Despite Britain’s capricious policies on immigration, enough top-level Indian chefs and restaurateurs are making it to London to shake things up. Among the most recent disruptors are the Leela Palaces hotel group, which provided the talent and the money behind Jamavar restaurant in London’s Mayfair; critically acclaimed, it also won a coveted Michelin star in 2017. Now the two key figures behind Jamavar, namely entrepreneur Samyukta Nair – she hails from a family of hoteliers – and talented chef Rohit Ghai have opened this second restaurant, also in Mayfair, which aims to be more affordable than Jamavar but still firmly targeted at the top end.
The site that was once Claude Bosi’s two-starred Hibiscus has been very expensively refurbished on both levels (ground and basement). There’s a very smart little cocktail bar at the entrance, then the ground floor dining space, which has a look that subtly references Mumbai railway carriages. Very subtly: having worked near Bombay, I’ve ridden those trains more times than I care to remember, and they didn’t look anything like this.
Downstairs, the basement is also beautiful but has a different, art deco look, with tremendous attention to detail – it’s a homage to the India of the imagination, not the India of reality. The little counter you see at the back is a dessert bar.
There’s a clever conceit to the menu. Mumbai has a particularly rich mix of cuisines, as it’s a city of immigrants: Maharashtrians from the surrounding state, Hindu vegetarians from Gujarat and Kerala, and Muslims both local and from further afield. That’s on top of Mumbai’s thriving café and street-snacks scene, which sees 400,000 meals delivered every day to office workers by dabbawallas, who collect, deliver, and return tiffin tins by foot, bicycle and train. Bombay Bustle’s menu explores this culinary diversity.
Misal pao is a common breakfast dish in Mumbai, featuring Western-style leavened white bread, introduced to India by the Portuguese (who call it paõ); filled with misal, a spiced bean stew, given a big kick with goda masala – the sweet spice mix that is one of the signatures of Maharashtrian cooking. Bombay Bustle’s version is exemplary; the distinctive spice aroma transported me back to Mumbai in an instant, the bread rolls (two small ones) were pert and properly toasted, and the little details such as the diced onion and lime slice garnish were utterly pukka. A knockout dish.
Chaats, or snacks, is perhaps what Mumbai does best. Ragda patties, on this menu called Bambaiya ragda, is one of many. Little mashed potato rissoles are shallow-fried then smothered in a typical chaat mix: mint and coriander chutney, sweet chaat chutney, spice mix, chopped onions, and a topping of sev, the crisp gram flour noodles that feature in Bombay mix. This version had the requisite pairing of sour tamarind notes and sweetness that are typical of much Gujarati snack food.
Mumbai Muslim cookery is markedly different to that of Hindus and other faiths, with meat and complex slow-cooked rice dishes a speciality. At Bombay Bustle, there are two biryanis and two pulaos that cover a range of styles. The dum nali biryani is traditionally slow-cooked in a tightly sealed vessel. “Nali” means “mutton”, but here lamb is used. The rice grains were some of the longest I’ve seen – always a good indicator of quality; the spice aromas wafted beyond our table. It was all proper and correct, even to the detail of serving a simple raita alongside. Inferior curry-house versions in the UK use food colouring, frozen peas and all sorts of abominations to make the dish look better; there’s no such embellishing on this reassuringly ochre dish.
Other dishes on the menu demonstrate the kitchen’s range and diversity. The layered laccha paratha is north Indian, while appam (pictured below) – concave pancakes that are crumpet-like, but smell of fresh rice and coconut – were both impeccable.
There’s a full bar – cocktails, wine, soft drinks, the lot. Wine isn’t a great match with Indian food, reflected in a simple choice of three whites and three reds by the glass, with more choice by the bottle. The three types of lassi might be a better option, or there are two types of pricey Indian beer.
New restaurants rarely have service as smooth and polished as a temple floor, but Bombay Bustle’s service was self-conscious and erratic, lacking in assurance. It had only just opened, so it will improve in time.
Bombay Bustle’s a Bollywood hit. Those who miss the real flavours of Bombay/Mumbai will appreciate it most; small wonder the place was packed with affluent Indian customers on my visit, all seriously intent on the dishes. But it will also appeal to business diners and others who are simply looking for an attractive and fun restaurant that has some buzz, but isn’t so painfully fashionable you need to book months ahead or queue in the rain for three hours to get in.
PS Chef Rohit Ghai announced in January that he would be leaving both Bombay Bustle and Jamavar, so expect some changes in the kitchen from February.
Mon-Sat 12noon-2.30pm; 5.30-10.30pm
Starters £5-£10; main courses £10-18; puddings £6-£8, wines from £6 per glass
29 Maddox Street, W1S 2PA; +44 (0)20 7290 4470;