It’s a wet, wet Saturday morning. Even the crows have refused to budge from their hideouts. And here we are facing the sea near Haji Ali dargah. It’s just past 6 am and the streets are unusually empty by Mumbai standards. But in one corner of the road there is already a crowd building up -- curious mix of morning walkers, joggers, religious pilgrims, call centre employees on their way home and a few others like us, who are still yawning.
Juicing it up at Haji Ali
The Haji Ali Juice Centre at the entrance to the shrine is one of the most popular haunts for early birds craving for a bite and a drink. The joint, which is open from 5 am to a little after midnight, serves fruit juices, ice creams, faludas, sandwiches, pizzas and a lot more. Make no mistake: it’s not just the run-of-the-mill stuff they serve here. So while the apple, orange, carrot and watermelon juices are all available at Rs 70 or Rs 80 a glass, you can also order a New Zealand grape juice for R 180 or a blueberry juice for Rs 150. These are, of course, seasonal fruits and not available all the time. We order a peach juice (R 150) and a Kesar badam pista with fresh cream (Rs 220). There are loads of ice creams (Kiwi, cherry, banana, mango, fresh anjeer etc) all priced between Rs 160 and Rs 200 that come loaded with fresh cream or topped with fresh fruits, but we don’t want to pile on the calories. So we ask for the Mushroom Club Grill sandwich (Rs 120) and a Mozarella Cheese Roll (Rs 100). One for the road? So we pick up a Lichee Cream Bowl (Rs 180). Total bill Rs 770, three filled tummies, the monsoon celebrations have begun.
South Mumbai giants
It is no easy task, mind you, checking out dozens of restaurants and roadside food stalls that open for breakfast to come up with an authoritative list of Mumbai’s best breakfast joints. Ah, but perfectionists have always had to suffer. So we move on, pushing further south, stopping briefly at the Sassanian, the century-old Irani café on Marine Lines that opens early at 7.30 am. Sassanian is quite simply, for the lack of a better alternative, an awesome place. The food is hot and tasty and the price quite unbelievable. We order Fried Eggs Sunny Side Up (Rs 17 for two eggs), Keema Bhurji (Rs 20) and a plate of Buttered Buns (Rs 10). To make sure we are hungry again after the binge at Haji Ali, we walk the last mile to Sassanian. The eggs are perfect and the buttered buns take our minds three decades back to rainy mornings at home. We pay in cash here, as like Haji Ali Juice Centre, the plastic hasn’t yet arrived.
At Café Sundance a little further away near Eros Cinema (Churchgate station), the shutters have just opened. It’s 8 am but already the local train commuters are arriving in large numbers. Many have skipped breakfast at home and joined a beeline for this ever-popular joint. The breakfast menu here, we discover, is quite small. We simply are too full to order anything any more, so we coax a guy we spot eating alone, to become our reviewer for the next 20 minutes. He has just ordered the Sundance special, which basically consists of two eggs made to order (our friend asks for scrambled eggs), two toasts with jam and butter, French fries on the side and a cup of steaming hot coffee. Our friend digs into it hungrily. Going by his smile we can tell he has almost reached a state of nirvana. Satisfied, we move on, to our last stop for the morning — Cafe Mondegar on the Colaba causeway.
Mondies, as it’s known, opens a little after 8 and along with its causeway twin Café Leopold, caters to a large expat crowd as well as foreign tourists. We are not surprised therefore to find large pots of tea, chicken sausage and garlic toasts giving company to masala omlettes here. A plate of masala omlette with buttered toast costs Rs 180 here, so it’s not cheap by any means. But this place is a winner just by being such a cool place to hang around in!
Saturday’s downpour fades in comparison when we peek out of the window on Sunday. But then we have a job at hand, so without much ado, we set out for the hunt, even when it seems cats and dogs may literally rain from the skies.
Our first stop is Café Madras in Matunga. It’s already crowded when we arrive at 7.30 am but luckily we find a table to ourselves in this wildly popular all- day south Indian joint. We know the menu here inside out, so we quickly order a dosa, a plate of idlis and two cups of typical south Indian coffee. The bill is under R 200 and the meal over in 15 minutes. There is always a queue outside and with the rains coming down again, we feel sorry for those getting soaked and dreaming of steaming idlis.
Onward we march, braving the rain and the ankle-deep water, to reach Mani’s Lunch Home in Matunga. This humble eatery, which opens at 6:30 am, is the favourite haunt of college goers, morning walkers and nearby residents. The place is abuzz as we enter. Narrow benches line the restaurant and waiters get down to business promptly without wasting a single minute. We order a Mysore Masala Dosa (Rs 35) and Sheera (Rs 30). The dosa is crisp with a coating of light masala and lip-smacking filling of potatoes and onions tempered with mustard seeds and turmeric. We relish the crispy dosa with the accompanying green coconut chutney and Madras onion sambar. The sheera isn’t overly sweet and is made with loads of ghee. The eatery also offers idli, medu wada, upma and a wide variety of dosas.
Next on our plate is Guru Kripa in Sion. Experience has made us wiser and we have come out in greater numbers today. After all, we set out to give an authentic and credible list. At Guru Kripa we see an indoor and outdoor section and also a healthy section that offers a wide array of healthy juices. While white benches line the indoor section, the outdoor is designed like a veranda where you can sit on parapets or even stand and eat. The place opens at 8 am and is brimming with morning walkers and youngsters. We stay outdoors and keep our raincoats on and order a Samosa Chhole (R 26). The samosas are fresh, the crust breaks with a crunch as we dig in. The potato filling inside isn’t overtly spicy and complements the crunchy exterior perfectly. The eatery offers Idli Sambar, Uttapa, Dosas, Chhole Tikki, Samosa, Batata Wada and Dal Pakwan, etc.
Our final port of call this morning is Thambi, an Udupi cafe at Ghatkopar (west). We’ve got the blues and only the slickness of the ghee-laden upma, and the shock of the spicy rasam can dispel them. And we need something strong to keep a gang of cackling girls at bay, at least mentally. Thambi, which has four branches in the city (Ghatkopar, Kurla, Matunga and Chandivli), serves South Indian, North Indian and Maharashtrian food. We call for the Upma, Mysore Sada Dosa and Rasam and turn rather hopeful. The Upma (Rs 30) is a compact scoop and tastes good. It is the Mysore Sada Dosa (Rs 40) that really gives our appetite something to chew on. Generous red chutney smeared on a fairly large dosa is good news on a rainy day. The Rasam is not as spicy as we hoped it would be, but is still worth sipping on. The winner, however, is their day’s special, Kanda Bhajiya (Rs 45). Hot bhajiyas, with just the right amount of batter coating crisp onions, come sprinkled with ample tangy chaat masala. We have survived another day’s hard work. Only the western suburbs remains to be conquered.
Thankfully it’s not a manic Monday. The rains have stayed away and before the Gods change their minds, we step out.
The Westside Story: Love, French tea and yoga
At Love & Latte, the newly- opened cafe at Lokhandwala, we discover a quaint little place for coffee lovers. The little café is warmly lit up, and as we are the sole guests, the staff is at our disposal. The menu promises a number of sandwiches, pastas, salads, wraps and rolls, but in the morning supply is limited, we are told. No non-vegetarian items are available. We pick the Jalapeno Popper Sandwich (Rs 120), which comes with a generous filling of cheese. The Mozzarella & Pesto Panini (Rs 130) is filling but the mustard is a bit overpowering. To warm ourselves as the rain comes down in sheets, we ask for Cookie Dough Mint Latte (Rs 130) and a Choco Ginger Latte (Rs 130), both of which arrive hot in large mugs. The soft music playing the background, sets the mood. We sip our coffee in peace.
A few kilometres away we chance upon Silver Beach Café. This Parisian-influenced cafe in Juhu offers eggs made-to-order, yummy sandwiches and wraps fresh oats and milk, upma, juices and more. We skim through the menu. We’ve been here before and like the place. So we keep our appetite intact and head to Bandra where three interesting places await us.
afé Basilico on Pali Naka opens at 9 am. We are one of the first customers and go with what the staff recommends -- Cous Cous Upma, Eggs Benedictine and Herbal Tea. The upma is deliciously different and the eggs near perfect.Next door, the long stop is at the French café Suzette. Antonia Achache, who owns the establishment, is sitting at one of the tables and tells us all about the French teas that she has in stock. We ask for a Savoury Breakfast (Rs 300), which includes a Chicken Crepe (there is a choice of bacon or eggs), a Croque Olive with Crooked Ham (Rs 270) and a Raspberry Yoghurt Smoozie (Rs 215). The food is delightfully different and filling. The Mariage freres tea we order, is mild, aromatic and just the right pick-me-up on a rainy morning.
It’s drizzling and the pretty lady asks if we want seconds, but we decide to walk on, getting soaked in the rain instead, as we approach out final stop for the feature — Yoga House on Chimbai Road. Here, we park our umbrellas and shoes outside and step into a world of peace and solitude. There are normal seats and then there are sofas on the floor with low tables, meant for those who are and want to stay fit. Yoga House runs several yoga courses through the week and both trainees as well as other patrons can order from a vast menu of healthy, organic breakfast options the place has. The raw vegetables section has items such as I Am Dieting (Rs 200), I Am Dancing (Rs 250) and I Am Fulfilling (Rs 250) which are all complete meals comprising of different and relevant veggies, yoghurt, brown rice, a selection of nuts and hummus. The Yogi’s Corner Breakfast of porridge, multivitamin juice and tea comes for Rs 300. We order an I Am Alkalising sandwich (oven roasted veggies, with zucchini, paprika, pesto and marinated fried peppercorns, (Rs 220), a Detox Chai (ginger, lemon, basic, honey) and their signature Hash Browns (Rs 270) . We look on as the staff chop fresh vegetables in a spotlessly clean kitchen and get our order ready in minutes. Meanwhile we look around the place, as one can buy everything from honey, jaggery and rose water to clothes, books on yoga and even chandeliers here. With breakfasts as scrumptous as these, waking up at the crack of dawn would never be a challenge!
Best early morning breakfast joints in town
Haji Ali Juice Centre – Mahalaxmi – 61589004
Marine Drive 45217888
Café Mondegar - Colaba 23455555
Café Sundance - Churchgate 11007662
Café Madras –
Matunga 7162 6262
Mani’s Lunch Home – Matunga 26551879
Guru Kripa –
Love & Latte – Lokhandwala 827272982
Café Basilico – Pali Naka/ Colaba 92827262
Suzette – Pali Road/ Colaba 87625327
Yoga House – Chimbai Road, Bandra 65372653
Ayappan – Matunga 816392673
Omi Samosa Centre – Sion 81739273
* This list does not include coffee shops of star hotels