My cab ride down the busy Tulsi Pipe Road of Bombay, past the Dadar wholesale vegetable market, takes me to an amalgam of the past and the present coexisting in a strange medley.
Like all overpopulated industrial cities with a long past, Mumbai has converted its unused mills and warehouses to bustling hangouts for the elite. The old textile mills in the Lower Parel district have been replaced with swanky malls and multi-storey residential towers. Other factory premises have become restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Café Zoe is typical of these new spaces, with the high factory ceilings affording an enormous sense of space that is lit up by the original skylights. Exposed ventilation ducts and electrical pipes add to the industrial ambience, along with the old brick walls. The brasserie and bar is packed from breakfast till post-dinner drinks.
“We fill a need in the fast-paced life of people in this city who are constantly on the move,” says Chef Viraf Patel. “Everyone’s in the rat race in Mumbai, but that is the intoxication. Eating out from breakfast till dinner has become a necessity, so we do breakfast, lunch, cocktails, private dinners as well as business meetings. We hold events like jazz evenings or photography exhibitions to add to the cultural vibe.”
My choice of food is Braised Beetroot Carpaccio and a John Dory Burger. I am indulging the gastro snob in me, as none of this is typical Mumbai food. “Even 15 years ago, nobody would eat out in Mumbai,” says Viraf. “Everyone preferred the simplicity of home-cooked food. But incomes have risen and people are travelling all over the world. With this has come an awareness and appreciation of international food. We can now also get every possible imported ingredient with ease, so my cuisine here is contemporary European.”
I'm ready for Mumbai!