A passage to India
When he said “Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity” Frank Lloyd Wright was talking about more than just eating, he was talking about dining as a cultural experience.
And while he couldn’t have had an Indian restaurant at the tip of Africa in mind, his quote fits Bombay Brasserie as snugly as the elaborately brocaded gowns of the hostesses who greet you at its doors.
But the experience begins even before you reach the restaurant. Walking through the lobby of the newly opened Taj Cape Town, between fluted pink marble columns, you feel as though you have stepped into another time.
The building is indeed from another age. Built in 1932 to house the SA Reserve Bank, the building was apparently inspired by Florence’s Palazzo Pitti.
Bombay Brasserie itself nestles in another historic building adjoining the lobby – The Temple Chambers – a sunken, wood panelled lounge built at the turn of the century to accommodate the denizens of the nearby Supreme Court. Stepping down into its cosy interior you can imagine the whiskered barristers of old enjoying brandies and cigars.
The Brasserie experience is one of total immersion: from the moment you step through the doors and descend into the cosy lounge you are cosseted, fussed over, plied with delicious (if very sweet) cocktails and amuse-bouche and waited upon by no less than three separate staff.
In a wonderfully old fashioned touch, all the food is plated for you by either your waiter or the maître d’ who also recommends food and wine pairings with a refreshing candour and passion.
But the food itself remains the main event. Rather than blasting your palette with heat, the menu is redolent with subtler more aromatic spices.
Amanda and I shared Porchai Year (spicy grilled prawns) and Galouti Kebab (butter-soft minced lamb patties) to start, followed by Sunerhi Nalli (lamb shank in saffron curry) and Allepey (prawn coconut curry). We finished off with Masala Chai Custard (a delightful play on traditional crème brulee) and Malai Kulfi (cardamom ice cream).
All the dishes were delicious and immaculately presented, but the two prawn dishes were definitely the highlight of my evening. Amanda was tickled by the Galouti Kebab which was originally made for “the nobles that don’t chew”.
The portions are fairly generous, and the prices not unduly eye-watering. You’re unlikely to leave feeling either hungry or ripped off.
That said, Bombay Brasserie isn’t an everyday eating kind of place. With its carefully orchestrated pomp and ceremony and rich dishes, it’s not somewhere you can take the kids. This isn’t eating after all – this is dining.
Full disclosure: The kind fellows at the Taj picked up the tab. That doesn’t change how excellent the evening was, or the fact that I’ll be returning as a paying customer in the very near future.