I arrive at Gallops right in the middle of monsoon, when the sky looks like someone tossed a dirty, beige blanket over a fluorescent bulb. The rest of the city is either driving over puddles or getting splashed by them, but I’m smack dab in the centre of Mumbai, somehow free from the damp chaos. Sitting behind a wide, arched window, framed by a thick blanket of evergreen—the ivy climbing the stone structure of what could be a tranquil tavern tucked in the English countryside—I find myself hugging a hot cuppa, actually enjoying the rains the way I always wanted to. Sometimes you have to turn a grey day into an Earl Grey day.
This isn’t my first time behind Gallops’ white picket fence, but it is the first time I’ve come for tea. In the past I’ve posted myself next to the Western Turf Club’s finish line, in perfect view from the grounds, a bottle of beer in one hand and a crumpled ticket bearing the name of a losing horse in the other. I’m not much of a betting man, and I should, perhaps, stop picking horses based on how wonderfully weird I think their names are.
But right now, instead of a racing chit, I’m holding onto a soft turkey sandwich filled with Emmental and cranberry preserve, sliced diagonally with the crusts cut off, in full afternoon tea form. Sinuous streaks of steam weave out of my cup of Earl Grey grasped firmly in my other hand, wafting notes of Bergamot.
Of course, no high tea is complete without a scone or two. With the ease of turning a doorknob I twist a scone apart—as etiquette recommends—feeling chuffed at the near-perfect break. Sensing my surprise, Yajush Malik, a partner at Gallops, turns to me and says, “Our scones always break in two,” as if he was telling me the sun always sets in the west. I appreciate his confidence, but not as much as the scone, generously smeared with a dollop of cream.
Gallops announced this monsoon that 3-6.30 p.m. every day would be high tea time, which is currently planned to be a permanent fixture at the eatery. Even though I’m not usually the sort to get giddy over tiered cake stands brimming with sweet and savoury treats, I’ve got to admit Gallops’ vivers make for a pleasant experience. The spread consists of what one would expect at afternoon tea, delicate, light treats—butter cookies, macarons and tartlets—paired with more filling fare, such as, avocado and chicken bundled in spinach wraps or asparagus and activated charcoal quiches.
These heavily laden tea charlies come unlimited, which means guests can gorge themselves the whole afternoon for a price of Rs.799, a personal pot of tea from a selection of TGL Co.’s finest leaves included. Even though I typically stick to Earl Grey, for my second cup of tea I opt for the mogu-mogu, which was a great decision: the sencha balancing the symphony of flowers and tropical fruits superbly. Lord knows, next time I might even give the strawberries and cream tea a shot.
Those who want the high tea experience with a kick of effervescence can swap out tea for a glass of Chandon for Rs.999. Come racing season, a chilled glass of bubbly under a garden-side cabana just might be the best way to do Derby Day.
When people think of this classic Bombay restaurant they always seem to remember its well-manicured lawns resting behind idyllic picket fences, but not the three-plus decades of history steeped in one of the most sui generissettings in Mumbai. This can be attributed to a couple of reasons. Many are still under the erroneous notion that one has to be a member of the Turf Club to dine at Gallops. The other reason can be summed up in the adage, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Even though Gallops is centrally located, being tucked away deep in Mahalaxmi Race Course means folks don’t generally stumble upon the eatery. For first-time travellers to Mumbai, this makes the venue all the more attractive, and its history fuels the intrigue.
During the early 1980s Rahul Malik was the manager at Talk of the Town (now Pizza by the Bay) when he became ‘thick’ friends with Jasmine and Bobby Singh. The trio bid for the opportunity to lease the Western Turf Club’s permit room in 1986. For younger generations familiar with Gallops’ classic ambience, it’s hard to imagine the property they describe. “It was like a shed, leaking from everywhere,” says Jasmine. Rahul chimes in, “Nobody believed that a shack located inside the race course like that could be turned into…what Gallops is today.”
They started work on the ramshackle property on September 1st and finished on September 10th, the first and shortest of the five renovations the property has seen over its lifetime. To give young Mumbaikars an idea of how different the property was in those days, the sunken bar at the back of the restaurant was actually an open air terrace area. While initially the place was limited to a close-knit circle of equestrian aficionados, a review by Anil Dharker put Gallops on the map, a position it has continuously maintained.
Gallops has been witness to some interesting scenes, courtesy its unique location. Stories of posh ladies getting a face-full of horse mucus on Derby Day, jockeys racing after rogue horses, and industrialists cracking booth-side business deals that have helped shape the nation are all part of its lore. The restaurant also has always been home to some of the city’s upper crust. Before his disrepute, Vijay Mallya was a constant figure, raising his voice about how the Turf Club should adopt night races, a tactic which seems to have worked; Sachin Tendulkar is known to make a beeline for their nalli nihari when he’s in Mumbai. But my favourite anecdotes are the descriptions of M.F. Husain.
All of Gallops’ partners brighten up when they speak of him, recollecting the number of napkins and tablecloths flecked with paint after each visit. The image of Husain pushing cutlery and glassware to the side of a dining table as he vigorously set to work, transforming a tablecloth into a tapestry, definitely seems like one for the ages. On his visits, Husain always perched himself next to a window, typically facing the winning post. Although he usually drank tea and painted, on occasion, he put down his brush to dip a piece of naan into some butter chicken. However, as the legend goes, when he sat down at Gallops, he preferred to feast his eyes on the graceful fillies and colts rather than indulge his appetite.
So regular were his visits that the folks at Gallops requested if he might consider gifting one of the napkins or tablecloths he painted to the restaurant. “I told our manager the next time he comes ask him for one, and he (Husain) said, ‘The next time I come it’s yours,’ but unfortunately…he had to leave (flee to Dubai). Otherwise we would have had one in our office,” explains Jasmine.
I understand why the painter frequented Gallops. He probably looked out the same window as I am now, marvelling at the oasis of green as the manes of galloping horses bob over trimmed hedges. Beyond his favourite equine motif, perhaps the pastoral harmony was what drew him to it. That calm remains preserved here, a treasure trove in a city where quietude and greenery are about as rare as magic carpets.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.