Alaira Tirtha Shetty shares her keys to magical Mumbai - a city of surprises and stunning contrasts where beauty can be found anywhere. Read on for the city's best textile markets, exciting eateries and a design legend's museum-worthy space.
The esteemed Italian couturier, Giambattista Valli, once told me that beauty can be found anywhere in Mumbai. The sight of bergamot petals cascading on clogged traffic in the middle of the day is one example; this is a city of contrasts.
Mumbai’s architectural landscape is stunningly diverse, combining streamlined Art-Deco buildings, such as the retro movie theatre, Regal Cinema, and Palladian structures, like the Mumbai Town Hall and Dr Bhau Daji Lad, the city’s oldest museum. The famed promenade, Marine Drive, referred to as The Queen’s Necklace for its resemblance to a string of pearls when lit at night, is equally arresting during the day.
Elsewhere, preservation of centuries-old Indian heritage co-exists with a driven focus to create a legacy; Parisian bakeries started by young Le Cordon Bleu-trained talent in the Kala Godha district are a short walk away from Britannia and Co, one of the city’s most legendary culinary institutions founded in 1923.
It’s a city of resilience, where the visual landscape oscillates between raw and regal and Mumbai’s sense of self remains rock solid. There is no place like Mumbai.
Where to Stay
The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower: The first building to be lit by electricity in Mumbai. Named after the Taj Mahal, the heritage property’s immense pride in Indian culture is reflected by its unparalleled service. With sweeping views of the Gateway of India and Arabian Sea through its Rajput-bay windows, it’s also home to Wasabi by Morimoto, the city’s best Japanese restaurant.
The Trident Hotel, Nariman Point: Part of the Oberoi group, the Trident’s magnanimous spirit is mirrored by its expansive interiors and unsparing hospitality. Its South Mumbai location positions it perfectly to view some of the city’s most prominent landmarks. The Amrapali jewellery store in the hotel’s shopping arcade is worth a visit for silver masterpieces that demonstrate unmatched Indian craftsmanship.
Soho House Mumbai: Whilst the Juhu beach-facing townhouse is painted a polished white, the interiors are more relaxed with patterned Jaipur tiling and rattan chairs, a staple in many Indian homes. The rooftop pool, lined with its signature green and white striped cabanas is one of the group’s most picturesque. It’s also home to 200 pieces of original Indian artwork, one of the most distinctive being Subodh Gupta’s signature utensil-based sculpture, My Stars.
Ferreira House: With a tiled monochromatic façade, the villa sits surrounded by coconut trees in Khotachi Wadi, one of the last remaining heritage villages, under a mile from the centre of Mumbai. The 200-year-old antique-filled property remains the primary residence of James Ferreira, renowned Goan designer. Acting as a guide to the neighbourhood of multi-coloured Portuguese buildings, while also working at his studio on the first floor of the house, Ferreira tailors an experience for those seeking the unconventional yet unforgettable.
Where to Eat
Trishna: Mumbai’s most infamous seafood restaurant with a notably long menu-it’s particularly sought after for the crab and Bombay duck (a type of fish).
The Table: One of the first in the city to pioneer the “Farm to Table” concept, harvesting their own produce only an hour from the restaurant, The Table’s team bring San Francisco-influenced fare to Colaba’s iconic neighbourhood.
Thackers: Founded in 1960, the Chowpatty-based restaurant has remained an unwavering choice for those seeking an authentic Gujarati-style thali.
Masque: Anchored by innovation and veering away from the tried and tested, Masque reimagines Indian food. With a focus on science to propose unusual flavour combinations, Masque’s expertly crafted tasting menus are testimony to the modern gastronomical talent prevalent in Mumbai.
Leopold Cafe: Irani Cafes have played a pivotal role in Mumbai’s culinary since their inception in the late 19th-century and Leopold remains one of the most iconic. Immortalised in literature by Gregory David Roberts’ novel, Shantaram, and a symbol of tenacity, it’s one of the few places retaining the charm of “Old Bombay.”
Where to Shop
Sabyasachi Flagship Store: Roaming the designer’s tremendous new space (in both size and substance) is not dissimilar to perusing a museum exhibition depicting one of the finest personal collections of Indian antiques and art. Every corner tells a different story with over a hundred paintings, chandeliers, and precious gems tying his opulent and layered vision together.
Philip’s Antiques: Over a century and a half old, the family-run store sells an incredibly diverse selection of antiques just a few of which include miniature South Indian Tanjore (reverse glass) paintings, hand-carved silver teapots from Calcutta, and a collection of Pierre Jeanneret cane furniture.
Mangaldas Market: With over 100 garment stores, this is one of the city’s oldest markets focusing entirely on fabrics and textiles. Lined with ceiling-high piles of vibrant cloth and rows of embroidered ribbon scrolls, it’s a living celebration of colour-nothing constitutes as too much.
Rare Finds: Helmed by art historian Dilnavaz Mehta, this antiquarian trove sells collectible rare books and maps, published during the period of 1560-1930, depicting India and its surrounding geography. Lithographs, natural history centred travelogues, and maps illustrating anthropological roots among other limited editions comprise her considered selection.
Mahado Atelier: A haven for Kashmiri craftsmanship with an extensive selection of embroidered Pashmina shawls, antique Persian rugs, and hand-knotted silk carpets.
What to See & Do
NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts): At the forefront of preserving India’s love for music, theatre, dance, and film since its inception in 1986. With 5 theatres each catering to a distinctive genre of the arts, the only specialised performance arts library in the city and a committed gallery, it is the ultimate space to experience creative talent in diverse fields ranging from Sitar music to ballet.
Horniman Circle Gardens: Located in the Fort precinct of South Mumbai, the Gardens were conceptualised in the 1820s to resemble London’s Park Crescent-the 2.5-acre green space is encircled by Victorian-era neo-classical limestone architecture. Nearby the Gardens, on Nariman Road is the city’s first Anglican Church-St Thomas’ Cathedral.
Nehru Centre: The latticed cylindrical structure, intertwining science, art, and intellect, brings to life former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for a free, ambitious, and progressive India. Framed by a sloping garden inspired by Mughal courtyards, the institution celebrates milestones accomplished in Indian philosophy and art through 14 galleries charting the country’s evolving identity.
Alibaug: A 45-minute boat-ride from the city, Alibaug is synonymous with scenic beaches; however, the island is also worth visiting for the Karmarkar Museum exhibiting nearly 200 bronze, stone, and wood creations by Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar, one of India’s pioneers in modern sculpture. There’s also the 300-year-old Kolaba Fort, once employed as a maritime base by the Shivaji empire, Portuguese, and East India Company respectively.
Pundole Art Gallery: Attached to one of the leading auction houses in the country and located near the Victoria Terminus Station, the gallery has partnered with some of the most celebrated Modernist masters in the country including M.F. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde and S.H. Raza. For anyone keen to learn more about Indian art, this is one of the finest galleries preserving legacy whilst promoting new talent.
Alaira Tirtha Shetty is a London-based businesswoman and fashion patron with roots in Mumbai.