One of the best things about dining in London is undoubtedly the variety. Londoners enjoy a rarely matched level of high quality foods from different cultures and often times in close proximity to one another – though this is not exactly a new phenomenon in the Capital, it was at the top of my thoughts on my way to Bombay Brasserie having been betrayed by Google Maps. I got off one stop before I should have done but the walk from South Kensington to Gloucester Road via Old Brompton Road really put into perspective exactly how diverse areas of London can be for dining. On my brief walk I encountered three Gastro-Pubs, a Shisha Café, a Lebanese restaurant, a Moroccan restaurant, an Italian restaurant, an American themed burger place and a pizza place. I am sure I missed a few but half of my concentration was devoted to stopping my umbrella from forcing me to make an extremely graceless Mary Poppins impression owed to the less than ideal weather. My point remains though that in so many areas of London you can walk down a street and at the same time travel the world. Arguably one of the most ‘travelled’ to destinations is India (if you take out obvious fast food chain exceptions) and living in Shoreditch, which is a short distance to Brick Lane, I’m not exactly wanting for this particular type of cuisine so the question is when Indian food is on the brain, is Bombay Brasserie worth the wander?
As I walked into the dining room two feelings came over me that I have never encountered in an Indian restaurant. The first was that I was under-dressed; the clever money is on me wearing smart shoes, trousers, a shirt and jacket virtually all of the time so this was a rare emotion. I could not help but feel anything short of a dinner jacket, patent shoes, a walking stick and monocle wouldn’t fly (excuse the clothing pun). The second being genuinely wowed by the décor – the ‘bring your own booze’ option that seems so prevalent with Asian restaurants possibly deters the tenants from fighting a losing battle against drunken curry-heads in beautifying there sites. However, the décor at Bombay Brasserie with its spectacular chandeliers, period oil paintings, regal furniture and beautifully matched upholstery; along with the sheer vastness of the place set a scene identical to where Disney’s Beast danced with his Beauty in the famous tale. Where the apparent grandeur of the place may put some people off, fear not, having been loosened up by my perfectly made cocktail – ‘old fashioned’ and my guest with her glass of champagne we agreed the beauty of the place was almost circumstantial having seen other guests in similar attire. And so to the food . . .
The menu at Bombay Brasserie, in keeping with the majority of modern Indian restaurants, is away from sharing and more towards three courses per diner but with a small glance at the menu it was obvious this formality would be ignored. There is no chance anyone, regardless of hunger levels, could settle for anything less than stomach bursting amounts of food. Written almost entirely in English (name of dish and description) the menu along with cheeky glances at surrounding diners’ dishes and the relentlessness of glorious smells coming from the kitchen really can leave one salivating. To start with we had the Prawn Tokri (batter fried spicy prawns), Mal Abari Soft Shell Crab (spiced soft shell crab) and Scallops on Peppered Crab (Curry leaf scallops on peppered crab). Fortunately my guest is allergic to prawns so sharing the Prawn Tokri was out the question (every cloud) – the batter had the chaotic form that spells homemade and freshly cooked, the meat itself was succulent and light which left ample space for the plethora of flavor in spices this region of the world is so famous for. The Soft Shell Crab did not quite have the flavour variety the presentation would suggest, though very good, underwhelming in taste compared to its appearance. The Scallops however were in a league of there own, tender, rich and teaming with a cocktail of different flavors; though not the most abundant dish in the world, you are left slightly wanting but at the same time entirely satisfied.
For a main I had the Lamb Rogan Josh (tender pieces of lamb cooked in traditional massala), Chicken Biryani (chicken and basmati rice) and Garlic Naan. The aptly named tender lamb was so tender in fact that my knife served a greater purpose acting as a counter-weight to balance my increasingly drunk gate than as an eating tool (Thelma Sutherland Chardonnay, 2009, Elgin South Africa – beautiful wine, great year for this grape) – the lamb just fell apart under the strokes of my fork; Lamb simply is not prepared any better. The Chicken Biryani was delicious but I have to say my main prerogative was ‘completing’ the whole shoulder of lamb presented to me. The garlic naan should not be ordered if you have any sexual aspirations with your guest – cooked immaculately, not too soft that you are left with something that resembles wet loo paper and not too crispy that you have a glorified popadom but soft enough to absorb the curry and sturdy enough to act as a scoop for the Biryani – perfect, completed. I am sure you can imagine after all of this food the only thing I could consume was in the form of liquids so my dessert was a cocktail (the same applied to my guest). I went for a Sweet Manhattan which was not on the menu but made perfectly (always a good indication of bar competence levels) and my guest went for the Capuccino Martini – Vodka, Baileys, Liquid Chocolate and fresh cappuccino. As if those ingredients are not enough to get anyone going, it was easily the most beautiful cocktail I have ever seen – the fresh liquid chocolate spiraling around the inside of the martini flute with the creamy mocha flavoured richness of the drink itself would do the job – just incredible.
So in answer to my initial question – yes. Bombay Brasserie is certainly worth the wander. I am sure there are dozens of Indian restaurants between home and this one but are they as elegant yet charmingly welcome? Do they serve food with flawless quality? Do they have a cocktail bar good enough to stand up against some of the best in town? Do they have a vast and extremely well planned wine list which includes my current favourite (2008 Puligny Montrachet)? Do they have beers from Scotland, Belgium, America, India and England? Well . . . I very much doubt it. I used to love this part of the world for the cricket (Sachin Tendulkar); it seems this relationship is no longer monogamous.
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