Home away from home

In the first of a two-part series on non-Indian professionals living in Mumbai, we ask Kiwi musician, Mikey McCleary and French restaurateur, Antonia Achache to reveal what made them set up shop in Aamchi Mumbai

“I will always be somebody who stays connected to Bombay. I will always have a home in Bombay. But I also like the idea of having a split lifestyle of Bombay and New York, and Bombay and London. But Bombay has become a home to me,” says musician Mikey McCleary.

Mikey McCleary at his studio in Bandra, which is also home to various curios from Chor Bazaar like film posters, records and sewing-machines- turned-tables. Pics/ Sameer Markande
Mikey McCleary at his studio in Bandra, which is also home to various curios from Chor Bazaar like film posters, records and sewing-machines- turned-tables. Pics/ Sameer Markande

McCleary shifted to live in Mumbai in 2007, but has had a musical association with the city since about 1999-2000 as he had worked on the music for singer Lucky Ali’s albums. Later, he started visiting India regularly for performances. “I was drawn to Bandra in particular.

Music composer, Mikey McCleary at his studio on Saint Leo Road, Bandra
Music composer, Mikey McCleary at his studio on Saint Leo Road, Bandra

The feeling slowly built up inside me that I should shift here and try living in Bombay. If I don’t do that, I will spend the rest of my life wondering what if?” he reveals.

Why Mumbai?
“Mumbai has a buzz to it, which I think is to do with its people. It has a soul, which I like. It gets under your skin and becomes a part of you,” he admits. On a lighter note, he feels that another reason is not having to bargain with autorickshaws and taxis about the fares.

Bandra walks
McCleary, who has both, his home and his studio, in Bandra (a lane dotted with quaint villas and bungalows), finds the mix of “villag-ey and artistic feel” as the reason that the suburb works as an artistic hub.
“Besides, there are so many nice places to eat! It’s busy; it has traffic issues but it feels like a haven.

Also, street art is all over Bandra. Walking tours should be organised here. When you visit London, you’ll find The Beatles walking tour; Bandra can have its own art walk. I used to live on Waroda Road that sports a huge mural of Amitabh Bachchan,” he adds.

Food for thought
McCleary enjoys meeting people at Suzette but one of his favourites was Birdsong Cafe when he used to stay on Waroda Road, “The Bagel Shop is an institution for me! Olive’s like a second home. Also, all types of dosas at Cafe Madras, and more recently, the Thepla Tacos at The Bombay Canteen.”

McCleary tells us that he enjoys going to The Hive that is a nice venue for different things, from comedy to food or music. The musician loves strolling around the Kala Ghoda precinct. “I like going there on weekends with my wife to explore the place when it is empty.

There are fancy boutique shops beside small hole-in-the-wall type booksellers and local shops a mix of new and old restaurants as well as the beautiful synagogue. There is Jehangir Art Gallery and NGMA too. I was always intrigued by the David Sassoon Library it’s a beautiful place,” he admits.

The old Hindi cinema lover that McCleary is, he’s constantly doing the rounds of Chor Bazar. Transistors, and record players in working condition, vinyls, records and curios to props, for the videos of his songs; the Bazar has been an oft-visited pincode. Weekends are spent playing tennis at Bandra Gymkhana and Wellington Club.

Mumbai’s sounds
McCleary feels that though Mumbai has had a vibrant past of live music, it faced a lull period. Though, times are changing as several spots in the city are now serving alternative venues. “blueFROG had just started out when I came to Mumbai, but now you also have small restaurants that host live performances.

One of my most memorable performance in the city was for Amitabh Bachchan’s 70th birthday party, where we performed about 20 of his iconic songs. I have also performed twice at Antilla and various top venues in the city, though I would love to perform at Bandra Fort,” he reveals.



Crepe chronicles

Once inside the quaint French cafe Suzette Creperie, it’s easy to forget the bustle and din outside. Run by three French nationals, Antonia Achache, Jeremie Sabbagh and Pierre Labail, we caught up with Antonia at the packed cafe on a weekday morning. Sipping on her cup of organic green tea, the Bandra resident admits how the suburb also happens to be her favourite part of the city.

Antonia Achache sipping her morning tea at the Bandra outlet of Suzette
Antonia Achache sipping her morning tea at the Bandra outlet of Suzette

How it all started
“I moved to Mumbai seven years ago with my husband Jeremie, who was a lawyer at that time, with a French company, and was posted in India. I applied for a position at an Indian NGO called Pratham. That’s how we reached here, and not to start a restaurant. I worked with the NGO for three years, where I headed the department for child labour and right to education.

Antonia Achache, owner Suzette, at the restaurant’s Bandra outlet
Antonia Achache, owner Suzette, at the restaurant’s Bandra outlet

After three years, we wanted to start something of our own, and started a restaurant. Initially, we kept our jobs and ran this on the side, out of passion,” says Achache. “Our first restaurant was at Nariman Point; luckily, it picked up quickly, so we opened the second one in Bandra. It’s when I quit my job,” she shares. Now, the owners are set to open a third outlet, in Powai.

Since both, Jeremie and Pierre, were from Brittany, France, which is famous for its crepes, they wanted to try something French that could be like an all-day cafe. “We knew the dosas here. Jeremie loved it when we arrived here. We felt that if people liked dosas, they could like crepes. We wanted to offer a healthy, everyday option.

We know of a patron from Nariman Point who drops by thrice a day,” chuckles Achache She recalls the early challenges, “Many people would ask ‘What is a crepe?’ or ‘Do you have only crepes?’ and we would reply, ‘Yes; it’s a creperie.’ People found it odd, initially. Now, we’ve added salads, sandwiches and juices. We use buckwheat; most people are used to flour and find this unusual.”

Mumbai diaries
Coming across as a big fan of the city, Antonia tells us, “I like the people in Mumbai the energy is infectious. There’s a lot to do, we like working here as there are so many opportunities. Running a business in the city can get tough with licenses and permits, commuting; logistics too can be tough but that’s for everybody not because we are from France or another country.”

explaining the change in the food scene in Mumbai, she says, “Seven years ago, multi-cuisine restaurants served Chinese, Indian, Mexican, all at one place with buffet lunches, etc. There are more single-cuisine restaurants today. This helps because people can now focus on the ingredients, which improves quality.

Products and ingredients that were unavailable earlier are more accessible now. When we started, we would have something in mind and not find the ingredients and be restricted, and change it. We would look for suppliers and then decide the menu.”

Suburban bliss
While Jeremie and Pierre practise boxing, Antonia chooses yoga. “We hang out at The Yoga House in Bandra a lot, I practise yoga; we drop by almost every alternate weekend. We have a one-year-old son and I love to go walking with him on Carter Road.

I have lived in many places in Mumbai but Bandra is the best. I love that you can walk to most places. We live at Bandstand, so it’s nice to have the little sea view. You can walk to Pali market and shop. In South Mumbai, distances are longer,” she signs off, getting back to the day’s business.

My favourite food hangouts
I love ShreeThaker Bhojanalaya in Kalbadevi, which serves a nice Gujarati thali. We have been going there for seven years, and take all guests, who come to visit us, for their first meal. They have the most amazing diversity and flavours.

The same vegetable is not repeated. I’m not vegetarian but I love it. That’s my favourite place to eat in the city. We also love seafood places like Mahesh Lunch Home and heavy North Indian food like kebabs and Dal Makhni at Moti Mahal.

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