When a Mumbai icon like Cafe Madras notches up 75 years, it is time to say cheers and raise a toast — with a glass of sambar or rasam, choose your poison. The city’s most cherished South Indian restaurant, Cafe Madras in Kings Circle, completes its 75th year this year. It is symbolic about how simplicity and being true to yourself is the strongest foundation on which everlasting edifices are built.
In an age of rapid change and fusion which often spells confusion, Café Madras keeps the patrons coming because it has great food. Period. Its USP is not all the frills attached to eateries these days. It is not the ‘ambience’, as restaurant critics say, or even the service, though that is quick. It is quite simply the food which, of course, is the most important aspect of a restaurant.
Café Madras and places like it need to be retained and not taken over by some soulless multinational serving fast food in cardboard boxes. They are the places that give a city some soul, esoteric though that may sound. It is also a barometer to the shifting sands of a city; how the transformation is mirrored not only on the streets but in its commercial establishments, including food nooks.
Years ago, Matunga was mini Madras, hub of the Tamils. Soon, Tamils were replaced by a growing Gujarati population. Today, Cafe Madras and even the other establishments in the Matunga hub reflect that change in demographics.
When the restaurant had marked 25 years, its owner Jagdish Kamath had spoken to this paper about how Café Madras did not mix North Indian with South Indian food as other establishments in the city had done. They did tweak the menu through the years to cater to the palate of a changing clientele, however.
Whatever they have done though, it is obviously working for them. At a time when restaurants celebrate surviving even three years, Cafe Madras can truly pop the champagne. Make that a Dom Perignon. Or, a kaapi for that matter.