The gymkhana was a site for socializing, with ‘sporting skills’ as the common language in the colonial era. Mumbai’s first club, the Byculla club, was established in 1833. The club served as an extension of the home and served dishes like spicy breakfast curries, mutton chops, and caramel custards. By the late 20th century, Indian flavours had entered the gymkhanas, with tandoor-charred broccoli and paneer.
These gymkhanas, which used to be an exclusive space for British officials for sports and social events, have continued to evolve through the times. Many people still frequent these clubs because they provide a nostalgic and communal experience that is difficult to find elsewhere.
Nowadays, memberships to spaces like the Bombay Gymkhana and the Willingdon Club, both in Mumbai, can be upwards of ₹50 lakhs. They also come with their own inhibitions, in the form of strict dress codes and long waiting periods.
At the three branches in Andheri, Bandra, and Colaba of Woodside Inn in Mumbai, this same experience is being reimagined and elevated in the menu Gymkhana 2.0. For the entire month, starting from March 10, guests can sample classic gymkhana food and drinks with a twist. Take, for example, the Tollygunge Club Rice Noodles with Tangra Paneer, Crisp Eggplant, Bok Choy and Toasted Peanuts, a reference to Kolkata’s Tollygunge club. The tangra paneer or paneer chilly, developed in Kolkata, is also a popular food eaten in gymkhanas all over the country.
Another feature on the menu, the Mulligatawny soup with Gunpowder Croissant Crisps, was first served in Bombay clubs; the dish literally translates to “pepper water.” There is also a variation on the Shepherd’s Pie, now elevated to a Mixed Seafood Shepherd’s Pie, with a Pathare Prabhu Masala Bisque. The menu has been worked on by Kunal Vijaykar, food columnist and broadcaster. It is full of gymkhana references – such as the roast tenderloin Aga Burger in red wine marrow jus, pickles, scamorza cheese, and sweet potato salli, which is a nod to Mr Aga Hussain, the president of the Bombay Gymkhana as of 2021.
When asked what drew him to the concept of the gymkhana, Pankil Shah, director and co-founder of Neighborhood Hospitality Pvt. Ltd., the parent company of Woodside Inn, says, “In every part of the city, gymkhanas have always been a go-to comfort place. At Woodside Inn, we’ve always been an easy-going, casual neighbourhood space. So, there were definitely similarities. We wanted to take all the nice parts of the gymkhana without any of the hang-ups. It’s also a throwback to the legacy clubs that have made people happy for decades and a tribute to them.”
Alongside the food, the drinks menu boasts of an extensive collection of gymkhana favourites. Mint tea, drunk exclusively in clubs, has been transformed into ‘MINTea Lager’, an exclusive beer on tap. Other drinks, such as the ‘Short-cake Mary’ which is a strawberry tea cake in a glass, is a nod to the pastry shops in gymkhanas. When asked what his favourite drink on the menu was, Shah recommended the Gymkhana Sunrise, consisting of peanut butter washed whiskey, maple, and citrus. The menu, rightfully, calls this cocktail an all-day liquid breakfast.
The food and drink, while fundamental, make up only a part of the experience. Woodside Inn has also organized a gymkhana bar night where guests can enjoy a DJ playing classic retro music with cocktails. There will also be events of Housie and pub quizzes for the whole gymkhana experience.
Gymkhana 2.0 will be available to guests for the whole month, starting 10 March at Woodside Inn, Andheri, Bandra, and Colaba branches, Mumbai.