An evening at the Bombay Club Restaurant, Washington, DC
As I write, I am an Englishman in Washington DC (cf. an Englishman in New York). Staying at Club Quarters, very near the Whitehouse, I asked the barman, George, if there was a nearby Indian restaurant I could go to. I've been in the US for a week and I really could do with a taste of home. No problem, George says, I should try the Bombay Club right behind the hotel.
I'm glad I did. The Bombay Club is a very good Indian restaurant serving delicious Indian food, right in the heart of the executive quarter of the US capital. It's just nothing like any Indian restaurant I've been to before – including the ones I've been to in India.
OK, first off, for those of us familiar with Indian restaurants in Britain, weird things include:
- the cocktail bar pianist
- the absence of Kingfisher or Cobra beer
- the absence of pilau rice, let alone my favourite: mushroom pilau rice;
- that the menu includes a few familiar items, including the inevitable, perhaps Glasgow-invented, chicken tikka masala, but many unfamiliar items;
- the sauces that come with the papadums include lime pickle (the really hot one with big bits in that I like but many don't) but not the yellow one that everyone likes but can't remember the name of, the chopped onion salad or the mango chutney — instead there's a green sauce and a watery brown one that looks like soy sauce (but isn't).
The weirdest thing is not that the staff are not all Indian. Scrub that, none of the staff are Indian (or Bangladeshi, or Pakistani, or Sri Lankan).
It's not that the atmosphere is that of an upmarket restaurant that happens to serve (north) Indian cuisine rather than, well, an Indian restaurant with incessant sitar music.
It's the combination of those things. The complete mismatch between the expected and experienced style of service, the anticipated and actual ambience, the lamb rogan josh and the sticky toffee pudding I had for dessert.
As my (African) waiter said when I tried to convey some of the weirdness I was experiencing: this is America.
I'm looking forward to retuning to the Bombay Club next time I'm in town.
Thanks for tip George.