Category Archives: Mumbai and around

Mumbai: An unlikely addition to your bucket list

A lot of people come to Mumbai to find a job, make a life or fulfil a dream. But do a lot of people aspire to travel here? Does Mumbai inspire the same kind of awe that Cherrapunji or Spiti Valley do? Probably not, but it’s definitely deserving of a different kind of awe. Because quite simply, there’s no other city like Mumbai. No other place comes with the kind of chaos, tolerance, haste and multitude that this city does. As a tourist, you might balk at the impossible fullness of Mumbai’s trains and the stench of its seedier areas. But peel back the layers and you’ll also find inspiration in its seafront and stories, its history and heart.

The sea

Marine Drive in the rains
Marine Drive at dusk

The Arabian Sea snakes along Mumbai’s coastline, endowing the city with many scenic seaside spots. The queen among them has to be the iconic Marine Drive, immortalised in numerous films, songs and literature. Be it in the wee hours of the morning when the promenade is full of joggers and dog walkers or at the mysterious time of dusk, when the sea shimmers in hues of pink, saffron and indigo, Marine Drive is ceaselessly lovely. If you keep walking along the promenade, you’ll reach Nariman Point, where you can sit in quiet contemplation. Bandra’s Bandstand and Carter Road offer much scope for romancing the sea as well. You can climb down the steps and make your away across slightly slippery rocks to get up close and personal with the waves (unsafe during high tide). If you’re driving, the route along the Bandra Worli Sea Link will leave you awed. You can also get a good view of the entire sea link from Bandra Fort. The beaches at Juhu, Versova and Mahim (Dadar) are also among our favourite slices of Mumbai’s shoreline.

The architecture

CST station, Mumbai lit up in the night
CST station at night

Time has stood still in the arches and domes of South Mumbai’s stately edifices, with a little help from restoration work. The sheer magnificence and detailing of CST station, the erstwhile Victoria Terminus is enough to put the city on your bucket list. For a small fee, you can explore the inner chambers of the station complex and enjoy bird’s eye views of the city. Other heritage buildings in the area include The Times of India building and David Sassoon Library. The entire walkway on either side of D. N. Road feels like a journey through Mumbai’s colonial era. The Gateway of India monument is a short ride away from CST station and an epitome of architectural excellence. From the ferry point, you can enjoy boat rides on the sea and even go up to Alibag or Elephanta Island. The CSMVS and Bhau Daji Lad museums are also treasure troves of fascinating history.

The gardens

Maharashtra Nature Park
Maharashtra Nature Park

We love discovering little havens of natural beauty even in concrete jungles. While Aarey Colony may be under threat due to the imminent metro line, the gardens at Malabar Hill, Powai and Maharashtra Nature Park in Dharavi are still available for a welcome break from urban life. We wish Mumbai had its own version of Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens or London’s Hyde Park but the charming Hiranandani Garden at Powai with little fish ponds, lakes and stone sculpures is a pleasure to visit. And if you like bird-watching and studying bees and butterflies, Maharashtra Nature Park, overlooking the mangroves of Mithi River is a must-visit. We’ve also spent many cheerful evenings at Kamala Nehru Park and The Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill.

The shrines

Mount Mary Church, Bandra, Mumbai
Mount Mary Church

Mumbai was, is and will always be a wonderful amalgamation of different cultures, communities, tongues and faiths. One of the best ways to get a sense of the city’s culture is to visit its picturesque temples, churches and mosques. The Haji Ali Dargah situated off the coast of Worli is one of the oldest and best known shrines in the city. Mount Mary Church in Bandra is another well-known landmark, especially during Christmas and the annual Bandra Fair. The seaside Mahalakshmi Temple and ISKCON Temple in Juhu are worth visiting for their beautiful architecture and spiritual significance. We also love exploring little known churches in the by-lanes of South Mumbai.

Need to know

Things to do in Mumbai - history, architecture
Colaba

Eat: Streets take on a special significance in the Maximum City, for that’s where its residents come to shop, and that’s where they come for a flavourful bite. Mumbai’s street food specialities include vada pav, a kind of potato burger, pav bhaji, which is a gravy eaten with buttered Indian buns and various kinds of ‘chaat’ such as bhel, pani puri, sev puri, ragda pattice and dahi puri. If you’re worried about hygiene, try these at small-sized restaurants such as Som at Chowpatty.

Shop: Colaba Causeway has been our saviour since college days for its selection of pocket-friendly, yet trendy clothing, shoes, bags and accessories. Linking Road at Bandra is another option if you’re in the suburbs. But if you’re looking for speciality or bulk items, Crawford Market is your best bet. Here, you’ll find everything from cooking chocolate to decoration items and party masks.

Stay: There are several hotels in Mumbai to suit every budget, as well as homestays and guesthouses. The city is home to several luxurious five star hotels such as ITC Maratha near the airport and ITC Grand Central at Parel. These luxury collection hotels offer fascinating glimpses into Mumbai’s Maratha past and British colonisation and special weekend offers for staycations.

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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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Reclaim your childhood at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

I’ve always wondered why ‘playing’ with the aid of toys, or sometimes nothing at all, is only the purview of children. For adults, all ‘play’ is bound by rules, be it sports, video games or board games. Over a weekend at Novotel Imagica Khopoli, I realised two things – one, I was free to be a child again and two, I was no longer scared of amusement park rides!

Novotel Imagica Khopoli

This was the third Novotel I was visiting (read about Novotel Goa here), having visited the ones in Goa and Mumbai as well. From the decor style to the placing of the pool and the buffet restaurant, everything reminded me of classic Novotel elegance. Yet, this property had its own unique feel and several elements of colour and fun, in keeping with its proximity to Adlabs Imagica, one of the largest amusement park complexes in India.

My room at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

We stayed in a pool view room with a great bed, bathroom, television and a veranda that unfortunately, couldn’t be accessed. Do look for a room where the veranda can be opened, if you fancy a drink or smoke on the parapet. But what I loved most were the goblets full of welcome chocolates and an edible MAC make-up set!

Edible MAC set in my room at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Don’t be scared – have a bite!

Cute cartoon characters

The first thing you notice when you enter the hotel is the adorable welcome party. It was so much fun shaking hands and clicking pictures with

Cartoon character at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
this cheery guy
Cartoon characters at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
and this strange looking one.

If you have kids along (and even if you don’t), you’ll love the ‘Irolic parade’ that the hotel conducts every day post breakfast. The parade dances through the entire hotel, infecting everyone with its spirit of revelry.

Irolic parade at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Irolic parade at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

Delicious food

Vegetarian pizza at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Vegetarian pizza at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

A major highlight of my stay at Novotel Imagica Khopoli has to be the consistently delicious buffet and a la carte options at The Square, and a chef who is ever ready to please and innovate. We were spoilt for choice at the lunch buffet but were still cajoled into trying an excellent ‘tandoori pizza’ and some chole khulcha prepared specially by the chef for us. The dessert counter was a delight too – the dark chocolate cakes were out of the world.

Dessert counter at The Square, Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Dessert counter at The Square, Novotel Imagica Khopoli

In the evening, it was a pleasure to enjoy a drink or two at Nitro Bar, the lobby bar with a live pianist, plush seating and speedy service.

Nitro bar at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Nitro bar at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

Trek to Batthi Lake

There is so much to do in and around the hotel that you could easily spend an enjoyable weekend without visiting the amusement park. Being nature lovers, we were keen to explore the countryside. Our able guide Ravi took us on an enjoyable stroll through Sangdewadi village, then along some rough terrain until we reached the vast and serene Batthi Lake. It was much more enormous than we’d imagined. Our hike was over in an hour but if you have more time on your hands, you could also do a longer trek to Sarasgad Fort.

Trek to Batthi Lake
Trek to Batthi Lake
Sangdewadi Village
Beautiful countryside en route

Apart from trekking, you can also play billiards, table tennis, gesture-controlled video games and carom in the lobby area. By the poolside, there are also facilities for archery, rifle shooting, crossbow shooting, radio-controlled plane flying and water zorbing. When the rivers are lush, you could also try river rafting at nearby Kundalika River.

Dream weddings

Poolside wedding arrangements at Novotel Imagica Khopoli

One revelation during my visit to this Novotel property was that it’s an ideal setting for a medium size, posh Indian wedding. It’s close to Mumbai and Pune, has a large banquet, a poolside area that is ideal for functions, the facility to organise functions even in the amusement park, the logistics for lavish sound and special effects and rooms that can accommodate 300 guests at a time. I was privy to a colourful Marwari wedding during my stay and their pool party and sangeet function looked like great fun!

Adlabs Imagica

With 25 magical rides and attractions spread out over a vast expanse, you need an entire day to fully experience the delights of Adlabs Imagica theme park. Without much ado, here are the highlights of the rides I enjoyed most:

Lotus pool at Adlabs Imagica
Lotus pool at Adlabs Imagica

I for India: A brilliant experience in altered perception, the ride makes you feel like you’re in a helicopter, riding all over India and witnessing its best marvels from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In reality, everyone is stationery and it’s only the screen that moves.

Deep Space: This was the scariest ride I’ve ever been on – it’s incredibly fast and adrenalin-pumping and all the turns and twists take place in absolute darkness. That’s why they call it ‘deep space’. But it’s all over in a matter of minutes.

Rajasaurus River Adventure: In terms of story-building, this is the ride I enjoyed most. A scenario is created, featuring a mad scientist and rare dinosaur remains. You then undertake the journey of a lifetime, ending in a super steep descent into water!

Mr India – The Ride: I wasn’t expecting much, considering it was based on a movie but the ride turned out to be truly fantastic. I sat in a car that jolted and jumped such that I felt like I was flying along with the characters on screen.

Wrath of the Gods: A fantastic ‘live show’ concept, you have a scientist revealing a cave with spiritual energy and then you get to witness the wrath of the Gods of fire, water and wind as they realise their resting place has been disturbed.

Salimgarh: This was my favourite ride because I love all things spooky. Prepare to be scared out of your wits as curses fly, corpses walk by and you brave the darkest of dungeons and the sharpest of weapons in this tunneled ride.

Scream machine ride at Adlabs Imagica
Scream, cos you’re flying high up in the sky!

Scream Machine: This is a must-do if you want to conquer your fear of heights. A giant swing shoots you up in the air and pirouettes you as you return to earth, only to fly up again! The ride is much longer than you’d think.

Nitro: The first ride you encounter when you enter Adlabs Imagica, Nitro is a classic roller coaster ride experience with upside down turns galore and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Crazy tea cups: Like giant wheels, these are a fixture at most fairs but it was my first time sitting on the revolving chairs since childhood and boy, did it leave me dizzy!

Snomagica

I didn’t have time for Aquamagica, the water park but I made sure I went to the 30000 square feet snow park and what an experience it was! I donned full snow gear and boots (provided complimentary) and trudged into this fairy tale wonderland complete with an igloo, a polar bear, a 50 feet tall snow dome, facilities for skiing and snow sliding, live snow fall and a DJ dance at the end. In a temperature of -5 degrees, I enjoyed a hair-raising slide down a snow slope, played with snow balls and posed on a throne of ice!

Snomagica snowman
Who’s cuter – the polar bear or me? No actually, don’t answer!

I can’t recall the last weekend where I had so much unbridled fun with such elegant luxury to return to in the night. I wholeheartedly recommend a weekend at Novotel Imagica Khopoli for you and your family.

Tips

Swimming pool at Novotel Imagica Khopoli
Go zorbing in the pool

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Rediscovering the pleasure of slow travel at Fratelli Vineyards

In all my trips until 2016, I can only name one where I had the luxury of doing nothing. Trust me, it’s the greatest privilege there is in this world and if you have it, you’re lucky indeed. That I could begin 2017 with yet another lazy retreat is a fact as sweet as the lingering aftertaste of sparkling wine.

Ever since I tasted an exceedingly good red wine by Fratelli at Gaylord’s 60th year celebrations, I’ve wanted to pay a visit to their winery and witness the viticultural alchemy for myself. Wine harvest in India begins from Jab-Feb and I schedule a trip to Fratelli Vineyards in Akluj, Maharashtra in the month of January. I would’ve been content to spend a weekend there but they insist on hosting us for three days. I know now, that this will be a holiday where the clock stops ticking and I can allow myself a peaceful siesta or two.

Fratelli Vineyards and Winery, Akluj, Maharashtra
We spend our time at the guesthouse
Fratelli Vineyards and Winery, Akluj, Maharashtra
dining and wining,
The guesthouse at Fratelli Vineyards, Akluj, Maharashtra
sleeping off the afternoons and
Green grapes at Fratelli Vineyards
enjoying winery and vineyard tours
Fratelli Vineyards, Akluj, Maharashtra
in the mellow light of sunset.

And how can I forget my disastrous attempt to ride a quad bike (a four wheeled contraption) which ended in me crashing into a wall? I have to admit though, it was exhilarating at first and I believe I’ll fare better next time!

The vineyard

Living next to acres of verdant vineyards has been a long-cherished dream and it comes true for a few days at Fratelli Vineyards. In the morning, I wake up to see the workers at the winery setting up the processes and the birds chirping excitedly in the garden surrounding the main building. That’s where our guesthouse is located, accessed by a spiraling staircase that is a work of art in itself. We arrive after a longish drive from Mumbai, have a late lunch in the dining room on the same storey and enjoy a little siesta, post which we are taken on a round of the Motewadi vineyards. We encounter row upon row of little green chardonnay grapes. Once they grow a little bigger, they will be ready for harvesting.

The winery

Our visit to the vineyard comes to a quick end with the descent of the sun and we promise to return the following morning. But for now, a tour of the winery lies between us and a much anticipated wine tasting session. The winery is vast and there are so many different sections, dedicated to various processes that are part and parcel of wine-making. In one automated belt, we witness the process of wine bottling.

In another, we see the process of labelling. But the most fascinating part of the tour is the room where countless bottles of white wine are being fermented, to be turned into sparkling wine. While there are many ways of making sparkling wine, the basic process involves the introduction of sugar and yeast to induce fermentation. Thereafter, the bottles are rotated (riddling) to allow all the sediments to accumulate at the neck and then be popped out. Finally, some residual sugar is added back to the bottle.

The process of fermenting wine at Fratelli Vineyards, Akluj, Maharashtra

While most of the wines at Fratelli Vineyards aren’t aged, the top one per cent of their grapes goes into making the premium SETTE vintage wines. The partly Italian heritage of Fratelli Wines was never more apparent than we entered the chilly, hallowed room where the casks and bottles of SETTE wine are displayed. I consider myself most fortunate that I was able to taste one of these the following day.

SETTE wines at Fratelli Vineyards, Akluj, Maharashtra

White and red wine-tasting

We have our tasting of three white wines on our first evening at Fratelli Vineyards and a session of red wine tasting with their assistant wine-maker the following evening. The wines we taste are chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. They’re all more robust than the light sangiovese bianco we had at lunch but I love the spicy notes in the sauvignon blanc and the smoothness of the chardonnay. The chardonnay is technically the most superior, we’re told. But I know I’ve given my heart to the sauvignon blanc. When it comes to cheaper wines, I stick with whites because it’s safer but at Fratelli Vineyards, I am reminded afresh of my original passion for the reds.

Wine tasting at Fratelli Vineyards, Akluj, Maharashtra
This is where our white wine tasting takes place.

Our red wine tasting session with the assistant wine-maker Vrushal Kedari and one of the distributors of Fratelli Vineyards proves to be an eye-opener in more ways than one. We work our way through a sangiovese red, a vintage SETTE 2012 and a premium blend of sangiovese, cabernet franc and syrah. If the M/S blend has us closing our eyes in quiet appreciation, the SETTE vintage astonishes me with its unparalleled taste and texture. A better Indian wine I haven’t had thus far. It is the brainchild of Piero Masi, the Italian winemaker who joined Fratelli in 2006 at the behest of the Secci family, who were in partnership with the Sekhri brothers in Delhi and Mohit-Patile bothers in Akluj.

Dining room at Fratelli Vineyards
This cosy dining room is where we had our red wine tasting.

A slice of Switzerland

Imagine visiting a piece of paradise that isn’t even on the map. On the afternoon of our second day at Fratelli Vineyards, I come face to face with a living reminder of Switzerland’s terraced vineyards. Right from the mountains in the background to the vineyards at their feet and the glistening lake in their midst, everything about Garwar Vineyards feels like an echo of the European sojourn I had. Of course, these aren’t terraced but the sheer range and beauty of the landscape leaves me speechless. Here is a destination designed for panorama and 360 degree shots – because it’s practically impossible to capture it all in one frame.

Garwad Vineyards, Maharashtra

On the advice of a staff member, we drive ahead of the elevated machan where we were to have our lunch and chance upon the promised rows of black grapes – so large that they might burst out of their skins any moment. It gladdens my heart to walk among these fields in the fresh winter breeze and imagine them populated with dozens of harvesters once the season begins (soon after we leave, as it happens).

Finally, after much exploration, we settle down at a table in the machan overlooking the vast vineyards, lake and mountains and contemplate the beauty of life over sips of delicious sparkling wine. The wind whips tendrils of hair across my face and I seize the moment for some ‘dreamy’ photographs (you’ll see evidence of these on my Facebook page soon). Some lovely rose wine follows the sparkling wine and a cloud of contentment settles over me. I partake of the lunch spread sparingly and then we decide to go in search of that lake in the distance. It’s only a short walk away, we’re told. We walk in the late afternoon sun, giggly from the wine and replete with the fragrance of the terrain. Presently, we come across the lake we were in search of.

Garwad Vineyards, Maharashtra

Currently, Fratelli grows 12 varieties of grapes in their three vineyards – these include seven reds and five whites. The whites are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau while the reds are Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Marselan and Petit Verdot. While all the wines are dry, they are very well balanced and leave a fruity aftertaste on the palate.

Fact file

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Getting there: The route to Akluj from Mumbai goes via Pune and Phaltan. It’s a six hour drive but if you live in Pune, you can reduce that by half. Here is the Google Maps link.

The guesthouse: The rooms are spacious, air-conditioned, have HD television, tea-coffee makers, room service and direct access to the lawns. Rates begin at Rs 6500 per person per night. When not touring the winery and vineyards, you can play pool in the dining room or carom, foosball and table tennis downstairs. The surrounding villages are also a pleasure to explore.

Contact details: Website | +91 1126592900 | Email

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Joss, Mumbai: Swanky Asian dining in the ‘burbs

Here’s a little secret – I often skip my evening snack when I’m looking forward to a sumptuous dinner. After all, what use is a great meal if you can’t do justice to it? That’s how I came to be at Joss, Santacruz with a rumbling tummy and a roaring appetite.

The artfully lit-up interiors won me over instantly. Great evening ambience is all about an inspired interplay of lights and shadows and Joss does an excellent job. As I slid into my chair at one of the tables lined against the wall next to the entrance, I had a distinct feeling of being somewhere special. The feeling intensified as perfectly dressed customers walked in at regular intervals, speaking in hushed tones as the elite are wont to do.

Dining at Joss is an intimate experience and the low volume lounge music enables great conversations despite the considerable distance between both sides of a table.

A cocktail in a cigar pipe

Our smiling server (really, I wonder how he managed to have a sunny disposition throughout!) approached to seat us, offer us water and then the menu.

Prepare to be thoroughly pampered when you arrive at Joss and leave all those bourgeoisie self-help tendencies far behind.

The host recommended their ‘smoking cosmopolitan’ cocktail (Rs 450) for me while my friend decided to go with trusty Teacher’s Highland Cream (RS 250).

Smoking Cosmopolitan at Joss, Mumbai

The cocktail was a work of art – a bubbling pink concoction encased in a cigar pipe made of glass, topped off with swirls of white fumes. And it certainly wasn’t all looks and no taste.

The cosmopolitan was among the best I’ve had, with delicious notes of berry and a generous dash of potent vodka.

The host had recommended an assortment of new vegetarian sushi on the menu and they began arriving at our table soon after. The wait time between dishes was longer than average but we weren’t complaining – we were happy to extend our time at Joss.

Sushi with crunch

The pair of chopsticks beside my table luckily had regular cutlery for company. I wasn’t about to embarrass myself by toying with those contraptions in such an elegant setting. So I happily cut into my Vegas Roll (Rs 850), topped with crunchy corn tempura and sank into my seat with satisfaction. The combination of avocado and furikake sprinkle made this sushi quite delightful. Of the three new vegetarian sushi on the menu, this one was my favourite.

I also enjoyed the TNT Roll (Rs 870) with spiced edamame, avocado, ‘bidi bomb’ carrot and onion tempura.

TNT sushi roll at Joss, Mumbai

Tempura is such an integral component of vegetarian sushi – especially for those of us who need some change of texture with all that rice and seaweed.

While I personally preferred the Qi Roll (Rs 820) the least, it is a great combination of ‘power greens’, shitake mushroom and smoked mayo. Altogether, the sushi made for an excellent appetiser and left us with just enough room for a main course and dessert. I’d love to hear your views on their dim sums if you’ve ever had them – hope to try those on my next visit.

Spicy khow suey and golden chocolate

We were torn between the Thai green curry with rice and khow suey (Rs 690) for mains but in the end, my passion for the soupy delight won over. The version Joss serves is on the spicier side, though with the inherent sweetness of coconut milk intact. The portion size was ample for two people and slurping up the gravy was my favourite part of the meal. The khow suey came with six different accompaniments ranging from chopped spring onions to sauces and crispy noodles but when I went a little ballistic adding these to my bowl, I realised I’d made the khow suey too thick. Play it cool (unlike me) and add only one accompaniment, if at all.

Khow suey with vegetables at Joss, Mumbai

The best part about Asian food is that it’s light on the tummy, given that most dishes are steamed and full of nutrition-rich elements.

We were game for some sinful dessert after the sushi and khow suey and decided to give the new dessert menu a try. After all, you’ve probably heard enough about The Big Bang Theory (their signature dessert). We zeroed in on the only chocolate item, which also had seasonal strawberries in it and the server echoed our choice. So The Midas Touch (Rs 450) it was.

The Midas Touch dessert at Joss, Mumbai

The Midas Touch is, as you’d expect, golden in colour. It’s essentially an egg filled with rich chocolate mousse and strawberry and cinnamon gel at the centre. But it’s served with popcorn and chocolate crumble that are really fun to eat along with the mousse. A combination of textures is very important, especially for the Indian palate and I couldn’t have enjoyed that egg without the crunchy, crispy elements. As for the portion size, it was on the smaller side for two people who love desserts but definitely not meant for just one.

A drink to remember

Somewhere between the sushi and the mains, I finished my cosmopolitan and the server (God bless his soul) recommended the sangrias. And a better recommendation I have never received. I chose the sparkling wine sangria (a 500 ml jug for Rs 1100) and it brought back fond memories of my sojourn to a vineyard the previous week.

Sparkling wine sangria at Joss, Mumbai

The wine hadn’t been watered down – it was merely topped with chopped fruits and the result was a delicious concoction that can only be described as liquid joy.

Be sure to order the one litre jug and nothing else if you love your wines.

Sushi lovers who live in Mumbai’s western suburbs would do well to book a table at Joss right away. And if you’re a townie, you could always hire an Uber. 😉

Joss Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Address: Savoy Chambers, Next To Mini Cooper Showroom, Santacruz West, Mumbai
Phone: 022 26617772 / 022 26617771
Timings: 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM, 7:30 PM to 11:30 PM, daily

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