Marol Call: A Resident’s Guide To The Best Of Andheri East

Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe, Andheri, Mumbai

Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe.

In another time and dimension, the stretch from Chakala to Saki Naka could have been a cool hangout. The dynamics are all there. The metro line, the swanky new international airport, all the big five-star hotels, a decent line-up of bars and restaurants. So what’s missing? The folks from Bandra? A smattering of matcha and doppio bars? Or just a promenade to people watch? The armpit-of-the-city jokes have left their stink here for a long time to come. The neglected suburb’s claim to fame is the memes it has incited.

I’ve never had a problem mentioning my place of residence to strangers or soon-to-be friends at house parties. Marol, Andheri East. I admit to them at the onset: The roads are a riot and the traffic extremely annoying. But I try to buffer this with an addendum like “My place is ten minutes from the international airport” or “We’ve bought an apartment there”. Ever so rarely, and it does happen, you hear words that call for a grin wider than the Joker’s: “Hey, I stay in Marol too!” When a friend or acquaintance moves here from one of the tony neighbourhoods, the feeling is ecstatic. It’s not that you’re happy at your friend’s distress, but it’s more on the lines of “Finally, we have company”.

Three years on, my wife and I still wonder, sometimes, about how we ended up here after living the past decade within that Lakshman rekha that marks the end of Bandra. One would think that life is about moving forward or in the case of this city, shifting southwards, right? Wrong. Like many others I know, my life in Bombay started in the south in a matchbox-sized studio in Byculla – because staying near your workplace and expunging the commute does wonders to your sanity levels. Working in VT by day, my after hours were packed with stopovers at The Ghetto or at times Bandra haunts like Zenzi, Toto’s and Janata. A journalist’s day always ends in a bar (though in Bombay that applies to most professions).

Next I moved with my girlfriend into a 1BHK in Mahim. The geography of the place and our chemistry worked well since we could shuttle between gigs at Blue Frog or catch up with friends in Bandra on most days. Soon enough, the idea of marriage was looming like a noncommittal monsoon cloud and the need to upgrade to a 2BHK prompted a move further northwards. Vakola, our first venture into the east, kind of grew on us. An active social life across the Khar subway was still viable. We could throw house parties or make impromptu plans and people would land up without cribbing.

A year after getting married, we moved into our own apartment in Marol. Thirteenth floor overlooking the Mithi River or rather the Mithi nullah as it’s called locally, spacious by Bombay standards, well-shaded and surrounded by foliage were some of the factors that sealed the deal. Life as I knew it was going to change. Our social calendar started to resemble a clean slate. Attending gigs and meeting up with friends decreased (attending gigs was key to meeting friends). Also, being a freelancer meant working from home most of the time. Going to town became a pilgrimage of sorts. In turn, friends visiting from town would joke that it’s a weekend getaway.

Andheri East is huge and the one reason I haven’t explored it enough is because frankly, who wants to explore Andheri East? Having said that, there are a few places of interest here and in the neighbourhood of Powai (that far-off suburb is just a stone’s throw away). Although the nightlife is kind of a dampener, food has never been an issue. Like any true Malayali, I first scouted out the Kerala restaurants in the area. If there’s Deluxe and Taste of Kerala in Fort and Sneha in Mahim, then Marol is blessed with Benzy’s, Spice of Kerala and Murali’s.

And if all the new launches are anything to go by, it seems like we’re not too far from catching up with our more popular western counterpart. If The Little Door has jazz nights on Tuesdays, our neighbourhood’s new bar Finch dares to programme jazz most nights of the week. So the next time you’re here, instead of cursing the traffic, park yourself at one of the many neighbourhood gems. Here are my picks of the places at which to eat, drink and hang out.

Benzy's, Andheri East, Mumbai.

Benzy’s.

Aarey Garden Restaurant
Aarey Milk Colony, 7 Aarey Road, Goregaon (East). Tel: 022 2927 2435. Open daily, from 11.30am to midnight.
Even though this technically falls outside Andheri East, it deserves a mention. Just a short drive from Marol, located deep inside Aarey, next to a defunct dairy plant, is this eatery where they don’t mind if you BYOB. Here, you can sit under a canopy of trees and enjoy the expansive green view around while dining on Malwani food and sipping on your booze of choice.

Ambrosia Café and Deli
Shop No.2, Wellington Business Park 2, opposite Skyline Icon, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol. Tel: 022 3015 1683.
The decor ticks all the boxes in the list of currently trendy decor elements: exposed brick walls, trunks as wall art and mix and match seating (almost no chair resembles the other). The food is equally predictable, with a menu featuring salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pasta. And the wi-fi is extremely slow. But the staff is friendly and the vibe is nice, especially in the al fresco garden section, making it ideal for a work meeting and a quiet spot to get some work done away from the cacophony of Marol Naka.

Apna Dhaba
Near Marol Pipeline, Andheri Kurla Road, Chakala. Tel: 98120 63994. Open daily, from 11am to 6am.
Can be reviewed in one sentence: It’s open all night, every night of the week. So long, Deepak Wines.

Asia Kitchen & Bar by Mainland China
Ground Floor, Neelkanth Udyog Bhavan, Saki Naka Metro Junction, Andheri Kurla Road, Saki Naka. Tel: 022 3015 1694. Open daily, from 12.30pm to 3.30pm and from 7pm to 11.30pm.
A sanctum to escape the manic traffic of Saki Naka, this seven-month-old modern South-East Asian restaurant is a neigbourhood favourite. I don’t know who makes the playlists but the speakers stream some sick electronic and trance music, at a low volume of course.

Balan Dosa Stall
Vijay Nagar, Marol Maroshi Road, near Uncle’s Chinese Corner, Marol. Tel: 99201 08062. Open Monday to Saturday, from 7am to 11.30am and from 5.30pm to 9.30pm; and Sunday, from 7am to 11.30am.
For South Indian breakfast food like dosas and utappams. It’s always busy, especially during morning office hours.

Benzy’s
Hotel Benzy Palace, Vijay Nagar, Marol Maroshi Road, Marol. Tel: 022 3260 6382. Open daily, from 7.30am to midnight.
This is my go-to place for good Malayali food. From coconut-laced, peppery beef fry to tamarind-flavoured fish curries, Benzy’s is as close to authentic as it gets. Occasionally, they host pop-up Kerala street food festivals, which are like gastronomic dividends.

Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe
Golden Nest Society Apartments, Mapkhan Nagar, Marol. Tel: 077384 46788. Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 10pm; Monday, closed.
This quaint little hangout, which opened in August last year, is the best thing to happen to Marol in recent times. Started by former street kid Amin Sheikh and run by friendly volunteers from all over the world, the 20-seater café offers healthy juices and fuss-free quick bites. Bombay to Barcelona also sells clothes by the designer-volunteers and sometimes, stages small gigs in the evenings. If only they had Wi-Fi.

Pawfect Life, Andheri East

Pawfect Life.

Global Fusion and All Stir Fry
Global Fusion, B1, Times Square Tech Park, Andheri Kurla Road, Saki Naka junction, Marol. Tel: 022 4258 2000. Open daily, from noon to 3.30pm and from 7pm to midnight. All Stir Fry, Waterstones Hotel, off International Airport Approach Road, Sahar, Marol. Tel: 022 4090 6633. Open daily, from noon to 3pm and from 7pm to 1.30am.
These brunch destinations are frequented by families and hungover couples polishing off the enormous sushi-filled buffets at Global Fusion and the unlimited woks at All Stir Fry.

Maker’s Asylum
Opposite Passport Seva Kendra, MIDC. Tel: 90046 86828. Open daily, from 11am to 9pm.
This lab, run by a collective of engineers and architects, regularly conducts workshops at which participants can learn how to make things such as drones and fidget spinners. Described as a “gym for tools”, at the Maker’s Asylum they teach you to use equipment such as 3D printers and laser-cutting machines so that you can build your own project. The lab also functions as a co-working space.

Marol Sheek & Kabab
A-001, Ratna, Marol Maroshi Road, opposite Honeywell Co-operative Society, Marol. Tel: 98678 53304. Open daily, from 6pm to midnight.
I recommend the buff seekh at this always-buzzing roadside joint.

Monika Momos
Bhawani Nagar Society, Bhawani Nagar Road, Marol. Tel: 95941 89668. Open daily, from 5.30pm to 10pm.
This five-year-old spot serves the best momos I’ve had in the city so far. A plate of six is modestly priced at Rs40. The little tin stall is as popular as its swankier neighbour Lucky Store, which is known for its selection of hygienically-prepared chaats.

Murali’s Hotel
A-104, Saki Vihar Road, Tunga Village, Chandivali, Powai. Tel: 99307 83012. Open daily, from 10am to 10pm.
A Kerala eatery that epitomises the concept of the hole-in-the-wall joint. It’s actually inside someone’s house; a small living room doubles up as the dining area that can host five to ten people at one go. Get the thali with fish fry, papads and appams.

Pawfect Life
F-1, Nand Dham, Marol Maroshi Road, Marol. Tel: 93201 84864. Open daily, from noon to 5pm.
If Versova has a cat cafe, then we’ve got Pawfect Life, an air-conditioned, kennel-free doggie day care centre that offers grooming and spa treatments for pooches. For those who don’t have dogs of their own, they have a petting zone where you can hang out with the resident mutts for a fee of Rs200 per hour.

Piknik Bar and Restaurant
Ansa Industrial Estate, 120 Saki Vihar Road, Chandivali. Tel: 022 2857 5378. Open daily, from 11am to 12.30am.
What good is a neighbourhood if it doesn’t have a decent dive? In Marol, that would be Piknik, which draws a mix of polished executives, thrifty teenagers and local drunkards.

Spice of Kerala
Shop No.3, near Uttam Dhaba, Marol Maroshi Road, Marol. Tel: 022 6526 2172. Open daily, from 9am to 11pm.
This humble eatery is best visited for breakfast options like puttu (cylindrical steamed rice and coconut cakes) and kadala (chickpeas) curry or the appam and fiery egg roast.

The Bar Stock Exchange, Andheri East, Mumbai.

The Bar Stock Exchange.

Spirit
Near Mittal Estate Hindsaurastra, Wellington Business Park, Marol. Tel: 022 2851 2255. Open daily, from 11am to 1pm.
Tucked in a quiet bylane, Irish pub-themed Spirit is likely to be the first bar visited by young Marollers. Air-conditioned and light on the wallet, it’s an ideal place to tank up before moving on to fancier spots. There’s another Spirit Kitchen and Bar in J. B. Nagar with pretty much the same ambience.

The Bar Stock Exchange
89, Shivani Industrial Estate, near Pipeline Road, Safed Pul, Saki Naka. Tel: 022 3015 1964. Open daily, from noon to 4pm and from 6pm to 1.30am.
The rapidly-expanding bar chain debuted in Saki Naka back in 2014. The algorithm-driven alcohol prices are pocket-friendly and the food is decent as well. Popular with office goers, there’s rarely an empty table for walk-ins. But their no-stag policies during the weekends is a real bummer.

The Beer Cafe
Opposite Gate No.1, Departure Terminal 2, International Airport. Tel: 022 6685 9207. Open daily, 24 hours.
Thanks to its location inside the international airport complex, this outpost of bar chain The Beer Cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s pricier than Apna Dhaba for sure but way cheaper than the many neighbouring five-star hotel coffee shops.

Zesto
Shop No.1A, Tandon Mall, 127 Andheri Kurla Road, Chakala. Tel: 022 2834 3366. Open daily, from 8am to 11pm.
Located next to the Sangam multiplex, this sandwich and juice joint is a great alternative to overpriced cinema snacks. Their ABC juice makes for a healthy 4pm pick-me-up.

A PARA ABOUT POWAI
If, as the joke goes or rather the taunt goes, Andheri East is the armpit of Bombay, then Powai is the arm that’s squeaky clean. Being in Marol, Powai is an inevitable part of my life. Not just for eating and drinking, but for recreational activities as well. The parks of Hiranandani Gardens and Powai Lake are ideal for a jog or that asana you want to practice. The business district also allows for peaceful night-time walks after satiating your munchies with brownies at Theobroma (the patisserie chain is set to open in Marol this August) or chaat at K3 Snacks. As for eating or drinking out, Powai is an ever-evolving organism with The Fatty Bao and SodaBottleOpenerWala being recent additions to a list that includes Mia Cucina and Mirchi and Mime.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to Andheri East. I haven’t finished visiting all the bars and restaurants in my neighbourhood, let alone the ones in MIDC, Mahakali and Sher-E-Punjab areas. Whenever a place that opens piques our excitement, we immediately check it out to appease our social anxieties. After all, it could be another reason we don’t regret our decision to make Marol our home.

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