From decade-old spaces favoured by Bollywood celebrities to old-world bakeries using diesel ovens— Mumbai is home to some of the most charming vintage restaurants. We’re flipping the pages of history to discover a few that are worth dining at.
A smorgasbord of flavours and ingredients, Mumbai’s culinary culture owes much to its migrant population. In fact, turn a corner on any street and you’re likely to find a quaint, immigrant-run restaurant with faded yesteryear posters and a menu featuring recipes passed down generations. And despite the throng of new restaurants and bars that continue to pop up across the city, these establishments continue to have a stronghold over the hearts and palates of locals.
Offering authentic avial, elegant French au gratin, and decadent mawa cake – these spaces have something for everyone. Not to mention, they pack on the nostalgic factor as well, having played host to a range of people over several decades or centuries. Naturally, a visit to the city of dreams would be incomplete without popping by all of them. That said, if you’re pressed for time, we’ve compiled a list of a few that are must-visits.
Iconic vintage restaurants in Mumbai that are must-visits
Gaylord Restaurant (1956)
This popular restaurant was one of the first fine-dining spaces to open in the city. Established in 1956, it’s been buzzing with activity and customers ever since. The story goes that the owner named the space based on a customer’s response to an advertisement in The Statesman. Back then, the restaurant had a dance floor, bar, and a dedicated spot for band performances which often included jazz numbers. Needless to say, the restaurant was the talk of the town.
The menu has evolved since, adding Turkish treats to the roundup of continental and Mughlai offerings. Despite that, the space, with its mezzanine floors, silk panels, and old-school artwork, remains a symbol of nostalgia. Reportedly, Bollywood celebrities like Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar were regulars here, with music duo Shankar-Jaikishan reserving tables for themselves every evening. While here, try the chicken a la kiev, waldorf salad, paneer tikka, croissant, macaroons.
Cafe Excelsior (1919)
This laidback Irani cafe in the city serves as a time capsule amidst the rapidly-modernising city of Mumbai. Multiple old-wooden clocks and hand painted signage on bare walls underline the space. It was established by Ardeshir Mazkoori, an Zoroastrian immigrant, who first worked at a different restaurant before saving up enough to open Excelsior. Right next door to a theatre, the cafe often had to serve meals in the compound of the cinema due to lack of space.
Today, the cafe boasts of a loyal customer base. It’s also had celebrities like Irrfan Khan, Riteish Deshmukh, and Shah Rukh Khan stop by, especially during their film premieres next door. The menu’s most recommended features include the mutton burgers, which is believed to be the best in town. Also popular are the mutton cutlet gravy, sali boti, chicken dhansak, mutton dhansak, and bread pudding.
Cafe Leopold (1871)
Known to be one of the first Irani cafes in the city, Cafe Leopold, established by migrants from Iran, reportedly began as a wholesale oil store. Over the years, it served as a pharmacy and then a popular restaurant in Colaba. Its location and delicious grub turned it into the talk of the town and the space was frequented by foreign tourists.
In 2003, the novel found its way in Gregory David Robets’ popular novel Shantaram. However, it’s most known for having survived the 26/11 terror attacks in 2018, being hailed as a symbol of resistance ever since. In fact, you could spot several bullet holes at the cafe. While here, savour the chicken poppers, beef chilli, and walnut pie with a side of draught beer or cappuccino. The keema pav here comes highly recommended as well.
Britannia & Co. Restaurant (1923)
Wildly popular for its signature mutton or chicken berry pulao, the vintage atmosphere of this restaurant is unmissable. Started in 1923 by Boman Kohinoor, the restaurant first served continental food that suited the palates of the British. Post independence however, Mughlai and Parsi touches were added to the menu, with the owner’s wife Bachan Kohinoor lending her personal recipes to the chefs.
The walls here have several cultural tributes, including a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi next to a painting of Queen Elizabeth II, believed to be the owner’s treasured works. The menu is limited, yet highly favoured by locals. Of these are delicacies like chicken mayo roll, caramel custard, sali boti, and fish patra which sell like hot cakes. Don’t miss out on this if you’re in town.
Café Madras (1940)
Adding a Southern flavour to this roundup, this popular establishment has been around for over 80 years. On the menu are classics like rasam, podi idlis, medu vada, upma podi, neer dosa, appam with stew, mysore pak, and more! Established by Gopal Kamath, who had moved to the city in search of work, the space was a hit amongst the South Indian population in Matunga and soon grew in popularity across the city for its authentic fare.
Marked by uniformed waiters zipping across marble floors, over wooden staircases, and by simple wooden tables, the eatery is always packed. The space also sells packaged goods and has stood the test of time despite several similar spaces opening and shutting down around it, over the course of the past few years. While here, don’t miss out on their filter coffee.
Yazdani Restaurant & Bakery (1953)
Another spot in the city that will take you straight to the 1950s, Yazdani Restaurant and bakery is marked by yesteryear posters, advertisements, and wall clocks, with the menu being displayed on a wooden blackboard. Set up by immigrants from Iran, who also happened to be bakers, the establishment became known for its bread pudding, bun maska, and chai.
While here, you’ll notice huge tables being used to knead dough as well as large diesel ovens whipping out mawa cakes, bread, and more! The space also uses an old-world bread cutter. While here, don’t miss out on the apple cinnamon pie and carrot cake as well. Delicious and homely, it’s no surprise that the space continues to sell-out, despite being close to a host of swanky new cafes and bakeries.
B. Merwan and Co. (1914)
Another popular destination, B. Merwan and Co is known for its baked goodies. It’s also been around for over a century, serving delicacies like bun maska, mawa puff, jam puff, chai, and mawa cakes to customers. The staff here, reportedly, has been working for decades as well with the owner, an immigrant from Iran, being quite involved in the day-to-day activities.
Bentwood chairs, marble tables, fading facade, and a welcoming atmosphere will draw you to the space while the food will convince you to stay. The cafe holds several intriguing stories, having witnessed several major events, including the World War and India’s independence. Head here early in the morning to get a bite of their baked goodies, which often sell out like hot cakes. There’s no better place for a bite of nostalgia.
Kyani & Co. (1904)
One of the oldest restaurants in Mumbai, this space was set up by Zoroastrian migrants, who sought to offer up authentic flavours of their culture to the city. Old-world chairs, gingham tablecloths, and large glass panes with baked goodies beckon customers, as they always have. Patrons of this space range from freedom fighters to MF Hussain.
On the menu here are options like chicken sali boti, Irani kebab, rum ball, chicken salami sandwich, and chicken cheese bhurji. A hearty breakfast here is what locals rave about, especially the akuri on toast. Don’t miss out on the Irani chai and bun maska.
Another century-old establishment, Sassanian was established by Rustom Yazdabadi, later being taken over by the Kola family in 1947. It quickly found its place in the breakfast plans of locals in the region, opening at five in the morning to offer bun maska and chai. The story goes that Irani jockeys, prior to Indian independence, would head here for a cuppa before heading to their polo matches. The space has also been a provision store in the past, offering toothbrushes and soaps.
In 1990, the menu of the space expanded to include a series of delicacies, including dhansak and today the most popular options include mushroom omelette, mawa cakes, veg puffs, and bread pudding. During Christmas and Easter, this is the spot to head to for plum cakes and hot cross buns. With a loyal customer base, the space hasn’t needed expansions to stay afloat.
K Rustom (1953)
This iconic ice cream store, known for its unique wafer ice cream sandwiches, first began as a department store that sold everything from clothing material to medicines. In 1953, it began dabbling in the frozen treat – offering flavours like walnut crunch, Nescafe, and papaya. First served on porcelain plates, the owners innovated with wafers to make their treats travel-friendly. Large, old-school steel freezers continue to be used to store the ice-cream and prices are quite reasonable as well. Today, a stopover here on the way to Marine Drive is a near ritual for locals. Popular flavours today include coffee crunch, mango delight, and chocolate chip.
Featured image: Courtesy @karlkolah/Instagram; Hero image: Courtesy @wrkprint/Instagram