Even if you miss the signboard near Chembur station, the aromas of frying vadas, ghee-drenched dosas and sambar will draw you in the direction of Geeta Bhavan. The large, well-ventilated hall has white formica tables and benches neatly arranged with the military efficiency typical of Udupi establishments. Skip the idli-dosa standards (not that they’re bad) for the rasam vada (a nice balance of a crispy shell and a soft absorbent interior), butter adai (heavy enough for a Sunday breakfast) and the delicate neer dosa served with chutney.
Central Avenue Road, near Sahakari Bhandar (+91 22 2528 0339). Mon-Sun 7.00AM-11.00PM. No alcohol. Cash only. Meal for two R300.
Le Café had, until recently, a monopoly on upmarket continental cuisine in Chembur. College kids come here for their more special dates and working professionals for a place to unwind, but it is rarely crowded. The décor is understated and the blinds are usually drawn, possibly to hide the ungainly view of a children’s clothing shop across the road. Its vegetarian dishes and salads aren’t worth the time the food usually takes to arrive, but its cheese fondue served with olives and an assortment of breads is a winner. They also do refreshing green apple spritzers and decadent chocolate pastries.
Jewel of Chembur, First Floor, First Road, opposite Natraj Cinema (+91 22 2527 5000). Mon-Sun 7.00AM-12.00AM. Alcohol served. All major credit cards. Meal for two R800.
Laxmi General Stores
A little hole-in-the-wall that keeps “Coimbatore Butter” (white butter), the range of Priya pickles and crunchy murukku, Laxmi General Stores is a one-stop shop for those looking for south Indian spice pastes, savoury snacks like peppery banana chips and packets of appalam and vadam (also called vathal, a ricebased papad).
Prakash Lodge, near railway station, Chembur-Govandi Road (+91 22 6797 3660). Tue-Sun 9.00AM-10.00PM. Cash only.
Saroj Sweets is testament to Chembur’s thriving Marathi community, as are the lines of jostling Marathi aunties queuing up at the counter. It has a huge Marathi menu set up on the wall opposite the cash counter and the staff prefers Marathi to Hindi. Saroj has the regular collection of sweets like barfi, halwa, ladoos, kaju katli, basundi and a few shelves of Bengali mithai that are best ignored. Its pedas are par excellence, not overwhelmingly sweet and just the right amount of crumbly. The savoury offerings are far lesser in number – aloo vadas, samosas (regular and mini) and kothmbir vadi – but make for great snacks too.
14, Malhar Bhavan, NG Acharya Marg, next to Tata Textiles, near railway station (+91 22 2528 8305). Mon- Sun 8.30AM-10.30PM. Closed 1.00PM-3.00PM. Cash only.
Udaya Lunch Home
Udaya is where local Malayalis and Malayali cuisine lovers sate their coconut-flecked fish and prawn cravings. The place is slightly underlit and divey-dingy but the seafood is top-notch (try the fish moilee and prawn biryani) and they also do excellent vegetarian food. Like their avial, full of vegetables cooked in a delicate coconut paste and served with flaky Malabari parathas. It begins to get crowded at around 7pm and is usually packed until closing time, when its sated occupants stagger out, filled with beer and beef fry.
Sharma Safalya Building, Ground Floor, near railway station, Chembur-Govandi Road (+91 22 2521 4628). Fri-Wed 11.00AM-3.30PM, 7.00PM-11.00PM. Closed on Thursdays. Alcohol served. All major cards. Meal for two R400.
Sri Krishna Sweets
You might imagine that a place synonymous with the best south Indian sweets would do better than to have just two counters in a large dark granite room. It does, however, have the right assortment of sweets. Shri Krishna never did manage to perfect thezhatu pal, a Tamil version of condensed milk, so don’t be surprised if the soulless slab tastes like a milky version of its ghee-laden Mysore Pak (a divine melt-in-your-mouth experience). Its speciality, however, is its beautifully crafted miniature cashew sweets that are shaped and coloured like bananas, brinjals, corn cobs, roses, radishes, pineapples and of course, cashew.
Kashi Niketan, opposite Hotel Royal Orchid, Chembur-Govandi Road (+91 22 2520 7770). Mon-Sun 9.00AM-9.00PM. All major credit cards.
If you need a quick bite before or after your long commute, skip the sandwich place and the Jumbo King vada pav outside Chembur station and walk down the road towards the vegetable market to Patel Snacks. It doles out vada pavs, samosas and chaat, but it is really good for its dabeli. In Gujarati style, the huge platter with the dabeli masala is dotted with artistically arranged green grapes that help to take the edge off the spice when it becomes too overwhelming. The deceptively heavy snack can keep you going for at least a few hours. There is also a Patel Juice Centre right next to it, also patronised by commuters in a rush.
Under Amar Mahal Bridge, near vegetable market (+91 22 2528 2877/+91 95946 67861). Wed-Mon 9.00AM-10.00PM. Closed on Tuesdays. Cash only. Meal for two R100.
Shell Colony, with its dusty roads and squat buildings, looks like it has been transplanted into Chembur from some small town. Hotel Sunny stands out. The large, cheerful sun on its sign is probably the most colour the area has seen for years. The no-nonsense eatery serves Malayali food like rice plates, biryani, mutton fry and appams with coconutty stew. The portions are generous (a rice plate can easily be shared by two), the atmosphere is pleasantly nonfussy and the food wholesome and homely, a place where you can take your grandparents without blinking an eye.
Shop No 43, Shell Colony Road, ahead of vegetable market (+91 22 2522 3549). Mon-Sun 11.30AM-11.30PM. Closed on Tuesdays. No alcohol. All major credit cards. Meal for two R400.
With the advent of Smokin’ Joes and Domino’s and “authentic” pizza places, the humble Indian pizza, loaded with unpretentious Britannia cheddar, chopped tomatoes and onions and whatever else was at hand, seemed to have passed out of existence. A time-honoured Chembur favourite, Tastings takes pride in its Shiv Sagar-style pizzas, ice-cream sundaes and desserts. The al fresco dining space is usually empty on weekdays, apart from a few lone businessmen and stray college students looking for a green place to sit and watch the world pass by, but on weekends, the place becomes infested with children and their families.
Near Croissants and Naturals, opposite Diamond Garden, corner of Central Avenue and Sion-Trombay Road (+91 97686 66636). 9.00AM-12.30AM. No alcohol. All major credit cards. Meal for two R500.
Shree Siddhi Vinayaka Fast Food Centre
Ignore the usual Punjabi fare and snack on Siddhivinayaka’s sabudana vadas instead. Hot, crisp and served with coriander chutney, they are made fresh every few hours. The shop stays open only as long as their stock lasts.
Near K-Star Mall, ahead of Diamond Garden, Sion- Trombay Road. Mon-Sun 10.00AM-10.00PM. No alcohol. Cash only. Meal for two R100.
The fast food and sweet shop has no seating and yet it’s always crowded. Jhama is a local institution known for its pani puri, chaat, piping hot ragda, sweets made with pure ghee and its huge signature yellow-and-red sign. Also extremely popular (and with good reason) are Jhama’s jalebis, which are fried every few hours in a large kadai near the entrance. Pair it with their excellent chilled rabdi and you’ll feel like you've been shown the stairway to heaven.
CG Road, Chembur Camp, near Collector’s Colony (+91 22 2553 7222). Mon-Sun 8.00AM-10.00PM. All major credit cards. Meal for two R200.
By Mridula Chari on June 08 2012 11.31am
Photos by Omrita Nandi