A salute to restaurants that survive and thrive, in a city of flux
Gallops turns 33 this week. Gaylords is still going strong. Kunal Vijayakar takes a look at some of the best-loved classics in Mumbai.Updated: Sep 13, 2019 21:42 IST
I was self-indulgently browsing through the video archives of The Foodie, a food show I used to host, zealously revisiting some of the hotels, cafés, street stalls and restaurants that I had binged at, reliving some of the wondrous food I had so happily tucked into, when I suddenly realised something. Many of the restaurants and cafés that I had unearthed during my junkets and contemplated as new, unique and exciting, had shut shop. Even Cafe Zoe, one of my happy favourites, tragically announced closure this week.
With a sense of wistfulness and melancholy, I started wondering about restaurants that start with such bright beginnings only to fade into the dark abyss of extinction. Some estimates say that 90% of all new restaurants fail in their first year. More conservative figures put that number at 44%, with 33% of the remaining establishments failing within the second year, and 23% of those still left, shutting in their third year.
Yet some restaurants in Mumbai have managed to not only survive the test of time, but still remain crowded and as popular as when they first opened. Take Gaylords, for example; over 50 years in, you can’t get a table without a booking. Copper Chimney opened in 1972 and has a clientele that covers three generations. Cream Centre at Chowpatty, where my parents dated for God’s sake, even today has a queue outside on the pavement on the weekends. Sher-e-Punjab has survived under the radar of glamour, by providing consistently fantastic food to their core customers. Leopold, thanks to Lonely Planet, its never-ending menu, quick service and its ‘legend’, has survived since 1871.
Ling’s Pavilion has been running to packed houses since 1991, China Garden still attracts customers even after Nelson Wang, the force behind the movement, moved to Canada. More recently, Indigo Deli turned 14, which is a huge achievement given that it serves neither Indian nor Chinese cuisine. And then there are the likes of Pancham Puriwala, Balwas, Bawarchi, Delhi Darbar, Gulshan-e-Iran, Mondegar, Mahesh Lunch Home, Trishna, Olympia, Gypsy Chinese, Panshikar, Prakash, Goa Portuguesa, possibly a few that I may have missed, and all the Irani cafés that have withstood the test of time.
Of course they may have survived because of old rents and low overheads, or because they own their spaces, but they have also persevered because of great food, consistency, a certain quality of service — and habit.
One more such iconic Mumbai institution turns 33 this week. After a long battle with the RWITC, on whose property this iconic Mumbai restaurant sits, Gallops is once again thronged by regulars. I cannot remember when I first ate at Gallops. It’s like it’s always been around. A calm green bit of beatitude in the middle of chaos.
A small stroll amid thick grass and aged tree trunks takes you past the white picketed edge of the race course to a glass chamber, ornately appointed. The exteriors overrun by thick Boston Ivy-like creepers. Rolling turf at one end, and surrounded by foliage more than a hundred years old.
A heavy door opens up into a cavernous space, much like an old British-style study, with walls of stone and oak and warmly lit chandeliers. The tables all covered in starched white cloth, china and silver, and the ever-kind slightly-old-fashioned waiters.
You sit on velvet, stare out 225 acres of pasturage and order High Tea. Scottish Salmon Sandwiches, Parsee Chutney and Cheese Sandwiches or Cucumber and Dill Sandwiches, some Orange Flower Water Madelines, with a pot of Mint Tea. If you feel like going desi, the Chilly Cheese Toast on a wet rainy day is ecstasy. At lunch or dinner my favourite has always been the French Onion Soup, followed by a course of Shrimp Cocktail and Mutton Dori Kebabs (fine mutton mince bound together by thread and barbecued) as starters. The Mutton Nihari is exquisite and the Chicken Maharaja (Butter Chicken) is one of the finest in the city.
That’s my order usually. But on September 16, as Gallops completes 33 years, the owners Rahul and Jasmine with their respective sons Yajush and Mikhail will bring back the menu from nostalgia or what they’d call 1986. When Mumbai had great restaurants like Gaylords, Talk of the Town and The Society, which excelled at a combined menu of Continental and Indian favourites including old-time greats such as Chicken a la Kiev or what we used to call The Chicken Bomb (breast of chicken, filled with a knob of butter and crumb-fried), Cottage Pie (minced mutton baked in nutmeg-flavored potato puree), Eggs Mornay (sliced hard boiled eggs topped with mushrooms, Mornay sauce and gratinated), Fish in the Basket (fried fish served with golden fries and tartare sauce) and the Butter Chicken that tastes the same after all these years, Chicken Maharaja. Even Mutton Kofta Curry (dumplings of minced meat spiced and cooked in a light gravy) or Kofta Naram Dil, literally meaning soft-hearted koftas (vegetable dumplings stuffed with dry fruit and gently simmered in a royal gravy), dishes which have long left the pages of menus all over the city.
And there’s more. Since Gallops is hosting a 1986 menu to celebrate nostalgia with its loyal patrons, on one particular day, they’ve priced the menu at 1986 rates as well. So the Chicken a la Kiev, which is the most expensive dish on the menu, costs Rs 55. I am definitely going, not only because I want to eat a full fancy meal under a hundred rupees, but because I was there when Gallops started and I don’t want to be there if it ever shuts down.