The curative power of friends and a good breakfast

Somehow, pancakes and eggs do a much better job of soothing ruffled feathers than pasta or biryani

If you really love someone, meet them over breakfast (and that includes yourself). Don’t be weighed down by the carbohydrates of a heavy lunch or the illusory high of drinks at dinner. Allow good conversation, a sunny table and honeyed pancakes to infuse freshness into your life and spirit. And a nice double espresso can do wonders to bring you back to the pleasant present. You smile, you laugh and you learn to live in joy for the rest of the day.

I’ve had some of the best breakfasts in my home city – Mumbai. Be it brun maska and mawa cake at an Irani café or croissants and coconut crepes at a French one, the city has always filled my belly with good food and my soul with utter contentment. My best friends are also my favourite breakfast buddies. Over forkfuls of syrupy waffles and inappropriately large bites of basil and mozzarella sandwich, we nudge each other to offer up our dreams, secrets and pet philosophies. And they add their own unique flavour to the dishes.

Sometimes, I breakfast with a pen and book instead. We’ll bond over hot chocolate and talk to each other in verses, with nothing to interrupt us save a twittering bird or an interesting song. Books are just like people in that they both get consumed into your own self, altering you ever so slightly. And with both, you learn a different nuance every time you do a reading.

Whether your preferred breakfast company is of the breathing or the bound kind, here are twelve cafes and restaurants in Mumbai that won’t disappoint. Each one has a special place in my memories and all have borne witness to minor mutations in my view of life.

  1. St. Xavier’s canteen: Chocolate croissants, illicit affairs and struggling to fit in

But after a while, I simply stopped struggling. I wasn’t ready yet, to stop being a child and start being a ‘cool’ teenager and that was all right. I spent my days reading, writing, studying French and learning HTML, while my peers found boyfriends, bunked classes and auditioned for plays. I learnt that it is possible to be content doing things that are different from the norm.

P.S.: I don’t know if they still serve soft, warm croissants oozing with dark chocolate sauce. But back in 2005-06, they were legendary. And they only cost 15 rupees!

  1. Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore: Exotic teas and the reassuring fragrance of books

Cafes in bookstores are one of the best inventions of our time (assuming they didn’t exist until the 20th century). You find a table, a book finds you and good tea keeps watch while you’re wrapped up in each other. Cha Bar was my first introduction to gourmet tea (I was pursuing my graduation then). One sip of their Kashmiri Kahwa could make me feel as elite as the crisp sari-clad artist at the next table.

Honorary mentions: Markiv’s Café for coffee and croissants, 210 Degrees for decadent pastries

  1. Gaylord Café: Kona coffee and wrought iron chairs

All I have are happy memories of this outdoor café, attached to one of the oldest restaurants of the area (Churchgate). Good friends, new friends, books, pens and solitude – I’ve brought them all to this place and they’ve all left happier and more caffeinated. My only grouse is that they’ve discontinued the fluffy whole wheat muffins.

Must try: Chocolate tart, tea cakes and muffins

  1. Food for Thought, Kitab Khana: Dark chocolate, apple tea and flavoured cupcakes

I finished reading the lion’s share of ‘Sophie’s World’, a fictionalised guide to philosophy, at this café in a bookstore. Whatever the temperature outside, I could never get enough of their perfectly sweet and tart apple tea. And their hot chocolate was as dark and murky as the mysterious portions in my book. Also, delicious as sin.

Tip: Have the cupcakes, priced at just Rs. 50 each (as of 2016)

  1. Suzette’s Creperie: Feeling French, watching people and passing time

I’ve been to two of their outlets. The one at Bandra has al fresco seating, which I love. The one at Nariman Point is smaller and stuffier, but dear to my heart for it has often helped me play the waiting game. Owned by a French woman named Suzette (but of course), the crepes here are perfection – both sweet and savoury varieties. I’ve met some forgettable people in those days (early working days) but perhaps the café remembers.

Honorary mention: Candies at Bandra (the one at Pali Hill), for its ample space and salad buffet

  1. Starbucks, Fort: Space, solitude and freedom

The only problem is their beverages are too light and lukewarm. On the plus side, the food is scrumptious – special mention to the chocolate muffin and paneer sandwich. This is the largest Starbucks I’ve seen and the area upstairs assures undisturbed privacy, not to mention an interesting view of the people downstairs. The best part is you can sit for hours without ordering anything new – perfect for getting work done. I’ve had some great business meetings at this Starbucks as well – I guess it’s lucky for me.

Honorary mention: The sea-facing Costa Coffee at Carter Road, Bandra offers breezy climes and a relaxing view

  1. Kyani & Co: Snobbish Irani café with humble pricing

You could eat and drink at this iconic Irani café for as low as 50 rupees but the waiters would have you believe otherwise. Be prepared for dismissive (bordering on rude) service and waiters who vanish before you’ve even finished speaking. But the mawa cakes, custard, tarts, puffs and tea make up for all of it. It’s strange but Kyani is special to me through a friend, who has enjoyed many lonesome breakfasts here and shared their accounts with me.

  1. Grandmama’s Café: A happy place where you’ll never go hungry

If ever you feel like the clouds in your life are obscuring all the rainbows, head to Grandmama’s Café. There are three outlets in the city (as of today) and all of them sport cheery interiors that are full of light. The menu is choc-a-bloc with waffles, pancakes, salads, eggs, sandwiches and pastries. Take a bite of their vanilla pancake, served with cinnamon fruit compote, vanilla ice-cream and maple syrup and contemplate the joy of existence. I was at their Dadar outlet with a friend yesterday and I can still hear the music – classic oldies played at just the right volume.

  1. The Nutcracker: Eggy goodness in a kitschy café

There isn’t much space here, so find a table quickly and order as much as you can stomach. Everything here is uber tasty and often heavy, so make this a brunch rather than breakfast. I travelled for over an hour to make it here for breakfast on a Sunday morning, but it was worth it, for the curative powers of friends and a good breakfast.

  1. Khar Social: Heaven in a tray, and drinks if you’d like them too

I have only a small number of close friends, so every other café/restaurant on this list reminds me of the same person. Memories of cheery conversations rush back, but I can remember exact experiences and weather details. Happiness isn’t all that easy to forget. By day, the Socials (there are several) are bright and lively breakfast joints. By night, they are bars that attract a youngish crowd.

I loved: Kiran’s Big Apple breakfast with pancakes, Oreos, fries, scrambled eggs and toast, all for Rs 280

  1. Annapurna Restaurant, Matunga: Give in to all your dosa idli fantasies

It’s tough to pick a favourite in a locality that’s dotted with authentic Udupi restaurants but Annapurna is special, for this is where my parents and I shared plates of perfectly prepared idli sambhar, uttapam and pineapple sheera after a hectic day of wedding shopping. I’m a Tam-Brahm with regular access to South Indian delicacies but I still don’t tire of tucking into Mysore masala dosas at restaurants. I think it’s all about the coconut chutney for me.

Honorary mention: Ram Ashraya, near the station

  1. Aaswad, Dadar: Quintessential Marathi fare in an artsy, air-conditioned ambience

I love a good Maharashtrian breakfast and Dadar is the best place in the city to get it. A few years ago, an acquaintance and I went searching for the famous Aaswad. It was unimaginably crowded, and after a 15 minute wait, we managed to get a table. “Be quick,” the waiter’s eyes seemed to signify. Poha, sabudana upma, missal pav and kothimbir vadi – this restaurant spins magic with everything on the menu. And you get to look at local art while you eat.

Go, meet a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Treat them to waffles and fresh juice. And enjoy the way their face breaks into a smile.

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