A 140-year-old former ice factory in Ballard Estate, Mumbai, got a new lease of life when it was restored and converted into IF.BE—a 10,000-sq.ft. experimental architecture and art venue that opened in mid-April this year. Its three spaces—Substation, Cathedral, and Ice Factory—host a calendar of multi-disciplinary exhibitions from art, photography, music, and dance to film screenings, workshops, and private events. While the acronym stands for Ice Factory Ballard Estate, it also alludes to the independent words ‘IF’ (suggestive of endless possibilities and a sense of wonder) and ‘BE’ (a counterweight that provides balance and solutions).
A heritage space
The ice factory has been revamped by architect Kamal Malik of Malik Architecture, along with business partners Abhijit Mehta (a construction development and project management consultant) and Amardeep Tony Singh (managing director of Pritam Group of Hotels). What’s commendable is the original architecture of the factory is hardly touched, whether it’s the walls with uneven exposed bricks (which have only been cleaned) or the original wooden ceiling (where iron beams have been added for support)—it’s all rather raw, unpolished, and visceral. Here and there, artefacts pay homage to the structure’s original purpose; for example, an ice-cooling coil sits under a glass floor at the entrance while an ice-making unit stands in one corner. Natural light pervades the space through full-length windows, overhead skylights, and the open-to-sky courtyard in the middle.
The centrepiece of the courtyard is an ancient banyan tree, which caught Malik’s eye three years ago when he decided to acquire and restore the factory. Under its shadow, and inspired by it, the Banyan Tree Café opened its doors this past weekend. A handful of tables, a long community table, and two high tables make up the space, and the courtyard will offer additional seating around the tree. The factory’s original stone wall flanks one side of the café while floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides offer uninterrupted views of the lush tree and the art spaces beyond. An open kitchen occupies one end, bustling with activity when I visited for a preview last week. The coffee nerd in me couldn’t get enough of the sleek, limited-edition Carimali Bubble espresso machine in one corner of the kitchen—apparently there are only about 10 such machines in India at present.
The kitchen is helmed by chef Ravi Sharma (the man behind Bombay Baking Company at JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu).On the menu are juices, smoothies, salads, sandwiches, rolls, sliders, gluten-free pasta, mains, and much more. It’s also one of the few places that offers an all-day breakfast menu with cereals, yoghurt bowls, and assorted egg dishes. Most of the produce comes from a local farm in Karjat as well as independent growers in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Coorg amongst other places. A rooftop kitchen garden is in the works, which will eventually supply the café’s leaves and herbs. The menu has a good mix of healthy options and comfort food, so there’s something for everyone and every mood. Portions are generous and prices pocket-friendly, without compromising on the quality—definitely a boon for the SoBo office crowd.
We begin with a couple of smoothies; “Strawberry Skies” with strawberry, mint, rice crisps, and Greek yoghurt is a tad sweet but the dairy-free Green Junkie with baby spinach, kiwi, mango, basil, and lemon juice is what I’d return for. The salads come in two size options—medium and large—so you can literally make a meal out of it. We pick flavours from different parts of the world; “Trip to Chinatown” is a punchy chicken salad with veggies and coriander root dressing with a bit of a spicy kick while “When in Italy” is a burrata salad with greens, balsamic reduction, and herby pesto. From the mains menu, we sample “The No-Meat Cheat”, a rather filing dish of grilled tofu with herb jus, sauteed veggies, and garlic mash. If you prefer fish, I recommend “Salmon Says”, which is a perfectly grilled Atlantic salmon with lemon butter sauce, and creamy mashed potatoes. The dessert section is limited to three—a cheesecake, mud cake, and apple pie—but the breakfast menu has pancakes, so it’s a no-brainer really; they come nice and fluffy with a choice of two toppings. I end the meal with a double espresso (the café serves 100% arabica from Dope Coffee Roasters), which hits the spot perfectly.
The next round of exhibitions at IF.BE begins in early June with (de)Coding Mumbai (a graphical research project by sPare), an Hermès exhibit, and architect and product designer Rooshad Shroff’s new furniture collection on show; stay tuned to their Instagram for upcoming programming. In the latter half of June, Native Bombay, a standalone regional Indian restaurant and cocktail bar will open at the back entrance of the factory (via Cochin Street). Meanwhile, I suspect the Banyan Tree Café will become my new favourite space to work out of (Wi-Fi is available) and the imminent monsoon will only add to its charm.
Banyan Tree Café
Where: Ground Floor, IF.BE, 7/9, Calicut Street, Ballard Estate Fort, Mumbai
Hours: 8am. to 11pm
Average cost for two: Rs 700