What follows are from a meal in July 2008, just before the refurbishment.
It is many years since I have been to the Bombay Brasserie, which opened in 1982 and was the first restaurant to bring up-market Indian cooking to London. Part of a hotel owned by the Taj Group (the leading hotel chain in India), the Bombay Brasserie lifted Indian cooking above the high street tandoori that was all that most of us were used to in the UK. I used to be a regular here, but somehow fell out of the habit of coming about a decade ago. It is tempting to review only the latest, trendiest restaurants, but I thought it would be interested to see how a long-established place was keeping up with the times. The décor is certainly little changed, with a grand “last days of the Raj” feel to it. We ate in the large and airy conservatory this evening, which adjoins the main dining room. Tables are large and generously spaced, with white linen tablecloths and napkins. It does feel rather dated now in terms of decor.
I’m not sure of the exact capacity of the restaurant but it can certainly seat well over 100 people at a time, and was pretty busy this evening. There is a short but decent wine list, with wines mostly in the £20 - £40 range and including some good New World choices. The menu spans the different regional cuisines of India, from Punjabi dishes through to snacks from Gujerat and seafood from Goa.
Popadoms are served with chutneys that are not from a jar: tomato, a lime pickle and a slightly sour mango chutney. I didn’t find these to be especially great pickles, but at least they took the trouble to make them. I began with fenugreek chicken tikka, a pair of large pieces of chicken marinaded and then cooked in the tandoor. The chicken was cooked through properly, and indeed a little longer than idea, leaving the meat a bit dry. The marinade was subtle but there was a hint of fenugreek; personally I could have done with a little more use of spices. The little salad next to the chicken was past its best (11/20). Much better was sev batata puri, poori, and mixed up with potatoes, sprouted lentils, gramflour straws, yoghurt and tamarind chutney. This was excellent, the pooris crisp, the spicing immediate (again, perhaps a little more chilli would have been beneficial) and the yogurt and tamarind keeping the dish moist (13/20).
Chicken biryani was reasonable, the rice nicely fragrant, flavoured with saffron and mace, but the chicken was a little dried-out (11/20). Prawn balchow was better, a Goan dish with four large prawns cooked with chillies and vinegar, the prawns very nicely cooked and tasting a little of charcoal, suggesting a traditional tandoor than the gas one used more often these days (12/20). A gobi mattur was good, with both peas and cauliflower retaining their texture properly (12/20). Most main courses are offered with a yellow dhal and a potato curry, which unfortunately both were distinctly tepid, presumably because they are kept separately and brought round by a waitress rather than being freshly prepared in the kitchen. A garlic naan was a little hard, and a regular one served at the next table looked much better.
Service was a rather mixed bag, with plenty of staff around but a few elements of clumsiness, at least at our table. The prices are the big problem here. Main course dishes are mostly around £23, starters £11, vegetables side dishes a scary £10, though breads are just £2.50. With two beers, some lassi and two courses only the bill still weighed in at £61 per person. The conservatory is a pretty spot, but with places like Haandi only a short distance away at a fraction of the price, I can now recall why I fell out of love with the Bombay Brasserie. I was rather dreading that the food might have declined, but in truth the food is not bad, and good in places (though they need to fix the vegetable side dishes getting cold, something I remember being a problem a decade ago). Unfortunately the bill has headed inexorably upwards, and I suspect that injecting change here will be like turning around an ocean liner. This was visit was interesting from a nostalgia perspective, but you can find better value, high grade Indian food elsewhere.Book