While India’s economy is booming, Mumbai’s culinary scene is rapidly evolving. One restaurant leads the way in showcasing regional cuisines: The Bombay Canteen, tucked away at the back of the Kamala Mills compound, a huge office, bar and restaurant complex in Lower Parel. Geographically, it is in the south of the city, but you won’t find many tourists hanging out here. Most of Mumbai’s hotels are further away: in the historic neighbourhood of Colaba in south Mumbai, or in the western neighbourhoods of Bandra and Juhu (where the first Asian outpost of Soho House recently opened). Dining at The Bombay Canteen requires some effort: you will need to wade through the noise, chaos and traffic of a city of around 21 million people. But it will be worth it.
The restaurant’s large, high-ceilinged dining room is colourful and cheerful, with faded art-deco posters, patterned ceramic-tiled floors and homemade punches – popular among young Mumbaikars – served from a vintage cart. When it first opened in 2015, it was unlike anything I had seen before in Mumbai – more reminiscent of London-Indian restaurants like Dishoom and Roti Chai. It’s the result of a collaboration between Indian restaurateurs Sameer Seth and Yash Bhanage with Floyd Cardoz, a chef and former Top Chef Masters winner. Cardoz is now culinary director, and Thomas Zacharias, also a Top Chef Masters winner who was previously at New York’s three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Bernardin (but who began cooking as a young boy in his grandmother’s kitchen in Kerala), is executive chef.
The menu is vast and hard to navigate, unless you are extremely familiar with Indian dishes and ingredients. I usually ask my husband, who grew up in Mumbai, to order a few dishes for us to share. Since he is vegetarian, I have not yet tasted meat or fish-based dishes here, like the popular methi thepla tacos with Goan pulled-pork vindaloo, or the red snapper ceviche.
But Indian cuisine is so full of flavour that I never feel I am missing out by sticking to vegetarian. My favourites here are street food snacks like toor samosa chaat with spinach chilli chutney, sweet and tangy galka (mango) chutney and fresh toor kachumber salad (350 INR, about £4); and kutchi dabeli (about £3.70), a sandwich of soft bread roll filled with a patty made of spicy peanuts and potato mash, topped with kamal kakdi chips, anaar (pomegranate) and green chutney.
In Gujarat, I discovered a delicious dish of fermented gram flour called dhokla, which my in-laws usually eat for breakfast. Here, grilled dhokla chaat is topped with date chutney, hara tamatar (tomato) chutney and nylon sev crunchy noodles (about £4).
Veth chaman is a mild curry of Kashmiri pandit yoghurt with braised kohlrabi leaves and malai paneer (about £6), which goes well with a soft and flaky Malabar paratha (about £1.30). Sindhi dal pakwan is a thick channa dal spiced with amchur (mango powder) and cumin and topped with tamarind chutney (about £5.40). For maximum flavour, scoop the dal up with the crispy fried puris it is served with.
The desserts by pastry chef Heena Punwani are also excellent. I love the coffee-infused rasgullas – syrupy dumplings – with salted caramel ice cream and crushed peanut chikki (about £4.80). If you visit in summer, order a refreshing kairi meringue tart with green mango custard, brûlée meringue, kairi jujubes (sugared mango) and a hint of kala namak salt (about £4.40).
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.