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December 19, 2018

Review: Soho House Mumbai

Text by Megha Shah

Brimming with promise, the newest outpost of the cultish British members’ club attracting the creatively-inclined is here

“We have a casual, non-corporate atmosphere and ask hotel residents and their guests to refrain from wearing corporate attire,” reads the email confirming my reservation at the newly opened Soho House in Mumbai. The latest addition to the cult collection of international members’ only social clubs (and the first in Asia) has opened up last month in Juhu and true to its ethos, suits and stuffiness are strictly unwelcome. Infact the Soho House which opened in New York’s Meatpacking District (remember the episode of Sex And The City where Samantha Jones crashed the iconic rooftop pool after being denied membership?) ended up drawing a crowd that was very different from what they were hoping for when the brand was founded in London’s Soho in 1995. And so owner Nick Jones allegedly cancelled 100’s of memberships of corporate-leaning members in a bid to restore its original vibe.

Because, Soho House is not just exclusive — many membership clubs are — it’s also cool. The 22 houses around the world cater to the young, city-dwelling creative class, providing them with beautiful spaces in which to be young and creative together. Most stay here or eat here or party here to see and be seen — and there is plenty to look at.

Situated quite literally on the beach, the entrance seems deceptively small and nondescript. Covering 10 floors, it manages to conceal 38 bedrooms (small, medium, big, big plus and playrooms), an all-day cafe, a restaurant, a rooftop pool and bar, a gym, a theatre, a library and a space for events.

The British aesthetic is re-interpreted with a modern Indian twist in a way that’s quite distinctive from the other houses. Colourful block printed textiles from Rajasthan cover accent chairs, patterned wallpapers and lamp shades with Indian motifs add character to the rooms, while rattan furniture from Jaipur line the vintage teak floors. There are around 200 artworks mostly by South East Asian artists scattered around the corridors and public spaces: Radu Oreian, Naiza Khan, Thukral and Tagra, Raqib shaw, Krupa Makhija, Princess pea and Subodh to name a few.An app for members tells you about yoga classes on offer, international DJ sets or the films being shown at the glorious retro-inspired theatre which features plush velvet sofas for seats with handsome cushioned settees to rest your feet on.

Somehow, through the balconies, the same Arabian Sea you pass by every day is bluer, cleaner. The beach, which I’ve failed to explore in a lifetime of growing up in the city is surprisingly clean and inviting at sunset for a barefoot stroll.  The guests all nod and greet you as though everyone’s in on the same secret. The informally dressed staff sporting man buns engage in breezy conversation and are exceptionally indulgent, until they notice you talking on the phone. Then you may get a sharp reprimand.

It’s a very comfortable blend of rules and absolute do-as-you-like. You can’t take pictures in public areas like the poolside or speak on the phone, but if you feel like eating your breakfast lying down, rather than upright on tables and chairs, you can take it over to the large blue and white stripped cabana beds, where they’ll give you large wicker baskets to put your food and Soho Mules in, so you can have a sort of grown up picnic. In fact you can chose to have your meals and drinks almost anywhere, by the pool, downstairs in the bar or in your room.

Two hours in, I’ve already spotted 2 young actors, a star kid, a star mom, a star wife, the publisher of an international magazine house, an Indian-American singer, a young director, an Australian chef with a restaurant in Goa and several other semi-known faces who I’m too inebriated to place (day-drinking is a perfectly acceptable, infact encouraged activity here.) Leading up to their launch, the team has been sending out invites to the influential, creative crowd of the city and in order to balance the number of people from a single profession, have been tactfully holding back on some memberships and speeding ahead with others. Lawyers and bankers are avoided altogether. I’m pleasantly surprised by the crowd. While it is a bit Bollywood heavy on today, there are other interesting people to meet: a writer who’s working on a novel, a fashion designer conceptualizing an ethical line and a young girl with several tattoos and piercings who says ‘she reads poetry’ when I ask her about her work. At night though the crowd becomes more mixed, heavily made-up women in heavy sarees with identical golden hair have come in post a wedding, presumably guests of members.

Our ‘small’ room is bigger than most 5 star hotel rooms in the city and features sumptuous Egyptian cotton sheets and full-size toiletries from their quirky in-house brand Cowshed. On offer are 4 body washes, 2 shampoos, 2 conditioners and a shampoo cum conditioner incase you’re too confused to choose. There’s a spiffy cocktail-making kit, ornate tins filled with coffee shots, tea bags and freshly made cookies and the oversized, soft-as-butter robes are impossible to get out of, once in. It doesn’t have any of the anonymity and soullessness of an international 5-star brand. It’s a bit like living in a rich cousin’s house, who has great taste and a penchant for cocktails. And what stellar cocktails they are. The signature Picante Del a Casa (aged tequila, red chilli, coriander, lime, agave)is exceptional and the Masala Vermouth Sour (Martini, masala tea, cucumber, citrus, egg white) is the sort of low-sugar drink you’ll start expecting from all other bars you now visit.

By the poolside, to go with the ‘house tonics’, you can order hipster favourites like avocado toast, dips served with vegetable crudités and mac and cheese along with Mumbai classics like kheema pav and mutton biryani. Cecconi’s on the ground floor features a chic alfresco section, bathed in natural light and a lazy sea-breeze and serves Northern Italian cicchetti, pizzas and pastas. The Sunday Brunch, a quintessentially British extravaganza – which launched last weekend – is an all-you-can eat affair with long tables creaking with the weight of hearty roasts, seafood platters filled with poached lobster and freshwater crabs and cooked and raw salads and vegetables. Risotto is made fresh in parmesan hollows and pizzas and pastas are made to order. The prosciutto is particularly thin and sweet, the burrata trembles yieldingly and most of the produce tastes fresh, with the inherent tastes shining through. There aren’t too many bold flavours, it’s all subtle and classy and feels like an out-of-Mumbai experience. The Bloody Mary’s come with over-flowing celery leaves and for dessert there’s pavlova, tiramisu and a host of berries and soufflés.

It’s the sort of aspirational-but-still-chill environment which is ideal for networking or hosting a client meeting if you have the sort of new-age job which makes you a desk-less striver with a distaste for suits. Or it could be, as it seems to be for now, an after-hours hangout to unwind along with the city’s upwardly mobile.

Every House membership: Rs 2,20,000 Annually; Local House membership: Rs 1,10,000 Annually

Hotel rooms can be booked by non-members with access to all the members spaces and events for the duration of the stay. Rooms start from Rs 13,000.

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