Cafe Samovar – Where Simplicity Rules

The first time I walked into Cafe Samovar turned out to be a momentous day in my life. I had just interviewed with BBC World at Nariman Point (a job that I eventually got and that marked a big career move for me) and had another interview that side of town. It made no sense going home and so I decided to make the most of my time in South Mumbai. I walked into Jehangir Art Gallery looked at the many exhibits on display that day and then decided to try out this nondescript cafe at the back overlooking the lawns of the Prince of Wales Museum. It was April and Mumbai was reeling under the summer sun.
As I sipped on my cold and delicious chaas (buttermilk) old style wall mounted fans whirred blowing air in all directions. The cafe itself is a narrow corridor with rows of tables and chairs on either side. The table setting is fairly fuss free with a simple floral arrangement, a steel glass with tissues, salt and pepper shakers and 3 steel bowls with some lip smacking green chutney, pickle and tamarind chutney. I can’t remember what I ate that day, but remember that whatever it was, was very good!
Ten years later as I had another meal at Samovar a few weeks ago, it felt like time had stood still. The same fuss free tables greeted me, as did the same highly efficient but rather reserved waiters. I ordered a seasonal speciality – sarson ka saag and maki ki roti (a leafy vegetable curry served with rotis or flat bread made of corn). The food was fresh and delicious.
What started out in 1964 as a place where creative minds can meet and chat by Usha Khanna and Soli Batlivala, has over the years hosted some of the biggest names in India’s art scene like M F Hussain, Anjoli Ela Menon, Jatin Das amongst others and famous Bollywood personalities like Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. Today there’s a coffee table book for sale titled – Samovar: How A Mumbai Cafe Became A Metaphor Of A Generation, that chronicles all significant events that have made Samovar the institution that it is today.

It’s a strange coincidence that the day I chose to write about Samovar, also happens to be the day when news has come in of the Cafe having lost its battle to continue on the Jehangir Art Gallery premises. After a long drawn battle for survival, one the Cafe has managed to win on most occasions, is now drawing to its finale with the Cafe facing closure.

For me Samovar is a reflection of Mumbai itself – a not too big space, where the food is fantastic and reasonable, where anyone can walk in, where people struggling to make it gather, where dreams are made and shattered.


  • Reply
    March 19, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Oh, no! Cafe Samovar is closing down? I hadn't heard, and I'm really disappointed. I've never lived in Mumbai for as long as I'd like to, but I've spent many pleasant afternoons here having long, lazy lunches that just wouldn't get over. And I could give you a big shiny medal for your closing lines – the equivalence with Bombay/Mumbai. Wonderful reflections.

  • Reply
    Paresh Kale
    March 20, 2015 at 3:16 am

    Just read in todays newspaper. Nice photos, tfs the meories.

  • Reply
    Chaitali Patel
    March 20, 2015 at 4:03 am

    Thanks! I am so happy you liked that last line – I wasn't sure if I manage my exact thoughts into words, but looked like it worked! :)

    Incidentally I haven't been to Samovar many times, but every time that I have I have always loved it!

  • Reply
    Chaitali Patel
    March 20, 2015 at 4:04 am

    Thanks Paresh! The timing was purely coincidental. :)

  • Reply
    March 21, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Lovely memories this cafe holds for you. It's so sad that the cafe now finds itself having to close after it has seemed to fill an important niche for so long.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2015 at 7:35 am

    such a sad thing when an institution shuts down – was an oasis in that area. I remember Samovar used to have great parathas and lassi *sigh*

  • Reply
    Chaitali Patel
    March 25, 2015 at 11:29 am

    I agree Joyful! Thanks for dropping by.

  • Reply
    Chaitali Patel
    March 25, 2015 at 11:30 am

    I know Charu… it really was a patch of calm and peace that part of town.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Ah! One of my favourite stopovers in 'town'. Art, followed by chai and stuff…

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