Posh Indian Eatery Seeks Business Crowd

Posh Indian Eatery Seeks Business Crowd — Uh-Oh: Richard Vines
2009-03-13 00:00:01.1 GMT

Review by Richard Vines

March 13 (Bloomberg) — Dockmaster’s House must have looked like a good idea on paper, like a collateralized debt obligation or a 16 million-pound ($22 million) pension pot.

Good food? Check. Popular cuisine? Check. Beautiful rooms? Check. Comfortable bars? Check. Corporate customers? Whoops.

This posh Indian eatery in London’s Docklands, conceived in a time of plenty, opened in a post-Lehman world where a business lunch is a cheap sandwich and keeping your job is a bonus.

I sat alone nursing a beer in the venue’s 100-capacity cellar bar and pondered how cruel the restaurant industry can be, even without Gordon Ramsay shouting or mystery illnesses prompting complaints from about 400 diners a la Fat Duck.

Fortunately, the food is good, the wine list realistic and the prices acceptable at Dockmaster’s House, lending hope it will survive if not prosper. It’s a similar story at Bombay Brasserie, which has reopened after a facelift. That venue traces its history to 1982, so someone is doing something right.

Navin Bhatia (of Cafe Lazeez) is Dockmaster’s executive chef and serves up a menu that is adventurous enough to be interesting while retaining a familiarity that breeds content. The starters include a kebab platter (11.50 pounds) with charcoal-grilled saffron prawns, tandoori green chicken, lamb burrah kebab and ginger lamb chops. It works as a combination, without any dumbing down of the spices to appease those with bland ambitions.

Sweet Beef

Most main courses are about 18.50 pounds and include some relatively mild dishes such as Chettinad breast of guinea fowl and a less successful coconut chili beef, which was chewy and oversweet. If it’s sweetness you’re after, the orange-and-banana raita is unusual and alluring.

If I went back, I’d just go for the lunch and early-evening set menu, which costs 20.95 pounds for three courses. This offers value and some delicious flavors, including a salmon-dill tikka starter and a main of grilled breast of chicken with tomato fenugreek sauce — think chicken tikka masala — served with rice. Desserts include mango panna cotta and pistachio creme brulee.

Throw in a Spicy Indian wine such as the Sula Vineyards shiraz (22 pounds) and a selection of breads and you can have enough change out of 100 pounds for two to enjoy a few beers in the bar. The service in the restaurant (by a German waiter each time I visited) is friendly and the house — built 200 years ago by the West India Co. — has been given an attractive contemporary look. I wouldn’t travel to Docklands to eat there but I’d be perfectly happy to go back if in the area.

Big Balloon

An Indian family was celebrating someone’s 50th birthday when I visited the Bombay Brasserie, which has reopened after a makeover by the design firm Chhada Siembieda & Associates Ltd. (It may have been the big balloon with “50” written on it, floating above the table, that gave the game away.) Gone is the colonial look, which has been replaced with what resembles an Asian five-star hotel interior.

You may visit many restaurants in the U.K. without finding anywhere that so faithfully replicates the experience of dining in a hotel in India, where families come together to enjoy good food in luxurious surroundings. That’s what you get at Bombay Brasserie, where dishes such as Crab Kalimiri (Telicherry pepper crabmeat) and Adraki Duck Roast (with kumquat and ginger chutney) are sufficiently different from other Indian fare in London as to be intriguing with flavor to be worth revisiting.

The menu was created by Hemant Oberoi, corporate chef for the Taj Group of Hotels. I wonder if he claims the credit for dividing it into sections such as First Impressions, Aquatic Strokes, Master Strokes and Rice Frames. That’s starters, fish, mains and rice. Needless to say, the rice is “fluffy.”

Unlucky Rieslings

The wine list has plenty of enticing options, including Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Breiter Rain 2007 from Austria, at 24 pounds. One of the managers kindly recommended this over another gruner veltliner at 40 pounds, though I had less luck with the rieslings. We got one so oversweet we sent it back, which was handled reasonably well, though not without a staffer explaining to me that rieslings tend to be sweet. Cheers.

The real winner at Bombay Brasserie is the Sunday buffet, which costs 22 pounds. It’s so good, and such good value, I’m feeling fluffy just thinking about it.

Dockmaster’s House, 1 Hertsemere Road, London, E14 8JJ.
Tel. +44-20-7345-0345 or click
http://www.dockmastershouse.com/.

Bombay Brasserie, Courtfield Close, Courtfield Road, SW74HQ. Tel. +44-20-7370-4040 or click on
http://www.bombaybrasserielondon.com/.

The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Dockmaster’s three-course set menu is 20.95 pounds; Bombay Brasserie’s Sunday buffet is 22 pounds.
Inside tips: Dockmaster’s basement bar is worth a look but the music is LOUD; Bombay Brasserie’s bar has good cocktails.

Special features? The architecture at Dockmaster’s House; Bombay Brasserie’s conservatory features an open kitchen.
Private rooms? Yes.
Will I be back? Yes for Bombay Brasserie’s Sunday buffet.
Ratings? **

What the Stars Mean
**** Incomparable food, service, ambience.
*** First-class of its kind.
** Good, reliable.
* Fair.
0 (no stars) Poor.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

–Editors: Jim Ruane, Farah Nayeri.

To contact the writer on the story:
Richard Vines in London at +44-20-7330-7866 or
rvines@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Beech at +44-20-7330-7593 or mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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