cream, Bhendi Bazaar

Artisanal bliss

In the warren of streets Bhendi Bazaar, Taj Ice Cream is a reason to stop and indulge yourself. Made from fresh ingredients, Taj’s ice cream has always been artisanal, churned by hand since 1887, when the establishment first opened its doors. Sancha (handmade) ice cream is churned manually in a copper vessel placed in a wooden barrel filled with ice. Today, the store usually has a rotating selection of 15 flavours, all made the traditional way. While insiders swear by the sitaphal, we’re partial to the tender coconut and strawberry as well. With Bhendi Bazaar currently being redeveloped, the shop will find a new street-facing address once the tall towers come up. Till then, owner Hatim Icecreamwala and his son Aamir will continue to serve up their wares, using a century-old technique that’s been perfected over generations.

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Britannia and Co, Ballard Estate

Berry berry special

Sometimes a restaurant becomes synonymous with a dish, much like an actor is forever remembered for a particular role. Britannia’s signature dish is the berry pulav, with ruby red berries sourced from Iran. Though it is is open six days a week for lunch only, it still has legions of fans. Over the years, it’s seen its clientele change from office workers in the Ballard Estate area, to tourists and die-hard regulars. With that has come an increase in prices, and oilier food, changes that have upset those who used to visit before Britannia found itself in every guide book and Mumbai-focussed website. The restaurant’s Anglophile owner, its peeling walls and framed national flags add up to an eatery that is utterly unique, reminiscent of an era when the British ruled India and the stone buildings of Ballard Estate were the centre of commerce in Mumbai. Some may say that he restaurant has struggled to keep up with the times, but for fans, that is its charm. For the hungry lunch crowd that is waiting to wash down their berry pulav and sali kheema with a Duke’s Lemonade, none of that matters.

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Cafe Madras, Matunga

Southern comfort

Community tables are rare in India, because they level the playing field in a society where everyone is deeply concerned about their place in the social hierarchy. At Cafe Madras, and other Udupis and Hindu hotels, tables are for sharing, only because the constant rush means the focus is on food and nothing else. So orders are placed without too much hemming and hawing, and the food — idlis, dosas, medu wadas, peppery rasam and filter coffee — all come out of the kitchen at lightning speed. As a concession to the healthy times we live in, the dosa selection, at least, has expanded to include options like a ragi variant. Ultimately, though, the reason people trek from all over the city to Matunga is the consistency and quality of the food on offer. It’s one of the reasons that Cafe Madras has college kids rubbing shoulders, quite literally, with a delivery boy, or a family of four making space for a young couple on a date. Everyone’s here to get their fill of the taste of Madras.

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Bombay Canteen, Lower Parel

India, with a twist

In less than three years, this eatery has had a big impact on how a lot of diners look at Indian ingredients. The initial buzz came from the fact that New York-based chef Floyd Cardoz would be a partner. But, over the years, the food has developed its own identity. The menu, in the able hands of chef Thomas Zacharias, changes as per seasonal availability, and the food takes inspiration from regional cuisines from all over the country. In the characterless Kamala Mills, the Canteen manages to feel like stepping into a friend’s massive house. With familiar service, a first-rate bar, and a menu that almost always has something new on offer, it’s become a favourite of locals and visitors alike. Their innovative menu draws on India’s rich culinary heritage while serving up a twist for the palates of today. So, you’ll find cheese-stuffed green chillies and red snapper ceviche listed besides Kerala fried chicken and the Hyderabadi bagara baingan. In the past year, they’ve launched a second eatery, the Goa-inspired O Pedro in BKC. The Canteen has successfully managed to take the different threads of what makes Mumbai great — its Parsi community, its one-time love of jazz, and a proclivity to experiment — and expertly put it all together for an experience that manages to be of the city, and yet unlike it.

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