For nearly two decades this is where the city’s creative minds converge and where bonds with friends have become stronger. Great food, invigorating coffee and a relaxed vibe. Many of these cafés blur the lines between an all-day diner and the conventional definition of a café, also incorporating a boutique or retail destination prompting the occasional impulse purchase. Here’s our pick of the city’s finest:
The café that probably started it all. In its original avatar, Amethyst was housed in a Colonial era heritage bungalow before moving in 2010 to a restored granary house steeped in history. The café is hidden behind a verdant garden and the verandah area features chequered flooring and period furniture. The menu is mainly contemporary with a smattering of finger food, smoothies, heavy mains and their delicious banana bread. Whites Road, Royapettah.
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2. Ciclo Café
For years Chennai has been a cycle manufacturing hub and it’s fitting that the country’s first cycling themed café debuted here. Ciclo blends a cycle retail and service store with a busy café where not surprisingly cycling props hold centre-stage. The accent is more on meals than nibbles and yet it’s a great place for conversations over coffee between meals. Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kotturpuram.
3. Chamiers Café
It is located at the edge of Chennai’s swish Boat Club neighbourhood and a favourite among expats and locals alike. Chamiers is home to Anokhi where local designers also find pride of place. The café’s interiors transport you to Colonial Era Madras plastered with wall paper and sepia photographs. The menu features artisanal coffee, freshly pressed juices and their signature comfort snack – the jalapeno infused dyna bites. Chamiers’ all-day breakfast is probably their biggest draw. Chamiers Road, Alwarpet.
4. Writer’s Café
On the surface this café is positioned as a literary hub where writers and the city’s creative folk can bond over coffee and quick bites. Books are the only props; this café doubles up as a Higginbothams book store. As part of its CSR slant, the café has also taken it upon itself to offer burn victims a second chance; they have been trained by a Swiss bakery chef. It’s the only place in Chennai where you can sample Flammkuchen – a rectangular thin crust pizza with roots in Southern Germany. Peters Road, Royapettah.
5. Latitude by the Park
This all-day diner rubs shoulders with the Good Earth store just off Nungambakkam high road and is an equally popular business meeting venue. Aside from a decent selection of sharing platters, Latitude’s paninis and pastas are a favourite with regulars. Many of Latitude’s patrons stay back for dessert even if it’s a working lunch; the forest berry crumble with a homemade gelato is one of their signatures. Rutland Gate, Nungambakkam.
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6. English Tea Room
The perfect setting for the pause button in the middle of a frenetic day, especially if you arrive at tea time. Their special afternoon cream tea set includes pastries, assorted sandwiches, choice of tea and warm raisin scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Enid Blyton images on the menu add a nice touch. Kasturi Rangan Road, Alwarpet.
7. Lloyds Tea House
Challenged Chennai’s pre-disposition towards coffee with an impressive selection of teas (over 60 varieties) including their popular hibiscus and Franconian peppermint teas. But it isn’t all just tea here, Lloyds has an impressive food menu that includes Italian and Thai mains while their dessert and cake selection is quite exhaustive. Lloyds Road, Gopalapuram.
8. Ashvita Bistro
Tucked away in one of Alwarpet’s leafy streets, Ashvita offers a choice of cosy indoor and outdoor seating options. The menu is quite eclectic – from their popular momos to monster shakes (their posh nosh shake is a meal by itself) to fiery Thai and Oriental curries. Bawa Road, Alwarpet.
In the 1990s Cakewalk, was one of Chennai’s first cake shops that also offered a snack (they liked to call it fast food menu back then) menu and café seating. Crisp is the 2010s avatar of the original Cakewalk Café except that its certainly hipper and the menu goes beyond burgers and sandwiches - the red velvet pancakes and beef steak are among their bestsellers Kothari Road, Nungambakkam.
10. Café @ InKo centre
It’s certainly not on everyone’s radar and the menu is quite limited but this tiny café that is part of the InKo centre boasts of a terrific location and a great ambience. It’s probably the only Café in Chennai that serves Korean style beverages – Ginseng tea to green plum soda to sweet potato latte, and Patbingsu (literally red beans with ice). It’s quite like the Ice Kachang; a plate heaped with ice shavings, red bean paste and a variety of sweet toppings. Boat Club Road.
About the Author:
Ashwin Rajagopalan is a Chennai-based writer who writes on topics related to food, gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.
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Whether it’s an impromptu catch up with a school buddy, or a quick business meeting or if you need to have lunch at 5 pm, Chennai’s cafés provide the perfect refuge. From historic buildings to sprawling bungalows that have been reimagined as cosy oases, each of these cafés have their own story and cult following. Whether it’s your favourite nook or a tea cake on the menu, there’s enough reason to keep coming back to these quintessential comfort zones where the service is almost always unhurried.