London - Sunday Brunch at the Bombay Brasserie
It's been years since I was last at the Bombay Brasserie, London go-to Indian cuisine spot for celebratory occasions & special dinners. In 1995, I remembered being served a tall glass of bubbly pink champagne during Sunday brunch - on-the-house - as Bombay Brasserie had just been chosen by Time Out as the best Indian restaurant in London then.
I was back there again for the Sunday lunch buffet, a get-together with UK-based Hounds limster, Howler & deansa. The newly-refurbished Bombay Brasserie replaced its previously dark, ornate main dining room with a lighter, brighter decor - sepia-toned old photos of Indian scenes on the walls, lavish chandeliers dripping from the airy ceilings. Nice.
The other part of the restaurant - bright, sun-lit conservatory (which I preferred) has got a more modern but boring make-over - gone were the Victorian feel and ornate grillwork - in were the large brown timber lines which made it look, well, normal in a minimalist way. I missed the old conservatory, which exuded a British Raj-like grandeur.
The food, though, was a revelation - it's improved by leaps and bounds, no doubt due to the efforts of its consultant chef - the extraodinarily talented Executive Chef of the Taj Group, Mumbai-based Hemant Oberoi. Personally, I'd rate Oberoi as the #1 Indian chef in the world today. Pre-terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, he was helming Masala Kraft & Zodiac Grill restaurants in that grand hotel.
As a matter of interest, other top Indian chefs whom I admired are:
#2 Ananda Solomon, Konkan Cafe, Taj President, Mumbai
#3 Imtiaz Qureshi, Dum Pukht ITC Sheraton Maurya Delhi
#4 Arvind Saraswat, Taj Group. Oversees Taj Delhi & Taj Bengal in Kolkata.
#5 Naren Thimmaiah, Karavalli, Taj Gateway Bangalore
#6 Satish Arora, was the youngest chef for Taj Bombay back in 1973 (he was 26 then!).
#7 Rahul Akerkar, Indigo (Continental), Mumbai.
#8 Ritu Dalmia, Diva (Italian), Delhi
Anyhow - back to our Sunday lunch at the Bombay Brasserie. Good choice of chaats:
- Pani puri: the tamarind-flavored liquid was served in a shot glass - to be poured yourself into the pastry shell before you pop the whole thing into your mouth;
- Sev batata puri, which went well with a dollop of sweet yoghurt on top.
- Bhel puri - nicely flavored, but the rice bubbles weren't crisp anymore.
Batter-fried spicy prawns (prawn toki) were daintily served in little boats woven from palm leaves.
The sole soup option was a very gingery pumpkin soup - I thought the overwhelming ginger component somehow made it taste too "Chinese" for me.
Vegetarian mains included very tasty cheese-cashew-raisin (kaju kismis) dumplings smothered in deliciously creamy spinach (palak) gravy - absolutely heavenly!
Another of my fave dishes was the piquant Hyderabadi Mirchi ka Salan (curried green peppers).
An assortment of curried potatoes, peas & cauliflower flowettes assure any vegetarian diner (and there are many of them at the restaurant) that they are certainly being taken care of.
Meat options included a rich lamb-and-potato curry; a creamy-nutty chicken curry thickened with crushed cashewnuts; moist chunks of chicken tikka (this was the most popular options amongst the diners & had to be regularly replenished) and a spicy Keralan fish curry.
Fluffy basmati rice and vegetarian pulao were available from the buffet counter, whilst hot naan breads were served directly to our table.
Desserts included Parsi-style sev - sweetened, spiced vermicelli; semolina pudding flavored with jaggery; and a rather lavish mango kulfi streaked through with figs, served on pink-and-white falooda noodles & drizzled with pink rose syrup.
Considering the variety of food and the top-notch quality of ingredients used the weekend lunch buffet was certainly a great bargain at GBP28.50 net per person. Thanks to Howler for the great suggestion, and limster for making the arrangements!
140 Courtfield Road, London SW7 4QH, GB
Favourite for me was definitely the kaju kismis. Mirch ka salan was also delicious. I thought the aloo tikki wasn't bad.
The Sev batata puri was notable, but the pani puri were a little blunt and a touch behind some of the ones we've had in East Ham.
I'm a sucker for pickles-- loved the tangy chunks of mango and how it added all this extra zip into various dishes.
wow, i like my lunch there even more now that i've read klyeoh's report!
seriously though - the two biggest deficiencies in eating cuisines from india out is a) the whole starter/main/dessert formula b) the substitution of lamb for goat.
indians don't eat starters/main/dessert. they have a lot of vegetable dishes, a meat dish or two and they mix and match. the idea is to balance: sweet, savoury, spicy etc - and so every plate has an inner logic. you can immediately tell an indians plate from someone who is not versed in the cuisine.
thats why the brasserie is so good - lots of vegetables, properly cooked, to go along with the meat dishes.
howler, I always thought that about Indian dining etiquette as well, i.e. all dishes are served at the same time, and we simply pick & choose what we want to eat in no particular order - that is, until I encountered a formal dinner in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a few years back. The Bengalis are very particular about the order with which they eat their food: the guests, led by our host, took the first portions of their rice with just a bit of ghee & salt (same as the Bohranis). Then, came the thin dhal lentil curries, which were simply poured over a bit more rice and eaten.
The spiced vegetables (bittergourd, aubergines, okra,etc) followed suit - all accompanied by a little rice each time. The following course consisted of seafood - and the Bengalis sure loved their sweet-fleshed hilsa (herring), studded with a multitude of fine, almost-translucent tiny bones. Next came the meat course: long-stewed, sweet-oniony, flavorsome chicken curry, mutton bhoona, and a robust beef curry (Bangladeshis are Muslims, so will have no objections to eating the cow).
The dinner is rounded off with a selection of chutneys and papads, and finally a selection of ultra-sweet, milky Bengali sweets like sondesh, guaranteed to give one a sugar-high.
I wondered if there are any such fine-dining Bangladeshi restaurants in London, as many "Indian" restaurants here are actually run by Sylhetis from Bangladesh. So far, haven't yet come across one.
the bengalis are the one counter-example that i know of (and i think it was medgirl who pointed that out on these boards) ... trust the bengalis to be different. then again calcutta was the first city to be heavily anglicized, so perhaps thats the cause.
but the point about the inner logic to the plate still obtains.
Hi klyeoh and howler!
Yep, klyeoh is right about Bengalis being very particular about the order in which a formal meal is eaten. And howler, I did point this out previously in one of the 'Indian food debates' on this board. Bengali wedding feasts are served in a very fixed order of dishes if they are being served to seated guests rather than as a buffet. Even with everyday meals, Bengalis will have a portion of rice with daal and perhaps a vegetable dish, before proceeding to the non-vegetarian dish with some more rice, followed by some chutney to cleanse the palate before finishing off with some milk-based sweet dish and then some betel leaf stuffed with betelnut, spices and lime paste to chew afterwards as a digestive. I don't know if this comes from being 'Anglicised', because even in villages this is the way meals are constructed.
An interesting form of Indian cuisine I have only read about but never had the chance to try is the Kashmiri 'wazwan', where the meal is served around a huge central plate of rice. The plate has a sort of gutter running around it's border where the various dishes are portioned out for the guests who sit all around the plate together and eat from the same plate. It sounds charming and I was always curious to know if anyone had ever experienced this. klyeoh, maybe?
BTW your Bombay Brasserie lunch sounds amazing, I need to go and try it out someday.
Medgirl, I'd only had a Bohrani meal where we all sat around this huge communal platter with dishes surrounding the rice. We each formed a sort of personal mound of food in front of us. This was back in Singapore, and my Bohrani friends were celebrating a Shiite religious leader's birth anniversary.
It is always pleasing to hear good reports of the old place. It was a favourite of ours n the early nineties and was as good as described on our last visit soon after the refurb. In the past I did eat dinner and the famed Sunday buffet but to answer Zuriga's question I always preferred the buffet.
The first place I ever ate really good (or so it seemed at the time years ago) Indian food. People usually choose the buffet to rave about but surely a dinner there must be very good, and it's often overlooked. Too bad you fellows have such a men's only club. :-) I feel snubbed.