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If we're talking good Indian, have a chaat

Published 13 May 2007
News Review
721st article



I've been going to the Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington for years. Indian restaurants come and go, life changes, tides ebb and flow, the man in the moon looks down on the increasing insanity of life on planet Earth, but the Bombay Brasserie remains untouched.

It opened on December 7, 1982. Adi Modi is the boss. Although it's owned by India's Taj hotel group. Adi produced a chuffed red reservations book showing I first dined there on Sunday March 27, 1983, at 7.45pm.

In the book it's got "table number 3 VVIP" by my name. No, that doesn't mean very, very insignificant person. Peter Stringfellow was apparently there the same night, but at 10pm. He didn't even have VIP by his name.

Mick Jagger went there a lot in the early days. Now I see Trevor Nunn and Kevin Spacey.

Adi told me that whenever I mention the Bombay Brasserie he has the column framed and hung on his bedroom wall. His wife, not unreasonably, said, "You take this very personally."

Mr Modi replied, "It's a very, very personal thing for me." Don't just gawp. Cut out and frame every column and put it in your living room.

I recently went to Bombay Brasserie. It's incredible.

The back conservatory, with trees and hanging baskets of plants, is laid out like an Indian market. They have a buffet area for starters, then what they call a Bombay chaat stall of snacks, then another counter for main courses and yet another for desserts. Eat as much as you like for Pounds 22 per person plus 12.5% service.

As I have a walking disability (sit down the reader who said, "Goes with your brain disability") Adi got some food for me. We started with a number of snacks: bhel puri, made from puffed rice, potatoes, chopped onion, tamarind chutney and red chilli chutney. Then one of the greatest tastes ever, beyond historic, called palak pakodi chaat. This is baby spinach, crisply fried, with sweet yoghurt, tamarind chutney, chopped onion, tomato and coriander.

Aloo tuk, which is baby crisp potatoes with sweet yoghurt and tamarind chutney.

Sev batata puri -a small biscuit-like puri topped with potatoes, sprouted lentils, sweet yoghurt, gram flour straws and a mix of chutneys. Paani puris, which are stuffed with boiled potatoes, sprouted lentils and mint-flavoured water.

And probably more. For my main course I had chicken biryani, raita and a whole lot of other stuff, but I've given you enough detail, it's exhausting me.

The chef, Prahlad Hegde, dropped by. It's only buffet for lunch at weekends, dinner is a la carte and lunch during the week is from a set menu. I finished with a Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream which Mr Modi assured me he got because I recommended it.

"I now recommend you switch to Marine Ices of Chalk Farm," I said ever wishing to help. Next time I go in I'll see if they listened to me.

I have, in the past, been rather scathing about the food served at the London Clinic. That's because it was, in general, not good.

But I must pay tribute to Mark Hougham, one of its sous chefs. He produced, to my utter amazement, a superb dinner.

It started with confit of duck served with a rustic bean stew. The duck leg was marinated in rock salt, garlic, juniper berries and shallots. The stew consisted of flagelot beans, silver skin onions, aubergine, butter beans, smoked paprika, fresh tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano.

The executive chef said to me, "That's not just for you, it's on the menu." Maybe.

But I got it early, about 7pm.

If someone ordered it an hour or more later it would be over-stewed and degenerating.

Then Mark said he'd just baked an almond and prune tart "for tomorrow's menu".

That means it would be overnight and during the day in the fridge or deep freeze.

Both destroyers of food quality.

I said, "I'll have it now."

So I got it fresh. It had been made that afternoon with sweet pastry and frangipane filling, the prunes were marinated in rum and calvados. The whole thing sprinkled with almonds, glazed and garnished with fresh berries. That was a memorable meal.



  • You may remember a few weeks ago I wrote a glowing review of a kosher restaurant called Reubens. My flabber was gasted when I received a lot, and I do mean a lot, of e-mails and letters from Jewish folk mainly in north London, saying my piece was anti-semitic.

    The review is now beautifully framed with an additional colour photo of me and hangs in Reubens' window. This is a sight worth making a detour to behold. I don't really think a kosher restaurant, with a largely Jewish clientele, would put an anti semitic article in its window.

    So to those who wrote in - boo to you.



    Michael's missives

    Please take care when next you stand in your garden, mouth open, catching pigeons. We wouldn't want to lose a Boeing 707.
    Bryan Owram, West Yorkshire

    Regarding your reservations at Galvin at Windows, we arrived at 8.15pm, were taken to our table and ordered. The first course arrived within 30 minutes. But by 10pm the second course hadn't arrived. I asked for the manager. His response was classic. "Sir, the chef and kitchen are very busy." I said, "Of course they are, you're supposed to be a restaurant."
    Laurence Prince, London

    When speaking to a head waiter of a reputable London restaurant a couple of months ago about your rapidly declining health, he said that everyone in the industry believed your sudden change of heart and good reviews was your blatent attempt to "make your peace with God" before you died. When speaking to him last week about your recovery his respone was, "We know! We're all waiting for the bad reviews to start rolling in." Is there any truth in this? Are you religiously fickle?
    Tony Fowler, London

    Judging by your last column - pigeons flying in your mouth, the Queen in her bikini - is it perhaps time to reduce your medication a tad?
    Marianne Bartram, Torquay