Post-lockdown dining in London is a curious thing: liberating but strangely restrictive at the same time. What appears to be a burgeoning cosmopolitan world of al fresco dining is in fact limited by the fact that most places don’t have dedicated outside space – or if they do, it’s likely to be a requisitioned pavement or kerbside, which means that all food will end up with a gently smoked flavour of petrol. In any case, you’ll be grateful for the warmth of the fumes because eating out (in the quite literal sense of the word) now requires an imperviousness to the elements that even Sherpa Tenzing Norgay would struggle to muster.
That’s assuming your favourite restaurant is open at all, because even many of those with the capacity to turn themselves into impromptu pavement cafés have decided not to bother. Understandable: it’s hard to guarantee the level of service people are accustomed to, the food will go cold in five minutes, and to make any money, you’d need to pack in so many tables that Covid would become an almost-guaranteed amuse-bouche before you even got to the starter.
So it was a pleasant change to discover the Bombay Palace in Connaught Street, not far from Marble Arch, with its own dedicated and reasonably spacious terrace area set back from the pavement. Indian is always a good choice in these times, as any drop in outside temperature can be offset by the level of piquancy on your plate; effectively turning yourself into your very own patio heater.
Apparently there used to be a number of Bombay Palaces all over the world, but the owner has now trimmed it down to just five, two of which are in Canada. And there’s a definite international feel to this place, which could just as easily be somewhere like Dubai rather than central London. First impressions are great: the service is slick – we were moved from a soulless temporary outside area to the main terrace immediately after asking – and the house Champagne is very palatable. The terrace was full of Indian families, probably a positive sign. So far, so good.
There’s nothing to fault about the food too; at least not initially. The tandoori chicken was well-marinated and plump, perhaps a little bit spongy in the middle, but certainly nothing to complain about. The chilli paneer too was dangerously delicious: cubes of cheese swimming in a thick chilli sauce (which in the end though wasn’t that spicy – more heat needed here).
On then to the palak murgh, chana masala, prawn biryani, and yet more rice. Of those, the humble chana masala was the biggest hit. In fact, the preponderance of vegetarian dishes on the menu makes me strongly suspect that this is what they do best.
The chickpeas were fluffy, the sauce thick and comforting: this time, with enough chilli heat to banish the chill of a London spring evening. Top marks too for the prawn biryani: beautiful pilau rice, a generous quantity of flavoursome prawns (which didn’t taste like they had been anywhere near a freezer) and a crunchy counterpoint of sprinkled cashew nuts. A timeless classic perfectly executed, in other words. As for the palak murgh, that will go down well with anyone who likes creamed spinach – because it’s basically just that with some chicken in. No issue there, but that dish didn’t quite have the stand-out quality of everything else on the table. It even seemed a touch out of place, carrying a hint of the flavours of an English Sunday chicken roast into an Indian meal.
Just to add to the carb intake, we also had a garlic naan – which was neither too greasy nor garlicky – and washed it all down with an entirely acceptable but slightly flavourless Pinot Grigio. Or maybe it was just overpowered by everything else.
The bill came to around £160, but service was impeccable, and we got a takeaway bag full of all the food we didn’t eat, which was the following day’s lunch sorted. If you consider eating out as a more pleasant alternative to shopping – or four meals for the price of two – it doesn’t seem that expensive in the end. Or you could just order less, but where’s the fun in that?
And that was it: a pleasant evening in a place I would unhesitatingly recommend. However, during the night, I was assailed with the sort of thirst that only Oliver Reed would be familiar with – but for water this time. It turned out that all those carbs didn’t matter in the end; they were burnt off in the endless overnight back and forth trek for Evian. Was it the salt in the cheese, the garlic in the nan, the consumption of a glass of Champagne and half a bottle of wine? Or something else entirely different? Who knows?
But on this occasion, dinner resulted in a parched and sleepless night. On balance, it was still worth it though. There’s going to be plenty of time to sleep during the next lockdown.
Bombay Palace, 50 Connaught Street, London, W2 2AA, England.
Tel: +44 020 7723 8855
Located just north of Hyde Park in between Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch Tube Stations on the Central Line, Bombay Palace is open Monday to Thursday for dinner from 5:30pm to 10:00pm and Friday to Sunday for lunch from 12:30pm to 3:30pm and for dinner from 5:30pm to 10:00pm.
Type of Restaurant: High End Indian Restaurant
Price Band: Medium to high
Insider Tip: Go for the internal part of the terrace next to the heater. And don’t be afraid to ask for a takeaway bag if you can’t finish off your meal!
Reviewer’s Rating: 7.5/10
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.