Leopold’s café on Colaba is another Bombay institution. The wide shopfront on Colaba Causeway, one of the oldest and busiest roads in the city, opens up the large café to an expansive view of the street. Beggars beg, hawkers peddle counterfeit goods to the crowds of passing locals and tourists, and black and yellow taxis stuck in traffic honk, pointlessly. It’s a snapshot of vibrant, energetic, urban Bombay.
Gregory David Roberts famously wrote about Leopold’s in his book Shantaram, which was the essential backpacker accessory a few years ago. The main character used to sit there endlessly with his colourful cast of friends. The book recounts the story of Roberts himself, an Australian prison escapee who lived in the slums, where he established a health clinic, became a street soldier for the Bombay mafia, was thrown into Indian prison and then went on to fight with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Slightly crazy, but a fun and lively read.
As in the book, Leo’s is almost always full, but it’s much better to be inside than outside. The high ceilings and buzzing fans provide welcome relief from the heat. The café chairs are just comfortable enough. The big old clock above the door and the aging mahogany trimmed mirrors even lend the café a distinguished air. Leo’s dates back to the 1870s, so it has earned the right to its shabby elegance.
The customers are pretty diverse. Bombayites mix easily with tourists from all over the world. Hours are lost in people-watching. Business is conducted. Some suggest that Leo’s is a good place for less legitimate kinds of trade, but it’s just part of the fabric of Bombay.
If you ask, the waiters will point out the bullet holes in the walls and in the mirrors where the terrorists who took over the café for a day in 2008 left their mark. It was a traumatic day but a few days later, Leopold’s re-opened and resumed its rhythm.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.
Crisp and organised, Roda Irani leads her daughter through the narrow gullies of Swadeshi Market. “Come, let us get to the café.”
Its not often you get the chance to make 1 + 1 = 3, but if you ever do - you should grab it with both hands. Because these are the moments you will remember, the ones you will cherish, the ones that makes it all worthwhile.
Under a canopy of stars and lights, we welcomed our biggest-ever line-up of exceptional South Asian talent to Dinerama for our Diwali celebrations.
Coronavirus has blown our world apart, and all Dishooms are currently closed. It feels like the right thing for us to do.
While the restaurants are closed, we offer solace in our cookery book, which is most certainly still available to order. May it bring Dishoom, joy and plenty of Daal to your home. From all of us, with love.