The Bombay Brasserie has a seminal place in the history of Indian restaurants in London, as it was really the first to bring top-end chefs from India over to London, and serve regional specialities in a smart setting when it opened in 1982. I used to be a regular there, but somehow the cooking seemed to drift a little downwards as the prices drifted up, and it started to seem dated. In 2008 the restaurant closed for a major refurbishment, and it has now reopened. The room is much improved in my view. As before there are two dining areas, a large room with grand chandeliers and thick carpet, and the conservatory. The latter has been greatly updated, with a central bar/cooking demo area, and a much more modern feel. The restaurant still has vast capacity, able to seat 200, and there is now a private dining room in addition.
Crucially, the revamp has extended to the kitchen. The menu is completely different, and there are some new chefs from India in addition to the old team being retrained in India. The new wine list starts at just £14, and has choices such as Peter Lehmann Weighbridge 2007 at £19.50 for a wine that costs about £8 retail, the excellent Jermann Pinot Grigio 2007 at £45 for a wine costing £14 or so in the shops, and Marques de Riscal 2004 Reserva at £41 for a wine that costs £12 to buy. For those on expenses, the list extends upwards to a Margaux 2002 for £465 for a wine that will set you back around £150 In the shops.
Here are brief notes from a recent meal.
Starters were £5 - £11, main courses costlier e.g. Goan John Dory was priced at £23, home-style chicken curry at £19. Excellent Hyderabadi dhal (tempered yellow lentils) had a pleasing hint of smokiness and was priced at £4.50. A pair of scallops (£11.50) was served on a bed of peppered crab meat and garnished with curry leaves. The scallops were very lightly cooked, and the crab with its carefully controlled spices was a good foil (14/20). Mango flavoured king prawns (£11.50) was even better, the prawns good quality and very nicely cooked through, again with well-balanced spices (15/20).
The “home style” chicken curry was the worst dish for me, the chicken moist but the sauce a little one-dimensional (12/20). However a mushroom curry was excellent (14/20) and a special order of aloo gobi was superb, the cauliflower and potatoes both retaining their texture and having absorbed an interesting and complex mix of spices (15/20). Naan bread was light and supple (14/20). Service was excellent throughout.
Gulab jaman was simply the best I have eaten. These balls of milk solids in sugar syrup can often have a grainy texture or be dry inside, but here they were delightfully moist, and the sugar syrup rich but not sickly sweet (15/20). Kulfi was attractively served in a properly made tuile basket (14/20).
What follows are notes from a meal in May 2010.
As you browse the long menu a tray of mini-popadoms appears with a pleasant tomato chutney. We began with some tandoori dishes, chicken tikka “doodhia” (£10) and tandoori salmon (£9.50). The chicken tikka was what I would have termed malai style i.e. with a marinade for the chicken involving spices and cheese, which softens the chicken before it is cooked in the tandoor. It was served on a slightly odd plate in three large pieces, and was terrific. The chicken was very tender, the spices nicely coming through, the texture of the chicken attractively soft (14/20). Also excellent was a piece of tandoori Scottish salmon, the fish remaining moist through the cooking process (often tandoori salmon can end up dried out) and having a hint of spiciness from its marinade, served with a little mint chutney on the side (14/20).
For the main course I had a black pepper chicken (£19), which had a generous slab of chicken, properly cooked, but with a sauce that I found rather bland, despite the addition of plenty of black pepper at the table (12/20). However my wife fared a lot better, with a trio of very large char-grilled king prawns (£23.50). The prawns, despite their size, were perfectly tender, the marinade really lifting the flavour of the prawns, the spices in balance and well judged. I have to think back to India to recall a comparable prawn dish, as I have not eaten a better one in the UK (16/20). On the side naan (£2.50) and paratha (£2.75) had quite good texture (13/20) while yellow dhal was pricy at £8 but had pleasantly thick texture, avoiding wateriness (13/20).
Another dish that impressed me was bhindi (okra) with sesame seeds (£10); bhindi is almost always disappointing in restaurants, who make it with either too much tomato or don’t cook it from scratch, either way ending up with a soggy mess. Here it was cooked really well, without a hint of sogginess and showing off its inherent taste (15/20). For dessert we tried a home-made kulfi, which I actually found a little grainy in texture (12/20) and an excellent mango sorbet (14/20).
I was really impressed with the meal tonight. The tandoori cooking in particular is superb, and the careful handling of the bhindi showing a kitchen that really cares. This is a triumphant revamp of a grand old restaurant, and it was noticeable that on this mid-week evening almost every table was taken in the vast dining room.
On Sunday lunch there is an all you an eat buffet, which was completely full on the day that I visited. Curries are that rare thing that do not really suffer from waiting around for a while, and the skill with the vegetable dishes in particular was impressive e.g. aloo methi had excellent potatoes with a nice hint of fenugreek, and a mushroom and pea curry had good spicing. Breads are, sensibly, brought to the table fresh on request.
At lunch during the week The Bombay Brasserie offers a “Tiffin box” for £22. This consists of a trio of nicely presented small starters (such as a very delicate piece of chicken tikka) then a further trio of curries (a bhindi avoided any hint of greasiness). There is a vegetarian option (the one today included good paneer), and the choices vary daily. Also included are light and supple naan breads, and a pair of desserts, of which I really enjoyed a rich shrikand.