How to Make a Mumbai Café
In here, the sun always shines, the people always smile and everything on the menu looks heavenly. How do the city’s coolest cafés do it? Well, they just follow a recipebrunch Updated: Dec 22, 2012 19:02 IST
Put Café, Deli or Bistro in the name: Vispy Doctor, the managing director of Cognito, a company that develops, researches and tests names for businesses, says that many cafés use a foreign-sounding word on their signboard to add value. “People know the term café, but few are familiar with deli and bistro,” explains Doctor.
“Establishments use these words to identify what kind of restaurant they are – the kind that serve foreign and vaguely exotic food.” And Indians who’ve travelled Westward will immediately recognise the foreign touch – and expect the same kind of food and comforts inside. Ketan Kadam, the man behind 212 Bar and Grill (which will soon open 212 All Day in Santacruz), says that it was tough picking a name for their restaurant. “There were a lot of similar-sounding names out there – names of ingredients or Italian villages. Then, my wife gave me a book in which I discovered that the boiling point of water is 211 degrees Fahrenheit. We settled for one degree above it because it’s that one degree that makes the difference.”
Paint it white or bright or funky
: Whether it’s Yellow Tree Café’s cheery yellow walls, Smoke House Deli’s trompe-l’œil sketches or the Parisian silhouettes on the boundary wall of Eat Around The Corner, the interior specs at our favourite hangouts nearly always conform to a pattern. Ayaz Basrai from The Busride Design Studio, which has designed the very airy Salt Water Café and the very distressed Café Zoe, says the trend is very casual right now. “Mumbaikars don’t like to dress up and go out,’ he explains. “People want high-quality food in a laidback ambience. An all-day feel is tough to create, since most restaurants don’t get a lot of natural light. So, bright walls help make the place bright and happy.”
Put a spin on the staples
: At Salt Water Café the free water has a hint of lemon, at The Pantry, it tastes mildly of cucumber. At a café, lemonade is never just lemonade, it’s homemade lemonade. And the potatoes are never boring – they’re house fries dusted with Cajun spice, fat wedges flavoured with honey mustard or mashed with flecks of dill. Everyone has a variation on the cheesecake and everyone has an unusual slushie or smoothie. “This has less to do with the idea of the café and more with the people behind it,” says food writer Antoine Lewis. “Lots of these places are run by young chefs who want to leave their mark and differentiate themselves from the others.” For diners, this means that there’s more on the menu that sounds exciting. “Any housewife can make McDonald’s-quality fries at home because the same company that supplies to the restaurant also has a ready-to-fry version,” says Lewis. “But when there is an element of individuality to the regular stuff, there’s more reason to visit a café.”
Lay out all-white flatware:
The typical Mumbai casual dining establishment aims for funkiness in everything but the dishes you eat out of. Without exception, they’ll be all-white affairs, accompanied by gleaming glassware. Food writer Antoine Lewis says this is so because, white plates shows off food the best.
Offer international food
: Belgian waffles? Check. Philly cheesecake? Yes. Bagels? Of course. You can’t be a casual dining restaurant worth your flavoured sea salt and not offer ‘international’ staples. According to Chef Jaideep Mukherjee of Indigo Deli, “Most customers come here for Western food – the only thing Indian on the menu is our version of appams, upma and mushroom stew.”
Of course there will be health-conscious options – an oatmeal smoothie at Pali Village Café, organic produce at The Pantry and a ban on fizzy drinks at Kala Ghoda Café. But a Mumbai café isn’t the place for those counting calories. Most places will happily serve pork belly sliders and fried chicken wings. “The city’s cafés mostly follow what’s on-trend in New York,” observes Lewis.
Don’t sweat over service
: If a café’s half full, and you want a refill of water, a side salad or your bill, don’t be surprised if you have to wave frantically to get the waiter’s attention. Apparently, slow service is the café way of life. “It’s the European influence,” explains Lewis. “They expect that a customer will hang around for hours. Plus labour is expensive in Europe, so there are fewer waitstaff and it will just take longer for someone to attend to you.” Here, the practice persists even though labour is cheaper. Lewis also points out that since cafés are not interested in quick turnovers, there is little need for fast-acting staff. “At Café Zoe, no one minds that you’re there for their free Wi-Fi, and the customers aren’t hurried executives, so it fits the mood of the place.”
Play anything but Bollywood hits
: At Pali Village Café, you can listen to Edith
Piaf crooning in French. At the new Café Sundance, you’ll predominantly hear retro instrumentals. Basrai says that most Mumbai cafés aim for “chilled-out music”. And they all take their playlists seriously. Dipika Roy – her company Banyan Tree Communications specialises in creating ambient music for shops and restaurants – says the most important thing with playlists is that regulars don’t end up hearing the same songs. “We have systems to prevent music from being repeated,” she explains. “Most places tend to stick to jazz, classical, contemporary hits and international lounge. It’s important that the music should be ambient in the true sense.”
Stock magazines, books and games
: At The Pantry, you can browse the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller. Fellas Café in Khar and The Bagel Shop in Bandra have Pictionary, Taboo and Jenga. “We usually play these games on a Sunday when my friends and I meet up,” says Nicky Ramnani, a businessman and Juhu resident.
From HT Brunch, December 23
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