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Curry Room at the Rubens

39 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0PS, United Kingdom

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The Curry Room opened in October 2017 at the Rubens Hotel, which dates back to the 18th century though entered its present form as a hotel in 1912. It overlooks the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace, and reopened about a year ago after a major refurbishment. Since 1997 the hotel has been part of the Red Carnation group, a family-run string of hotels founded by a South African, Stanley Tollman. The head chef of the Curry Room is Arun Kumar, originally from Delhi, who previously worked at Tamarind in Mayfair as its “speciality chef”. According to the hotel website he works in tandem with the executive chef of another Red Carnation hotel in Durban. The “Curry Room” seems to be a brand being created within this hotel group, as I happened to eat at a “Curry Room” at their hotel in Guernsey called the Old Government House. Incidentally, meat to the restaurant is supplied by butcher Aubrey Allen, who hold the Royal Warrant; fish comes from Billingsgate market.

The restaurant is in the basement of the hotel, has red banquette seating and is carpeted. Some muzak was playing when I arrived, and later this was replaced by the strains of a live singer in the bar area above, who was doing a rather shaky rendition of an Amy Winehouse song. Tables were well spaced and the chairs were comfortable but were peculiarly low relative to the table. The menu was £45 for three courses, which consists of popadoms and a samosa, then a choice of main courses, followed by dessert. There were no side dishes as such, though main courses come with rice, bread and vegetable side dish of the day, in this case black dhal. 

There was a short wine list of thirty labels, many of them from the Bouchard Finlsayson Estate in Walker Bay that the owners of the hotel also run. The list ran from £32 to £250 in price, with a median price of £52 and an average markup of 3.2 times retail price, which is hardly kind but not the worst in London by a long shot. By contrast the markup on beer was ridiculous. A 330ml bottle of Cobra was £8 for a bottle currently selling in Morrisons for 82p – that is not so much a markup as daylight robbery. Example wine labels were Escarpment Pinot Blanc 2014 at £33 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, the very enjoyable Marques de Murrietta Reserve 2012 at £60 compared to its retail price of £22, and Domaine Jean Royer Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2015 at £79 for a wine that will set you back £30 in a shop. A bottle of mineral water was a hefty £7.

A basket of popadoms arrived with a samosa as the starter course. The samosa had nicely made pastry and a pleasant filling of gently spiced minced lamb, and the popadoms were fried and suitably crisp (13/20). Butter chicken had better quality chicken than is common in Indian restaurants, the sauce being unsurprisingly buttery and quite mild (14/20). This was better than a prawn curry, which had properly cooked prawns but was a bit one-dimensional in flavour (12/20), and a side dish of black dhal, which was just chilli hot and lacked the rich, smoky complexity of a really top class version of this dish (12/20). On the side, jasmine rice was nice but naan bread was just doughy and disappointing. It transpires that the kitchen does not have a tandoor, but in that case why on earth try and serve naan bread? There are plenty of Indian breads that do not require a tandoor to make properly – instead they could serve a paratha, or one of the other types of Indian bread that do not need a tandoor, like a romali roti. But no, they choose to just make a bad naan instead (9/20).

Desserts were apparently made in the kitchen, but looked perilously like supermarket level fare. Cheescake was very basic (11/20) as was a trifle that peculiarly contained apple, and also strawberries in November, presumably from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Moreover, the kitchen couldn’t be bothered to remove the stalks from the strawberries (10/20). Ironically they also serve kulfi, but that was bought in from outside. Quite why an Indian restaurant makes the western desserts but buys in the Indian ones puzzles me.

Service was very friendly. Our waiter, who turned out to be the manager, was a gentleman called Mohan Senchuri from Nepal, who remembered serving me at Vineet Bhatia way back in the days when it was in located in Hammersmith, albeit not for very long on that site. This was quite a feat of memory on his part. The bill came to £185.62 for two, so £93 a head with a bottle of wine. If you ordered a more modest bottle but also had coffee then you would still pay around £85 each, and that is an awful lot of money for the level of food being served here.

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  • Simon

    We lunched here last December. It was pretty atrocious. Everything in the room seemed to be covered in dust. Food was below local curry house standard. Lamb in mains was chewy. Puddings inedible. Think your rating is generous. You must have been in a good mood that day!

  • Meezan

    I find that waiters in Indian Restaurants are either fawning all over the clientele or eavesdropping on private conversations and adding their two pence worth inappropriately, as happened to me at Jamavar recently. The Curry Room at the Rubens sounds awful and I am so grateful you have reviewed it. It's a tough job but someone has to do it. Love the value for money chart the most...

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