HOW TO SPEND A DAY IN COLABA
Everyone knows Colaba Causeway – that long stretch of road lined on both sides with shops and stalls selling everything from antiques and kolhapuri slippers to clothes and jewellery. But Colaba is also home to restaurants across world cuisines and beautiful heritage architecture.
First, a heap of minced mutton, spiced and simmered to an almost-gravy, served with bread to soak up the gravy. Then, a bronzed “egg omlet” ringed by a lacy fringe. Or perhaps a marriage of the two, a swiftly-fried egg cooked on a bed of kheema.
At Olympia, reputed to be one of the first restaurants to open in Colaba, the chef’s Midas touch stretches to all things meaty, and evokes opulent north Indian cooking — biryani, kebab, khichda, paya. It is how we begin (and end) our Colaba stroll – with a full belly.
After breakfast, walk backwards to Wellington Fountain, named for the Duke of Wellington’s victories in battle — Colaba unspools from here. To your left, the palimpsestic Gothic Maharashtra State Police Headquarters, whose history unravels to reveal a stint as the Royal Alfred Sailors Home, which was pitched on Mendham’s Point, the oldest English cemetery in Mumbai. (A nugget: Joseph Conrad once stayed here in the 1880s).
Across the road is Regal Cinema, an art deco masterpiece designed by Charles Stevens, and diagonally across is Sahakari Bhandar, once the Majestic Hotel designed by the same firm that worked on the Taj Mahal hotel. Wedge your way through the tourists to reach the Prince of Wales museum, now CSMVS, the glorious Indo-Saracenic building prefaced by a crescent of lawns. Outside, a clot of belching cars, dust-dried streets and crowds. Inside, a tesserae of antiquities, salvaged from across the country – think Mughal miniatures, Rajput art, and Maratha relics. Afterwards, the charming museum shop.
Just before the sun scalds the skies at noon, walk down Colaba Causeway to Kailash Parbat. Born in 1952, KP serves an underrepresented sliver of Indian cooking i.e. Sindhi food, but also the sour, sweet, spicy, savoury alchemy of chaat. I am especially besotted by its pani puri with its low hum of heat, an igniting, bracing snack that has often stitched together days that have threatened to fall apart. Today, it threads body and soul together in the long interval between breakfast and lunch.
Now we yo-yo back to the NGMA, not just a shrine to art, both Indian and international, but also a space for freedom rallies, concerts and exhibitions. Colaba is speckled with art galleries and spaces, most of which are worth at least a gander — think Project 88, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, TARQ.
For lunch, I usually choose to dock at one of four restaurants — unostentatious Paradise, run by a chatty Parsi couple from Gamadia Colony, is an homage to humble yet full-flavoured Parsi cooking; Baba Ling’s Ling’s Pavilion for its bacon pot rice, crisp bean sprouts with a staccato of prawns, and buoyant, tender, pork soup dumplings alchemised with freckles of ginger and soy sauce; Kainaz Messman’s Theobroma, which serves plush chip butties and bacon butties, the soft bread generously lacquered with butter; and Martin’s, which answers the siren call for exemplary beef chilly fry and Goa sausages.
After lunch, stagger out of the crushing heat and into the Afghan Church, a Gothic Revival dirge to all those martyred in the Anglo-Afghan war of 1838. Made memorable by its finely-embellished Gothic architecture, 42 panels of delicate stained glass, and a grand altar, it was opened to the public in 1858. Then pootle over to what may possibly be my favourite street in Mumbai, Wodehouse Road (now Nathalal Parikh Marg). Start at Buckley Court and end at Woodside Inn, walking past the Cathedral of the Holy Name, the Archbishop’s House, Fort Convent School, Tanna House, and my favourite building in Mumbai, the crumbling, faded Schoen House: once a grand mansion built by a Parsi gentleman, it is today a ghostly echo of a vanished world.
In spite of wincing prices, I would encourage you towards tea at Taj Mahal hotel’s Sea Lounge, a Mumbai icon in itself and a hop, skip and jump from Woodside Inn. For your money, you get a blithe gentleman plunking away sprightly, old-fashioned airs on a piano, an unparalleled view of the Gateway of India, five-star service, and a pageant of teatime treats i.e. demure cucumber sandwiches, scones crowned with jam and clotted cream along with a retinue of pastry. Or you could choose to go further afield with Sea Lounge’s extended high tea, which includes a bacchanal of Indian, Western, and South East Asian dishes.
Downstairs, veer off towards Good Earth, spangled with expensive curiosities. Then onto Merewether Road (now Boman Cowasji Boman Behram Marg), where the sea is flanked by handsome 19th Century arcaded buildings, for “a glimpse of the well-planned Port Trust residential housing development…Although it contains many small hotels and guest houses, the area still retains a welcome calm from the chaos on the main roads,” Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra write glowingly, in Fort Walks.
At the close of Merewether Road is the sea-facing, rooftop Cafe Marina, best approached as a bar, offering snacks designed to abet drinking. Gazing at the sea limned with the haze of twilight, with a companion beer, is how I choose to still my heart after long, noxious days.
But at the end, there is always Bademiya. Its soaring success usually means waiting in lines that spiral into the street, but your patience is rewarded with plates of satisfying kebabs — tongues of chicken and mutton, smothered by spice, skewered on a naked flame, and served with coils of onion and lemon. A full stomach is a beautiful thing.
Olympia Coffee House, Rahim Mansion No.1, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Next to Police Station, Colaba, Mumbai 400 039. Phone: 022 2202 1043
Wellington Fountain and Maharashtra Police Headquarters, SP Mukherjee Chowk, Near Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai 400 039
Regal Cinema, Old Custom House Road, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2202 1017
Sahakari Bhandar, Colaba Chamber, Ground Floor, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), 59-161, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai 400 032
Kailash Parbat, 5, Sheela Mahal, 1st Pasta Lane, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2287 4823
National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Sir Cowasji Jahangir Public Hall, M.G. Road, Fort, Mumbai 400 032. Phone: 022 2288 1969
Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, 2, Sunny House, 16/18, Mereweather Road, Behind Taj Mahal Hotel, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2202 3030
Project 88, Ground Floor, B.M.P. Building, Narayan A Sawant Road, Azad Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2281 0066
TARQ, F35/36 Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6615 0424
Paradise Restaurant, Sind Chambers, Causeway Road, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2283 2874
Ling’s Pavilion, Building Number 19/21, Mahakavi Bhushan Road, Behind Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2285 0023
Theobroma, Shop No 24, Cusrow Baug, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba Causeway, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 070455 90013
New Martin Hotel, 11, Glamour House, Strand Road, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2202 9606
- Feature photograph copyright alfrag – stock.adobe.com
- Regal Cinema photograph by Shivani Shah
- Pani puri photograph by Apoorva Jinka [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Afghan Church photograph by ShanuBoy [CC BY SA-2.0], via Flickr
- Taj Mahal Hotel photograph by Bikashrd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Bademiya photograph by hasib [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr