Cafe Leopold exists solely so the citizens of Mumbai can take their white friends for a decent meal without having to worry about their primitive digestive systems failing. The Bombay Report has long encouraged its readers to punch foreigners on sight, lest they steal our land and women, but in this instance, we decided it would be in our best interests to set aside our agenda for the afternoon, and enjoy a pleasant lunch.
Cafe Leopold is one of Bombay’s most ancient institutions, predating the likes of the Gateway Of India, Victoria Terminus and the BMC Building (which we’ve been told isn’t an appropriate tourist destination) by several years. It started out as an Irani Café but somewhere along the course of a century realised that beer and beef are far more interesting to the general population. Its customers are primarily people from Texas, which we deduced by the number of people wearing cowboy hats, and NRIs which we deduced from the generous tips (which also explains the brilliant service).
As far as décor goes, we really have to give Cafe Leopold full marks. While TGIF has random American memorabilia stuck to the walls, and Hard Rock Café has the clothes of famous drug addicts; Cafe Leopold has the actual bullet holes from the horrible terrorist attack in 2008 on display. Seeing such a humble establishment soldiering on and doing what they do best, despite everything that happened, made us feel proud to be from Mumbai.
A review of Cafe Leopold wouldn’t be complete without an entire section dedicated to the posters. Most of them were seemingly benign; some of them were cool, but only one stood out. It was a poster of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Marilyn Monroe crossing a road like in the iconic Beatles Abbey Road cover. None of us would have even noticed it if it weren’t for our resident misogynist Derrick the Intern who threw a fit saying deeply disturbing things like ‘she doesn’t deserve to be in that poster’ and ‘feminism is getting out of hand’. Fearing that the Texans at the next table would share his sentiments and start some sort of ideological coup, we calmed him down with a beer. The menu at Cafe Leopold is truly massive, and in the classic Irani Cafe spirit stuck under the glass tabletop so it’s as inconvenient to the customer as possible. Being lazy, we asked our waiter to bring us what he thought was good. And we don’t regret it.
The buffalo they used in our beef chilli was convincing enough to have us murdered in the state of UP. It was not so much beef chilli as it was gigantic chunks of steak that the sum total of our team were unable to finish. It was absolutely delicious and just the right amount of spicy(very) to justify a nice, cold beer. We wondered why the portions were so unnecessarily massive before somebody pointed out the establishment was designed to awesome, and we absolutely recommend it.
As a non vegetarian supremacist organisation, The Bombay Report refrains from ordering vegetarian food; it’s in the company charter. As complete hypocrites however, we break this rule rather often to accommodate for stuffed mushrooms. We expected ours to be stuffed with cheese but much to our dismay, they were stuffed with some sort of potato bhaji and tasted faintly of clove. What really puzzled us were the mushrooms themselves; which were straight out of Alice In Wonderland. We’d never seen mushrooms so huge and so round, they were definitely genetically modified, which explains why one of them sprouted legs and quickly ran off onto the causeway. It made for an enjoyable starter, albeit a really strange one.
Pesto Cream Chicken Pasta
The pasta at Cafe Leopold was excellent, but we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because the chicken was inedible. It seemed like some sort of hormone-enriched super-chicken and tasted absurdly gamey, but in an artificial super-chicken way. Chicken is a blank slate that’s supposed to take on the flavour of whatever you put it in, any deviance from this time honoured way of cooking should be illegal. It wasn’t so much that the chicken tasted bad; it just tasted too much like chicken, which is the lowest of the commodity birds.
We never understood why Cafe Leopold was as popular and iconic as it was, but after spending a single afternoon under its ancient pillars we see that it deserves every bit of the praise. It might not have the best food in Mumbai, and it might not be the tidiest place in the world; but nothing represents the spirit of our great city like this not-so-little Irani on Colaba Causeway.
This article was first published in our column for Urbane, a magazine for the “evolved man”.