You know how it is, just when you think the world has coughed up the last bunch of ‘celebrities’ larking about for our amusement, the apparently bottomless barrel is scraped for more. January is the month of Celebrity Big Brother and Cat has outed herself as a fan of this smorgasbord of gurning zelebrities. Go Dane Bowers!
This seemingly off-topic introduction to the Bombay Palace is more pertinent than would at first appear. Obviously M and C would not be rude enough to compare any eatery or its food to gristly nonentity Alex Reid, for example. But Ryde does seem to be overwhelmed with Asian restaurants; ten at the last count, each with its own personality and vying for your attention. Can the town stomach another venue in this food genre? Or will one of them get voted off?
At the height of the snow, Matt and Cat slipped along to the Bombay Palace’s opening night. The place was surprisingly full, given the state of the roads, but there was a table for two still available. Peeling off mittens, scarves and winter coats, M and C settled in, enjoying the convivial atmosphere that snowbound Britain induced in its population. There was lots of friendly eye-contact with fellow patrons and the staff were particularly attentive. However, halfway through their poppadums, the fire alarm went off. After about ten minutes of this pulsating din, despite the reassurances of the staff, M and C left promising to return soon.
It wasn’t long before the reviewing duo made good on their promise. The waiters greeted them enthusiastically, appearing to remember them from their earlier visit. Perhaps it was Cat’s distinctive hat that jogged their memories? This time Matt and Cat had the choice of tables as it was early on a mid-week evening. As M and C were positioned under a heater, the waiter thoughtfully cranked it up to a cardigan-shedding 24°C. After she had peeled off coat and cardi Cat requested that the heater be turned down to a more ambient and less blustery 19°C and her wish was granted.
M and C flicked through the menu, although to be honest they gave it only a cursory glance as it had had their full attention on their previous visit. There was a good selection of starters including king prawn butterfly and calamari pathoni, the first time that M and C had ever seen squid on an Indian restaurant menu. For the main course, there was also a fine and well-signposted selection of house specialities, all described in choice-enabling detail with a hotness rating.
However, those of you that like traditional Indian food will also find all the usual suspects. Cat falls into this camp and she chose chicken khorma – not the most adventurous of selections but a good standard for the chilli-shy. Matthew was more measured in his deliberations, pondering the merits of gosht xacuti – a coconut-based Goan delicacy made with three masalas – before plumping for lamb balti.
A brace of poppadums, plus chutneys, was delivered along with a pint of draught Cobra for Matt and tap water for The Cat. As they crunched their way thought the flattest of breads, they looked out of the window across to the Canoe Lake. As many readers will recall, the Palace’s narrow plot was home to the thatched Beijing Palace which sadly succumbed to fire one autumn. Although the phoenix-like Bombay Palace no longer has a thatch, the rebuild has incorporated some well-positioned French doors; the summer will hopefully see them open, simulating a terrace-style eatery.
Pulled back from their collective daydream about the impending summer, Matt and Cat faced their main courses. With the usual finesse, plate-warmers were placed on the table, followed by the dinners themselves. Cat’s khorma arrived in a vast hip-bath of a dish; a very generous portion. The lamb balti and okra bhagee came alongside with a naan and a plate of pillau rice sprinkled with multi-coloured grains.
It was certainly a very attractive selection of dishes, with fresh coriander wilted over the lamb and okra. Perky tomatoes rose out of the mix, like red-finned sharks. It all looked splendid and was obviously constructed from the freshest of ingredients. The naan bread was doughy and soft and was excellent for mopping up the currys’ spicy juices.
The lamb balti was impressive – the substantial chunks of tender lamb were not overwhelmed by the zingy sauce, and the fresh chunks of onion and green pepper gave it real texture and depth. Cat’s khorma was creamy without being cloying. It was such an impressive portion, there was easily enough for two Cat-sized meals. However, there was no chance for a Catty-bag as Matt, having polished off his supper with gusto, hoovered up the remains of the side dish and Cat’s curry.
The Bombay palace is in an unusual location, and is clearly going for the more civilised end of the market: no blaring televisions and laminate floors here. Matt and Cat had an excellent feast, served with charm. The only disappointment was that M and C had forgotten their 25% off voucher – to be found in the takeaway menu, credit-crunchers – but that just means that they’ll have to make a repeat visit. So, out of the ten Asian restaurants in Ryde, who stays? You decide!