In this case ‘casual’ means ‘cheaper’. Sort of.
It’s always fascinating to see what happens when a lauded, Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant launches a ‘casual’ spin-off. When Dabbous attempted it, the result was the very different and somewhat odd Barnyard. Both of those restaurants have now closed and, in retrospect, Barnyard felt a somewhat patronising, phoned-in effort – a pratfall that all these casual spin-offs have to avoid.
Jamavar is a haute-ish Indian restaurant in Mayfair which I haven’t gotten round to eating at and will probably never get the chance to do so, now that it has snagged a Michelin star. Getting a table at Bombay Bustle, Jamavar’s ‘casual’ and thus cheaper sibling, is almost as hard – probably because everyone is attracted to how it looks. The ground floor dining room has been fetchingly done up to look like a train carriage, albeit in a Wes Anderson-ish fashion.
The basement dining room is somewhat more restrained with an Art Deco look. The fact that it was completely empty on two of my visits though, with potential diners turned away upstairs, suggests staffing problems either in the front or the back of the house. The service could certainly do with more practice and polish. It ranged from overly matey and smotheringly overattentive to timid, hesitant and inattentive.
Any of that would be preferable to one waiter’s memorable response to my request for tap water, on two separate occasions across two separate meals. ‘Tap water’, he repeated with his lip curling visibly and a passive-aggressive snarl in his voice. Listen, cupcake. When I ask for tap water, rather than still or sparkling, you’ll take my order with a spring in your step and be goddamn grateful for the opportunity to do so.
First things first
Tap water aside, Bombay Bustle does have an interesting selection of lassis – even if they don’t always work. While creamy yet refreshing, the odd mix of flavours in the mango and pistachio lassi fell into the uncanny valley. The end result was something that came close to, but didn’t quite resemble either fruit or nut.
A trio of small, almost taco-shaped dosa were crisp and chewy. The potato filling had a light spicy heat to it, lifted a touch further by the sprightly sauce on the side. A straightforward and comforting starter. No fuss, no muss.
The podi dosa wasn’t quite as texturally proficient as the ones available at Diwana Bhel Poori and Hoppers, a pair of admittedly very different South Asian restaurants. Still, it was reasonably crisp on the outside and sufficiently soft on the inside where it was dusted with a modest spice. An uninspired selection of sauces failed to save this parade of satisfactorily sufficient mehness.
Lamb chops looked like overgrown meatballs on a stick, but were no less delicious for it. The crisp crust, massaged with an umami rub, gave way to reveal surprisingly airy and smooth seams of tender meat. Although not especially fatty, the sprightly and peppery sauce on the side was welcome.
Gently tenderised chickpeas came in a warming and soothing curry sauce. Although comforting, it was a somewhat one-dimensional curry with only the occasional zing of coriander to help it stand out from all the other chole curries I’ve ever had.
Bombay Bustle’s falooda had far less vermicelli in it compared to other versions elsewhere. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on how you feel about having bits of noodle in your dessert. The bits that were present had a slithery chewiness to them and their reduced presence arguably allowed the milky rosewater and mung-bolstered sweetness of this drink/dessert to shine through more. The rosewater flavour and the chewiness of the vermicelli were both bolstered further by a smooth and occasionally chewy blob of rosewater-flavoured kulfi. That last touch alone made this falooda a step above many of the others available in this city.
Going back for seconds
Bombay Bustle goes against the grain of some of London’s other Indian restaurants in not appearing to have any particular regional focus, which is perhaps fitting given its melting pot municipal namesake.
An oddly crunchy samosa had a mystery meat filling. Neither it nor the meagre helping of sev were especially satisfying. That task was left to the creamy and nutty chickpeas dressed in a mixture of sharp fruit and refreshing yoghurt.
Despite its small serving size, the strudel-ish apple and cinnamon lassi was still refreshing and flavoursome enough.
Although the curry sauce in the paneer butter masala was a tad one-dimensional, it was still a pleasing concoction. The gently softened paneer was an apt carrier for the sauce’s umami and robustly mild, cumulative heat.
Despite my gripes about the service, the waiter on this particular occasion was at least alert enough to offer to rip apart the roasted chicken for me (no doubt having sensed my feeble lack of upper body strength). It wasn’t bad as roast chicken goes, with moist meat covered by a layer of supple skin tinged with a very modest ginger-ish flavour. It just wasn’t especially memorable – even when taken with the onion-ish chicken stock served on the side for drizzling or dipping. When a much heralded new Indian restaurant can’t knock out a chicken dish to match or exceed the reliable ol’ stand-by of tandoori chicken, never mind the superlative chicken dishes at some of London’s non-Indian restaurants, then something is truly amiss.
At least the thick, soft and malty tandoori roti was there to paper over the cracks somewhat.
A cheesecake-like dessert was an unremarkable confection with the exception of the crunchy saffron-flavoured ‘pearls’. They not only tasted quite distinctive, which is usually an advantage, but their crunch also added some textural contrast with the soft cream cheese.
Three isn’t always the magic number
Keema pao might look like lamb mince and buns, but… no wait, it actually was lamb mince and buns. It was exceptionally good mince though – meaty, unctuous and moreish. The spicy undertone was very modest though – there was more of a kick in the sharp onion garnish served on the side. Spooning the mince into the surprisingly brioche-like mini buns turned this dish into a somewhat exotic and much better than average pair of Sloppy Joes.
Chilli and coriander lassi wasn’t anywhere as radical it sounds due to the almost non-existent chilli. There was the crispy herby hit of coriander though which added to the cool, refreshing nature of the thin and milky lassi rather than detracting from it.
Minty bits of paneer didn’t leave much of an impression due to their surprising wispiness. The limp mushrooms alongside them would’ve gone the same way, but for their mildly creamy and gently moreish curry filling. The best thing here had to be pickled girolles though. There wasn’t anywhere as much of these little beauties as I would’ve liked – a real shame given their woody aroma and delicate balance of sweet and tang.
Bombay Bustle’s lamb biryani was an understated, rather unshowy effort. Tender chunks of unctuous lamb could be found dotted amidst the far larger sea of just-softened small-grained rice. Although not meagre, the quantity of lamb was almost outweighed by the bulging hardboiled egg. There was gently bitter herby undertone in places which contrasted with the crunchy sweet caramelised onions found in others. Creamy and refreshing yoghurt served on the side was a neat touch. This biryani wasn’t without its charms but, as a whole, came across as rather dour and lacking in aroma.
The thin, mildly malty laccha paratha was a more pleasing source of carbs than the understated rice in the lamb biryani.
Soft mini pancakes came filled with a crisp, spiralised apple that had been warmed just-so and a mild amount of musky sweet jaggery. The modestly sweet pineapple puree to the side was easily outclassed by the pineapple ice cream. Its distinctively tangy, sugary sweet essence of the fruit was enhanced further by the little bits of extant candied pineapple embedded throughout the scoop. It was the best element of this dessert by a country mile.
Bombay Bustle’s masala chai was a vague, watery affair and no match for the more sumptuously warming version of this drink available at the nearby Darjeeling Express.
Go fourth and multiply
Poppadoms were oddly unappealing due to their unexpected blandness and a texture more akin to stale prawn crackers. This is nothing short of a travesty given that poppadoms would easily qualify as one of the Indian subcontinent’s greatest gifts to these cold, lonely islands. The sauce/chutney was another freakish anomaly, resembling a supermarket salsa. I’ve never been more tempted to send a dish back.
Many people will no doubt swoon over the truffle egg naan as the mere mention of ‘truffles’ is the closest thing you can get to bait-on-a-lure for the easily impressed. There was next to no aroma or taste from the three scabby flakes of truffle on my plate, but the rest of this starter just about made up for this disappointing no-show. The thin, tissue-soft naan was a delight, as were the fluffy and light scrambled eggs dotted with sharp tomatoes and crisp, slightly bitter herbs.
Tandoori prawns were firm and bouncy, the flesh suffused with a strident smokiness and a gently prickly heat.
Flaky white fish cooked just-so was used in the Kerala fish curry. The bold taste of tomatoes and overly strong umami in the curry sauce was worrying in its initial resemblance to pasta sauce, but it eventually developed more depth as I spooned downwards. A mild cumulative spicy heat as well as the taste of coconut and curry leaves soon became apparent. Better late than never.
Although buttery tasting, the overly soft and floppy hopper had none of the textural greatness as the superlative appams at Hoppers.
A chocolate-filled samosa ‘chaat’ used the same thick, crunchy and unsatisfying pastry used in the savoury samosas. Even less appetising was the overpowering sweetness of the chocolate filling, a deeply unpleasant quality emphasised even further by the red currants and yoghurt.
An attempt to wash away the foul memory of the chocolate samosa with a second dessert was only partially successful. Shrug inducing cubes of candied fruit turned up both scattered throughout a pool of thick, milky cream and in soft biscotti-like biscuits. If it wasn’t for the cream and the fluffy rasmalai, then this dessert would also have been a let down.
Dig past the eye-catchingly stylish decor and Bombay Bustle has surprisingly little to say for itself. The menu, as a whole, turned out to be a rather tame, uninspired effort that fails to push the state of the art for Indian restaurants forwards.
Even when you push the stinkers and the mediocrities aside, there were remarkably few dishes that I long to eat once again. It’s as if the kitchen paid no heed whatsoever to the sterling work done at far more lustworthy if less luxuriantly appointed mid-market Indian restaurants in London such as Kricket, Darjeeling Express, Gunpowder and Kashmir. The pricing isn’t even especially competitive, unless you’re timid enough to never leave Mayfair. Bombay Bustle? More like Bombay hustle.
What to order: Lamb chops; Keema pao; Tandoori prawns; Falooda; ‘Pina colada’ dessert
What to skip: Samosas, whether sweet or savoury; Poppadums
Name: Bombay Bustle
Address: 29 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1S 2PA
Phone: 020 7290 4470
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-14.30 and 17.30-22.30. Closed Sunday.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £70 approx.