Eateries in Bandra (West) are an eavesdropper’s delight. Since the next table might be just a beer mug away, you don’t have to strain your ears. Why is this girl out on a date shedding tears? Why are this person’s office colleagues deriding their boss? Such gossip is served on a platter in this suburban Mumbai neighbourhood. Even if you don’t want to listen in, you can’t help it.
A large number of retail businesses in Bandra occupy spaces with a very small floor area. This does not mean that they are cheap, or a variant of mobile eateries. The food in these places is priced keeping in mind the steep rentals the owners have to pay. Bandra has some of Mumbai’s costliest real estate. Restaurant owners have to keep their food prices high, unlike restaurant owners in areas of central Mumbai, like Dadar. The rental for a 700 sq ft area is about Rs 3 lakh per month. In Bandra, the price of real estate is said to be currently between Rs 40,000 and Rs 60,000 per sq ft — from Rs 15,000 per sq ft six years ago.
One place where the area is small but the prices high is Quench, a resto-bar in Bandra Reclamation. Eating and merrymaking at Quench is like fielding in a cricket match on Azad Maidan. The pitches are in such close proximity that a fielder at mid-wicket of one match could be mistaken for a cover fielder by a batsman of the neighbouring match.
At Quench, owing to the kissing distance between tables, you might find yourself sitting between two tables. Very soon you could be part of the company at both. Since Mumbai-ites are fairly relaxed and friendly, you could be fielding questions from both ends.
The upside, at the end of the night, is that you only pay for the team that you were officially part of. The players in the other match pardon your involuntary transgression and even your nibbling from their table.
Since most of these joints operate out of 400-700 sq ft, interior decorators exploit every available inch. At Quench, the bartender sits in half of a jeep that juts out of a wall. Not every joint is as nightmarishly decorated. The newly opened dessert parlour Dolcemente Italia has a neatly designed narrow corridor which holds the gelato fridge just as you enter, and leads to a sitting area for 20-25 people. Small handmade Belgium chocolates cost Rs 350 here. But then, the chocolate is handmade and the cocoa is from Belgium. Not even the yoghurt is cheap.
No such issues with Dolce-mente Italia’s neighbour, the South Side Café. Most of the items on the menu of this 400 sq ft café are below Rs 100 — except for one, the “South Indian meal”.
Since it opened about three months ago, South Side’s owner Aditya Gaonkar has had to make alterations in the kitchen in relation to the sitting arrangement to ensure that when all 21 seats are full, the waiters do not bump into each other while serving, and in general so that there is a “smooth flow”.
Despite bigger spaces available at cheaper rates outside Bandra, restaurateurs opt for this suburb because “there is no bigger pride than doing business in Bandra and succeeding”.
Sonal Bhandarkar, owner of Poco Loco, a Spanish restaurant which opened just last week, says she had the option of opening her restaurant in Juhu instead, in a 1,000 sq ft area as opposed to the 700 sq ft available here. She says she “opted for this place because of its location”. A dinner for two would cost Rs 2,000-3,000 at Poco Loco, and yes, you could well take part in the conversation at the next table — although not as intimately as you would at Quench.