First opened in 1982, Bombay Brasserie is a Kensington institution. It was one of the first in the UK to ditch the flocked wallpaper and sticky carpets of the traditional British curry house, and instead offer modern Indian cuisine in a grand dining room. Over 35 years later and it’s still going strong, so I invited another British institution, my dad, to join me in visiting the Brasserie.
Entering Bombay Brasserie is an impressive affair. First you enter the Bombay Bar with its colonial shutters, plush armchairs and walls filled with paintings and photos of Raj-era Bombay. We were shown through the heavy wooden doors and walked into the elegant main dining room with its brass peacock statues, glittering chandelier and grand piano. But palatial as it was, this wasn’t our final stop.
The jazz musician arrived and started tickling the ivories as we walked through the dining room and into a stunning conservatory. Bright and leafy, this is where the weekend lunch buffet was arranged. The restaurant offers a la carte dining each day. Monday to Friday you can order from a set lunch menu, but on weekends the team hosts a buffet-style lunch with a Chaat Counter that me and my dad were eager to try.
But before we got stuck in we sipped on our drinks and gawped at the beautiful summer house dining room. Dad had a bottle of Kingfisher, his favourite Indian lager, and I had a refreshing and unusual chilli and mango mojito.
The first counter had an impressive array of starters and appetisers. We tried the spiced lamb samosa, which had a crisp filo shell, but moist, shredded lamb inside. There was chilli heat, but it was mild and well balanced. The lentil potato cakes had more of a chilli kick and went well with the tamarind dip. But the tandoori suwa murg chicken tikka, a saffron-yellow chargrilled chicken dish was our favourite as it was moist with lots of flavour and no chilli heat (perfect for wimps).
Part of this section was the ‘chaat counter’ a section where you could get street food favourites panipuri and bhelpuri made fresh while you wait. Neither me or my dad had ever tried these. So, glasses on, we scrutinized the expert server as he filled the round, hollow ‘puri’ (a type of unleavened deep-fried bread) with spiced potato, chickpeas, red onion, tomato and coriander. Once it was filled he placed it on top of a shot glass filled with a palate-cleansing vegetable water.
After clearing our plates, we were given fresh ones to fill again with a smorgasbord of traditional and modern dishes. Bombay was (as Mumbai now is) a hodgepodge of different cultures and cuisines, with influences and cooking styles from all over India and even Portugal, and this is reflected in the variety of what’s on offer. It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of vegetarian options to choose from.
Although we were not in the healthy mood, there was a counter with beautiful, fresh salads. Next to them was a wide variety of sauces and condiments on offer too, so no need to fear a dry or dull plate of grub.
I couldn’t decide exactly what to go for, so I filled my plate up with tasters of everything. From traditional lamb biriyani to vegetarian-friendly vegetable masala, whatever your taste or your heat tolerance, there were dishes to suit. My dad, being a bit of a chilli-phobe, avoided the spicier options, but there is the option to pile on fresh chillies if you’re feeling braver. His favourite dish was the sunshine-coloured bori chicken; tender chicken thighs cooked in mild cashew spices. While I loved the Indo-Portuguese fish & prawns moilee dish. The prawns were big, pink and juicy alongside large pieces of flaking tilapia, all in a lightly spicy and deeply flavoured coconut sauce.
Despite tasting the entire main course counter, we eagerly approached the dessert section where there were colourful platters of tropical fruits and intricate Indian sweets laid out. While we were tempted by the freezers filled with mango coconut kulfi (my usual go-to dessert) we wanted to try more unusual options. The jackfruit rice kheer was like a tropical rice pudding, which went well with the springy apricot cake, served with fresh orange slices. We also tried the prettily presented kesari shrikhand, a type of sweet Indian yoghurt that was served on top of a pink half of a macaron. Lastly, we had something I hadn’t had since going to Southall as a kid: coconut jamun. They are delicious balls of cardamom-flavoured sponge, soaked in sugar syrup and coated in desiccated coconut and so dainty that one was never going to be enough.
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