1 Corbet Court, Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0AT. Tel: 020 7220 9195.
Opened just a month ago, the unfortunately-named Bangalore Express in its hidden location belies its fab quality. This mid-priced, 80s-decor Indian restaurant is a real find if you can find it, but no one seems to have located it quite yet. Right in the heart of the City near the Bank of England, it is apparently swarming at lunchtimes with business people but has yet to pull in the evening crowds which may be tricky given its hidey-hole.
Although it sounds like a high-street takeaway, it’s a massive, subterranean restaurant with 200 covers both upstairs and down. It already has a sister site in Waterloo but we think this is a bit posher and what they call funky with its walls in scarlet, black and grey geometric shapes. Oh, and they own the Painted Heron in Chelsea. Head chef Yogesh Datta worked for the Raj and Sheraton hotel groups in India too and his ability to cater for a wide range of tastes shows. There is a very eclectic range of Indian food covering all the bases and a few extra – thalis, tandoori, dosa, bread and rice, tapas – are all offered in a fresh and modern take on old classics.
So there is Indian fish and chilli chips, calzone pizza folded Indian-style with paneer cheese topping, and Caribbean curried goat with rice and sweet potatoes (done Indian-spiced, I am told). It’s all very user-friendly and there’s even a flow chart on the place mat-come menu that helps you choose your big plate of curry and rice with sauce and sides for £9.50.
We began to order. The wild soft-shell crabs fired in sesame and chilli cobra beer batter sounded great and were very eatable, good crab meat and huge piles of sesame. But we agreed that the breadcrumb batter was too heavy-handed for such a delicate taste within – perhaps tempura batter could have worked better? Chilli paneer cheese on yoghurt cake with red onions was inspired and original, a little beehive of flavours – spicy paneer and peppers beautifully offset by the coolness of the yoghurt pancake. Chicken drumsticks marinated in fenugreek were fine though we’d have liked to see more of the tandoor’s char seeing as these were listed under the tandoori menu. Oh Lord, the deluxe dish of fresh crab meat, stir fried with red chillies and curry leaves with cool yoghurt rice was just gorgeous and very authentic. This was highly-spiced crab meat whose flavours had combined successfully in the crab shell – a real delicacy.
A restaurant’s biriyani prowess is, to my mind, a good barometer of their general skill level. And this lamb biriyani, with strong spicing and exellent raitha accompaniment, didn’t disappoint. I was most excited to try this funny sounding South African bunny chow of curried lamb, peas and sweetcorn in a bread shell – apparently what South African Indians eat regularly. It was certainly big, as are most of their dishes, and very filling though personally I’m not sure about soaking lamb curry into hollowed-out sandwich bread. But it worked, the bread scarily absorbent of a lamb sauce more stew than curry. Not everything worked though. We had a side dish of stir-fried okra and potatoes, lovely okra, snipped small and fried with mustard and cumin but hello, what’s this? Chips? Cheeky! You can’t put chips into this dish, no matter how fusion! Perhaps snuck out from the chilli fish and chips combo, these fugitive spuds were heavy and soggy and strangers here. And the pistachio kulfi looked like two green Xmas trees, gaily tinselled in jade and pink syrup – a shame as these slurpy gels smothered the subtle taste of the kulfi – which I’m sure was good, underneath.
It’s a great place this, if empty. They do have an impressive selection of wines and cocktails, priced both for the occasional drinker and the City quaffer. The staff seemed genuinely lovely and excited to be there – not just because the waitresses were necessarily after something. I hope Bangalore Express does well because it deserves it. People just need to find it first.