Bombay is more known for its coffee culture. Although India is more known for its tea than coffee, its urban crowd is more hooked onto coffee. Thanks largely to coffee chains like Barista and Cafe Coffee Day that have sprung at every nook and corner of major cities across India. But I am not much of a coffee person. I cannot distinguish one coffee from another and coffee served at most of these coffee shops are full of lather that kills all the fun. I hate Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days, they're boring and done to death with, it's noisy with people yapping, loud television and all. Though people, especially the younger crowd are crazy about them and coffee.
I like my cup of tea. A simple, yet extremely potent drink that revitalises my spirits and makes me look forward for the day at breakfast, that extends a warm welcome to me in office at about 11ish when I am about to start my work in full swing and finally wakes me up after a dull, but hard-worked afternoon. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised and glad I visited Tea Centre, the newly-renovated restaurant specialising in Tea at Churchgate, Bombay. But as it turns out, Tea Centre is not just about Tea, it also has a great breakfast spread. I have many a memory of good breakfasts.
Breakfast is my favourite meals of the day and I always look forward to it. I am more of an English breakfast person. I do not much like the south-Indian breakfast; the fare usually available on many nooks and corners of India. I don't quite relish idli sambhar, dosa, pohwa and the works.
One of my best breakfasts were had as a child at Moti Mummys' (my first floor neighbour and my Godmother; Moti means big or elder in this context) every Sunday. They were always looked forward to. Every Sunday I would get up early, by about 8, have bath do my prayers, get dressed and rush down to her house. They are quite punctual so whenever I was late, they used to come up to my house to call me. They never used to like that, I could sense. I don't blame them.
Crisp toasts, fresh out of their newly-purchased Teefal Toaster - which they still use and, knowing them, will continue to use it for the rest of their lives - with restrained and supervised doses of butter ("Kayezad, you mustn't eat so much better, you will get cholesterol") topped with generous portions of strawberry jam would be served. There was variety. Orange marmalade or peach jam was also served, sometimes. Moti Mummy is an expert chef and I wonder whether there is anything that she doesn't know to cook! She makes the world's best strawberry jam. It was her jam that used to up the level of her breakfast by a few notches. And if its not toast-butter-jam, it's waffles or muffins, fresh out of the oven, crisp and hot to be had. It was divine.
The other breakfasts that I used to enjoy were at the various Irani cafes. Some years back, every Wednesday, I used to visit one Fire-Temple (other than the one in my area that I goto daily) and then stop over at the cafe to have a quick breakfast. So if the temple happens to be at Dhobi Talao, then it would be either Bastani (my favourite), Kayani or Sassanian Boulangerie. If the temple is in Fort, then it would have to be Yazdani. Standard fare: Bun-maska (with generous portions of butter) and chai. Simple as that. Now, my routine is the same without the breakfast. Bastani shut shop (they are under some litigation, I hear), and there is nothing so special about the other three.
New York has a very rich breakfast culture. There were deli(s) (restaurant in local lingo) at every nook and corner of Manhattan that served all meals, starting from breakfast, opening as early as 6 in the morning. Americans start their days early so we used to typically have our breakfasts at around 7 in the morning. Here, in Bombay, 7 is the earliest that I wake up. Americans are heavy eaters, so huge portions are served, everywhere. One pancake served here is the size of three pancakes that I had at Tea Centre and i will talk more of those later. Several sachets of honey and pancake syrups are served with it, you pour and smear them over your hot and fresh pancakes and manipulate them in a way that they cover the entire base of your pancakes. Like an expert who cooks pizza and who doesn't leave one inch of space on the pizza bread uncovered without toppings, you cover your pancake's base with syrup. I always had a sumptuous breakfast before I set off, because once you are out, its uncertain when you will have lunch, etc. Sometimes you don't have time and you don't want to go hungry for a long time when travelling.
Anyways, coming back to Tea Centre. It has a vast menu and has hundreds of tea options from various corners of India. Tea is served in earthen pots - the kinds you get tea served in, when travelling by train in Northern India I am told.
It has a lavish offering of breakfast and unlike the other South-Indian fares, they serve continental and American breakfast too. I am glad it does, because in this price range - and Tea Centre is most reasonably-priced - it is the only option where you can get English breakfast. I also noticed that it serves lunch and dinner, but I won't talk about it since there are enough options in the city that do that. So what did I have? Kulhad Masala chai ('Tea liquor and milk with select aromatic spices served country style') and pancakes (3 small-sized pancakes). Sanjay Santhanam, my friend from Canara Robeco mutual fund who I was catching up with, had walnut or some nutted muffins, though they looked and tasted more like mawa cakes.
The ambiance is nice, though some old-timers claim that the previous ambiance was better. I wouldn't know that as this was my first trip there. Service is very slow though and this could improve. It took them forever to get us our bill. The place is clean and tables and chairs are neatly arranged. Table-cloths are changed every time a customer leaves. Each table has a bell, you ring to call the waiter. Very English type. Good value for money. I wish there are more of such breakfast options in the city.