Cafe Zoe (Lower Parel, Mumbai)

“Imitation is suicide”

It was 4 years ago I arrived in Bombay as the fresh firangi baccha that I was back then. I still vividly remember being taken to Cafe Zoe by some business contacts. Being situated in the dark, under-lit depths of Todi Mill Compound gave the place a rather mysterious air; however the patiserries on display, the chic interior and the sight of the Belgium owner working the room in what was an almost effortless gavotte, were a familiar and reassuring sight for a “fresh off the boat” European. The complimentary slice of NY baked cheesecake that I received, was perhaps the most devilish and decadent of any cheesecake I have enjoyed.

For some reason, in the interim, I seemed to have had forgotten the wonders of Cafe Zoe admist the forever changing scene of Mumbai restaurants. However I chose to visit on two consecutive evenings recently, once with the Brunette and the other with the Businessman (new readers are reminded that I always use generic names for my dining companions, with the Brunette being my default partner).

After sampling a number of dishes, I feel I can officially give Zoe my rubber stamp of approval.  The Beetroot carpaccio starter is of notable mention. The thin circular slices of beetroot were a perfect marriage with the feta, roasted pine nuts and the zesty, citrus dressing. The presentation of the dish was also impeccable.

Of highest mention, however must be the Fettucine in “mild tomato sauce” which encapsulates everything that is so fabulous about Zoe. Unlike many of the bastardised tomato sauce concoctions I have seen in other restaurants, the Zoe kitchen seems to have understood that a gently reduced sauce of fresh tomatoes, a hint of garlic and adequate seasoning makes for a celestial sauce, and one which gives me close to literary jouissance describing it.

Zoe’s Saturday night music selection also stands at variance with the commercial EDM mashup that has infiltrated just about every section of Mumbai nightlife. Melodic yet minimal house music is the order of the day, and played at levels that allow party revellers and diners to co-exist in perfect harmony.

As my titular quotation refers, many new and upstart pretenders have tried to imitate the food and ambience of Cafe Zoe, but Zoe remains unrivalled as a haven for European cuisine in a contemporary and stand-alone setting.

Zoe also remains peerless along my Bombay food journey, being my first 5-star rated restaurant.

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