Sorry Delhi, but Mumbai stole our hearts. With its perfect mix of hipster and heritage, highbrow and lowbrow, and streets peppered with eclectic architecture and quirky concept stores, it managed to enthrall us for two full weeks, and we would’ve gladly stayed longer. Here, we’re sharing our favorite things to see, eat, drink and buy in India’s largest city.
Eye candy: see Mumbai’s striking architecture
From Art Deco cinemas to Portuguese bungalows – Mumbai’s eclectic architecture recently made it into the UNESCO World Heritage list, and for good reason:
Did you know Mumbai is home to the world’s second-largest collection of Art Deco buildings? Concentrated around Oval Maidan and Marine Drive, the pastel-colored facades and curved balconies of these apartments, cinemas, and office buildings are a sight to behold – even if you’re only mildly interested in architecture and design. Book a guided tour with Art Deco Mumbai, or opt for a do-it-yourself walking tour: start off at the apartment buildings lining Oval Maidan (Rajjab Mahal, Fairlawn, Shiv Shanti Bhuvan), then turn left at Eros Cinema towards Marine Drive to visit the candy-colored apartment blocks facing the Arabian sea (while you’re there, pick up a ice cream sandwich at K. Rustom’s Ice Cream ).
On the other side of town, the suburb of Bandra gives architecture geeks another thing to get excited about. Not only is this upscale neighborhood in the West of Mumbai studded with Bollywood celebrity homes and hip-and-healthy lunch spots, it’s also home to a (sadly diminishing) collection of gorgeous “Bandra bungalows“: low-rise architectural gems that reflect Mumbai’s eclectic past. Wander along Bandra’s leafy bylanes, and you’ll spot quaint English cottages neighboring salmon-pink Art Deco structures – many of which come decked out with incredible window grills and stained-glass windows. These buildings can be found scattered around the suburb, but Perry Rd., St Andrew’s Rd. and Mt. Carmel Rd. are good starting points.
Mum-bites: where to eat in Mumbai
Sure, you shouldn’t miss out on Mumbai’s iconic street food, but you’d be crazy not to try some of its contemporary foodie haunts:
Tucked away in the unassuming Laxmi Mills compound in Lower Parel, Masque () takes its guests on an 8- or 12-course culinary journey from the Ladakhi highlands to the backwaters of South India. With a focus on farm-to-fork fine dining using seasonal ingredients sourced from the finest farmers and artisans around the country, diners are bound to discover unknown ingredients and surprising combinations. The journey starts —literally— in the kitchen, where all the guests are invited for their first course and a personal introduction by the chef. Dishes on the ever-changing tasting menu are refreshingly devoid of spheres, foams, and other gimmicks, instead focusing on the qualities each of the ingredients has to offer.
Over in BKC, O Pedro () brings a welcome whiff or Goan hospitality to an otherwise sterile office environment. With a menu heavy on inventive Goa-meets-Portugal dishes, the restaurant proves that Goan cuisine can be so much more than spicy fish curries and cheap liquor. Must-tries here are the margao choriz and bacon pulao, the Portuguese doughnuts and some of the fun, rum-based cocktails served with a hint of tiki. Whatever you pick, do make sure to add a portion of freshly baked Goan poees to your order. Accompanied by a range of flavored butters, they make for a delectable entree or snack.
Next door, you’ll find a perfect spot for a boozy brunch: Toast and Tonic (). Taking inspiration from the cultural melting pot of Manhattan’s East Village, the menu features dishes from a variety of culinary cultures – all with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. Whether you order the gumbo, the gnocchi or the kibbeh, you’ll be assured of bold flavors, pretty plating and a great attention to detail. The restaurant’s name already gives it away: Toast and Tonic does a mean G&T. Don’t miss the signature The Herbalist and the British Raj, created from home-made tonic infusions and expertly flavored shrubs.
Keep it local at lunch by visiting one of Mumbai’s few remaining Irani cafes. These old-school coffee shops come packed with character, great food and heaps of history. While Britannia & Co and Olympia Coffee House often get all the love, we weren’t hugely impressed by their food and atmosphere. Instead, we loved the falooda and deep-fried snacks at Kyani & Co (), one of the city’s oldest Irani cafes, which has been operating since 1904. Yazdani Bakery () is another gem; with an interior that has barely changed since its opening in 1953, you’ll travel back in time at this charming, low-key joint. Do as the locals do: order a bun maska slathered with a liberal dose of butter and have a hot chai on the side to dip.
Bottom’s up: where to drink in Mumbai
Drink all the chai you want, but once the sun sets – head here:
There’s a very small chance you’d randomly stumble upon Slink + Bardot (), as this lounge is located on the fringe of a tiny fishing village near the beginning of the Bandra-Worli sea link. Contrasting its surroundings with sleek turquoise-painted walls and a car parking occupied by luxury wheels, the place feels like a decadent hidden abode away from Mumbai’s organized chaos. The drink list brings an ode to nostalgia, featuring classics crafted from homemade bitters, ginger beers, and tonic waters. Mood lighting, vintage knick-knacks, velvet couches and a playlist of relaxed jazz set the tone for an evening of stiff drinks and good conversations.
You’ll find several of Woodside Inn‘s gastropubs around town, but their most polished one can be found at Lower Parel’s Todi Mill complex (). Like Woodside Inn’s other branches in Colaba and Andheri, it spots warm woods, a laid-back vibe, and a menu packed with jazzed-up versions of Western comfort food. Craft beer aficionados will want to pay extra attention, as the bar features the largest collection of beers on tap in all of India (25 and counting). Supplied by breweries throughout the Maharashtra state, the drink list features brews by Gateway Brewing Co., Brewbot, and The Barking Deer among others. Ask the resident ‘Beer Geek’ for recommendations, and keep an eye on their agenda for special infusions and tasting events.
Less secretive, but worth a stop is Aer, a swanky rooftop affair on top of the Four Seasons hotel (). Come around 5 PM for front-row seats to a spectacular sunset that gradually changes the sky from cotton candy-pink to bright orange. There’s an on-and-off ‘no alcohol’ policy (governmental hiccups, or so we were told), so don’t come expecting to get buzzed – but with views like these, you’d hardly need it anyway.
Retail therapy: where to shop in Mumbai
Whether you’re in the market for a new dress, quirky homewares or souvenirs for friends back home – it’ll be impossible to leave Mumbai empty-handed.
Discover that ‘bespoke leisurewear’ is a thing at the atelier of Tokyo-meets-Mumbai clothing brand Obataimu (), smack in the middle of Kala Ghoda. Take a pick from a wide selection of incredibly soft, mostly unisex garments and have them tailored from scratch by a team of in-house artisans. If the clothes aren’t finished before you leave town, they’re happy to ship it to your home address.
Hidden in one of South Mumbai’s leafy bylanes, Clove () brings a carefully curated selection of independent lifestyle brands from all around the country together in a homey concept store. Stocking homeware, tableware, fashion and beauty products–all inherently Indian–you’ll be hard-pressed to leave the store empty-handed. Favorites include Himalayan apricot oils and scrubs by Junaili, beaded accessories by Olivia Dar and quirky ceramics by Delhi-based Claymen.
A few blocks away, Le Mill () hides in a sleek white-washed space on the second floor of a heritage building. With their “eyes on Paris” but their “heart in Mumbai”, this high-end concept store features upcoming Indian designers alongside international ‘It’ brands like Céline and Balenciaga. Founded by two French expats wanting to put Mumbai on the international fashion map, the lofty space houses over 40 hand-picked luxury brands, a tea salon, and a flower boutique.
Finding Bungalow 8 () is a small adventure in itself, as this casual-chic concept store is located literally under the stands of Mumbai’s Wankhede Cricket Stadium (enter via gate 2). Here, Maithili Ahluwalia – owner, curator and one of India’s most prolific style icons – takes shoppers on a journey through a collection of antique jewelry, artisanal Indian garments, and ultra-chic home accessories.
If you don’t have time to make it to Jaipur’s legendary Gem Palace, do make a stop at its Mumbai outpost (). Designed by Marie-Anne Oudejans, the creative force behind Jaipur’s talk-of-the-town Bar Palladio, The Gem Palace’s interiors are as eye-catching as the jewelry they sell: expect Oriental opulence and Rajasthani refinement in the two-story shop. Note that the second floor is open by appointment only.
Then there are a handful of smaller concept stores that are perfect for picking up gifts: Hit up FILTER () for indie magazines, vintage prints and stylish accessories, stop by at Nicobar (in Bandra or Kala Ghoda ) for modern Indian fashion and chic homewares, and pick up some limited-edition prints by Indian artists at Kulture Shop ().
Further reading: 7 India Souvenirs for Design-savvy Travelers
Catching Z’s: Where to stay in Mumbai
Few hotels can drum up to the city’s charm like Abode Bombay does. This kooky boutique hotel, set inside a beautiful historical building in the heart of Colaba, encapsulates everything that makes this part of town so delightful: it’s youthful, creative, and proud of its rich heritage. All of these traits are reflected in the hotel’s interior, where hand-painted tile floors complement an impressive collection of custom teakwood furnishing and quirky, inherently Indian bric-a-brac like chai trays and vintage dabbawala tiffin boxes.
While the low-level rooms are best avoided due to the lack of private bathrooms (and in some cases, windows), the incredibly photogenic top-level rooms come with walk-in rain showers, clawfoot bathtubs and large windows overlooking the clamorous streets below. See our full review of Abode Bombay.
Other great hotels in Mumbai
Taj Mahal Palace
The Oberoi Mumbai
Trident Nariman Point
NB: Part of this article was published in the February/March 2018 print issue of DestinAsian Magazine, titled ‘Mumbai to the Max’.