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Lunch at Leopold, dessert at Theo’s and shopping at Colaba Causeway

July 28, 2008

At one time Leopold Cafe was an ordinary Irani restaurant, except that it attracted the bohemian kind of crowd. If we had ventured there in its earlier days it was more out of accident or curiosity. A recent visit confirmed what I had heard…that Leopold wasn’t its seedy self anymore.

Today Leopold sports a different look. The patrons are mostly foreigners (this was the case even then) but the difference today is that they are the respectable sort! This is indeed a great place for a tourist to have an inexpensive meal…though not a meal always served on the double. But then the food is authentic and the place very clean with an usable toilet stacked with toilet paper. If Leopold has become more “polished” now I am sure that featuring in Shantaram (the novel based on author Gregory David Roberts’ experiences in India) had something to do with it. As an aside, Shantaram is going to be made into a movie, and as Johnny Depp has bought the rights to the book, he will play the hero and Mira Nair will be directing him. The book is an unputdownable thriller, well, at least for me it was so.

Leopold is not a favourite with Indians even today, and I think perhaps they do not consider the place value for money…most Indians gravitate towards the air-conditioned enclosure upstairs anyway. Foreigners tend to sit in the non-air-conditioned area which is open from two sides…it’s hot and crowded (tables are very close together) but the crowd today is very decent.

Here is a picture of what it looks like now. The signage has changed…

Those little white, yellow and blue plastic sheets you see just behind the cars are there to protect the hawker’s stalls from the monsoons. The pavement just outside the cafe is full of hawkers and in fact that whole side is so dotted right till the end. The pavement on the other side is free of hawkers.

For a cafe of this kind, the menu is delightfully long, boasting of a wide variety of Indian and Continental dishes. The Indian food here is cheaper than the continental fare, with most Indian dishes available for under Rs 200/-, even the non-vegetarian ones. The Continental dishes cost more…some pastas and risottos costing around Rs 300/- for modest quantities. The food is very good and to me at least the pesto pasta (with generous helpings of sliced chicken in a thick cheese and pesto sauce) was value for money as it was the best I’ve eaten for a long time. The iced tea was a treat…genuine iced tea that one doesn’t get even in a better class of restaurant.

This is to give you an idea of what Leopolds looks like from the inside (I’ve combined 3 pictures into 1) and don’t miss the painting on the wall or the high ceiling. Overall there was so much movement in the place that I couldn’t get a decent photograph.

Another place where we dropped into was Theo’s. This bakery has been much written about but we were a trifle disappointed and felt it did not live up to its name. When we arrived there, around 3 in the afternoon, their famed cheesecake was missing, there was no whole wheat bread and only one walnut brownie was left. What surprised me was the attitude of the owners/managers. They didn’t seem to care at all…infact there was no attempt to explain why the said items were not there. When we asked whether the cheesecake was over, the snappy reply we got was “We don’t have it.” Clearly, Theos is basking in the glory of the rave reviews it has received in newspapers and magazines.

On the other hand I found a lady behind the counter chatting comfortably with some customers, as if she knew them. Good for the owner/manager! With so many old loyal customers why do they need to bother with strangers!

I also found two-three flies sitting on some of their wares, wherever the plastic sheet covering had slipped off. I didn’t bother to inform them because I knew I would just get a cold stare. The service was pathetic. There were a few tables where one could sit down and order coffee and snacks and we asked for coffee but the “waiter” forgot all about it! We had to remind him.

Leopolds and Theos are located at Colaba Causeway, which even now is not entirely the best place to be. It used to be though. Here is what Nadar Parakh writes :

The Causeway is Bombay at its shabbiest, its liveliest and its sleaziest…From the fortress like encampments at Cusrow Baug, where the Parsis can look down in disgust at the natives misbehaving all around them, to the Blue Nile Bar with its dubious cabarets, the Causeway houses them all. The broken sidewalks are lined with shops on one side, hawkers on the other, and touts all over…In the 1950s this was Bombay’s most fashionable shopping address, where powdered and coiffeured women did a fine spot of afternoon shopping. Those same women would now not venture here, unless they were keen to have their bottoms pinched…

To be fair to Colaba Causeway it’s not as bad as it was before. The pavements have been fixed and you have some fancy restaurants lined up. Leopold has redeemed some of its reputation, and so has Colaba Causeway and I am sure Theo’s has contributed. Not that the Causeway is a place where shoppers head for…oh no. You will mostly find tourists wandering around there and students slumming it out for a good deal. You can pick up some decent footwear and casual clothes and jewellery too…dirt cheap if you can bargain.

Today however Bandra’s Linking Road has more on offer for the bargain hunter, and Fashion Street which is less than a kilometer away from the Causeway offers a good variety of casual clothes.

I will leave you with some pictures.. the first photograph in the first collage is the entry into Colaba Causeway (the heritage building is the MLA’s hostel), the second picture is of the pavement at the Causeway, the third is the crowded road (no place to park!) and the fourth is a lane off the Causeway, leading to the Taj Mahal hotel.

The next collage is of the hawker side of the Causeway:

And the wares…the picture on the top left hand corner is of some herbs that a man was selling to “cure” diseases, in case you are curious.

And this is what happens to you if you don’t find the right spot to park! And this warning is a serious warning by the way as it regularly happens to people…and not just those who park in the wrong places at Colaba, but in other parts of South Mumbai where space is at a premium.

Related Reading: Fashion Street for cheap cotton ready-made clothes
Joona Bazaar (for second-hand items) in Pune – a photo feature
Where to buy antique wooden furniture in Mumbai
Nirmal Lifestyle mall – a review
R-Mall – a review

More: Tips to void being cheated while shopping
And articles on Travel within and outside India.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Sakhi permalink
    July 28, 2008 11:25 am

    Good one! Liked the photographs and the watermarks too!

  2. July 28, 2008 12:01 pm

    Bombay seems to be a very interesting city. I need to be there once since I have never traveled any further south than Rajasthan. You mentioned a dish with Pesto can you let me know if they used pine nuts or walnuts? I can never find any pine nuts up here in Chandigarh. Thanks!

  3. July 28, 2008 3:00 pm

    Visited mumbai long time back . But can’t forget Fashion Street , it was fantastic! Jeans, t-shirts, party shirts,shades , watches…..collection was endless & at very good price.

    In Calcutta there is replica of fashion Street at Esplanade-Park street …………am a regular shopper there.

    Nice Pics πŸ™‚

  4. July 28, 2008 4:27 pm

    Sakhi, thanks.

    Odzer, I think they use the original pine nuts because that was the taste I got. As they cater to foreigners, they must be using the original stuff. And I am sure it must be imported, and I guess that’s why they charge so much for a non-ac non-fancy place! Thanks for your comment!

    Rahul, so you liked Fashion street huh. I have been to to Kolkata one, but I always preferred new market, I don’t know what it is like now though. And thanks to you too!

  5. Joss permalink
    July 28, 2008 4:31 pm

    I love it when you go out with your camera and take me places! One day I’ll see some of them… Meanwhile please keep posting!

  6. July 28, 2008 6:32 pm

    The pastries look delicious. And the multi-colored portfolios look terrific too. I wish I had a flying machine to take me to Colaba and back during lunch πŸ˜‰

  7. July 28, 2008 7:03 pm

    Nita – the collage photographs are beautiful.. The street photos make me feel like i am there, walking about, hearing the sounds, smelling the atmosphere, walking in and out of light and shadow, browsing, looking. Good thing you are putting the copyright ghorst imprint over your pictures. They’re eminently stealable. G

  8. July 28, 2008 7:13 pm

    Pine nuts should be available in high end stores that stock good foodstuff like cheese, organic veggies, etc. There must be stores in every metro city that deal with these. However, pine nuts do not stay well in summer, and g bad very quickly, so they must be used up within a couple of weeks of purchase.
    I used to go to Metro cinema when I was a student in Bombay, and we kids used to have a quarter of rum or a pitcher of draught beer in Leopold and other joints in that area. They used to be full of sailors. Don’t recall having eaten there, though. Food was always a luxury for me, a poor student. I could barely afford a drink on a Saturday and enjoy it with cigarettes.
    Enjoyed this post, Nita.

  9. July 28, 2008 7:46 pm

    Ahhh all those bags and bangles and resturants!!! I wanna go shopping and eating. 😦 😦 And the pastries!! droollll!!

  10. stonezen permalink
    July 28, 2008 9:04 pm

    I just love Mumbai. It has an energy that no other Indian metro has. Also enormous entrpreneurship at all levels! I used to live in the western suburbs but S. Mumbai was the place to be. I read Shantaram with a gargantuan nostalgic hunger. That is one city which will never go under, no matter what.
    Thanks for the review of Leopold. Always liked it, even in it’s sleazy days. Also check out ‘Alps’ in the area, which specialises in sizzlers. I don’t know if it’s still there, but the sizzlers were wonderful value for money, and the ambience was very like the old Leopold. What about that 150 year old restaurant near Chetna at Kala Ghoda?? the one with the very high ceilings, and waiters wearing outdated livery all worn out and ragged,. they did not serve Indian food, when I was there, only ‘British’ and Anglo Indian stuff. Very nice old feel about the place though it was getting very ragged athe edges, Again, they had good bathrooms. Well, well, good old Mumbai zindabad!!

  11. Ravi permalink
    July 28, 2008 10:01 pm

    The topic seems to be so feminine πŸ™‚ So I refrain from commenting…lol

  12. July 28, 2008 10:30 pm

    Thanks Joss.

    Lekhni, yeah that place is supposed to be very good!

    Rambodoc, I guess leo’s was a place more for the guys rather than the girls! and thnaks for that expert advice…i think when i go to crawford mkt next I will pick up some pine nuts. i do make pesto at home but use walnuts.

    Suburban, thanks. πŸ™‚

    Reema, come over. πŸ™‚

    stonezen, I know exactly what you mean. I love Mumbai too although it is not my city, Pune is. But I have some fantastic memories of Mumbai as I have been coming here from childhood and also worked here for many years, right in the fountain area, near Leo’s. One of the reasons why I devoured Shantaram! πŸ™‚ Those other places you mention seem vaguely familiar but haven’t checked them out. Mumbai zindabad!!

    Ravi, restaurant reviews is hardly feminine! Thanks for your note though πŸ™‚

  13. July 29, 2008 12:02 am

    Beautiful photos. πŸ™‚ Do you use a digital camers? If yes, you can change the settings to make the photos more colourful.
    And the hotel looks quite decent and the hoarding has such an old world charm to it.

  14. July 29, 2008 2:17 am

    i have never been to bombay 😦
    i would love to visit it πŸ™‚
    good pics,… finally i can see a watermark … πŸ˜€

  15. July 29, 2008 4:17 am

    In the LDS Church, we have The Word of Wisdom which we believe to be direct revelation from God saying that hot drinks are not for the body, which we take to mean coffee and tea (we also do not drink alcohol). So I would never want to drink the coffee or tea at these restaurants. I don’t like these substances, anyway, and never have. I always knew that “coffee is for grownups” and I always felt that if we don’t give children coffee and tea, we as adults should know there is something inherently wrong with it. I just never felt “old enough” to drink coffee or tea, and I never wanted to feel old enough in that sense of the word. I just drink water.

  16. July 29, 2008 8:30 am

    Amit, yep, I use a digital, I didn’t know you could change the setting to make the photos more colourful…need to check that out. At times I adjust the colours in photoshop, but in this case I didn’t have to adjust the shopping wares picture as it was already colourful, but I just increased the contrast. I adjusted the colours in the street photos though as they were looking very drab otherwise.

    Arvind, πŸ™‚

    Cindybin, some people never develop a taste for tea and coffee and as you said it’s what they have in childhood that matters.

  17. July 29, 2008 10:53 am

    I have not been to Mumbai so far. I will make sure to catch these places when I do so. This is one city I heard much about! For all its spirit!

  18. July 30, 2008 4:09 pm

    Hey Nita, thats a good idea to copywrite your pictures. How did you put that watermark?

    It’s all done on Photoshop! – Nita.

  19. July 31, 2008 10:11 pm

    Manoj, you have to live in Mumbai to feel its spirit. If you just see it, you may not like it. It’s not as beautiful as so many other places.

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