Bombay Palace: Great food, but terrible service (November 2013)

The British love of curry is well known and all manner of options are available, from Michelin-starred grandeur by the likes of Tamarind or Rasoi Vineet Bhatia to your carpeted local Indian found in almost every small town in England that serves After Eight mints at the meal’s conclusion. Against this background, it is indeed a bold and brave claim to be considered one of the country’s best. Late November marked the annual British Curry Awards, the self-proclaimed ‘Oscars of the Indian dining scene’ and Paddington’s Bombay Palace took the mantle as the top restaurant in central London. A night out with two old friends seemed the perfect occasion to see whether Bombay Palace did indeed live up to its billing. Sadly, it didn't. The food was great, but the service appalling. A fairly nondescript building on the edge of Paddington did not seem the most obvious place for such a notionally esteemed restaurant to be based, but we were greeted warmly and then shown into the dining area. It was a large room, somewhat lacking in atmosphere and perhaps akin to some sort of function hall in an out-of-town conference centre. At least the place seemed busy with most of the tables taken and a large number of Indians dining too, perhaps an encouraging sign that it was worth making the pilgrimage here for the food. The menu certainly impressed with a broad range of 20+ different starters and mains as well as a wide offering of vegetarian dishes. Notably, there was not a hint of onion bhajis or chicken tikka masala, but instead an interesting selection of well thought-through and original dishes. We all opted for different choices, allowing us to sample three starters and mains as well as one vegetable dish between us. The chilli garlic chicken starter was divine, very soft and tender meat accompanied by a spicy sauce laced with intricate flavours and massively addictive. The mains were equally wonderful, particularly the Palak Gosht, which paired together superbly lamb and spinach, with clearly notable hints of garlic and cinnamon enhancing the dish. The aubergine side was also faultless and all the portion sizes (including the rice) were very generous. However good the food may have been, it was sadly trumped by poor service. One fault may have been excusable, but there was a whole litany: waiting over ten minutes for our drinks to arrive, being brought extra poppadoms mid-way through our starters and long after we had asked for the bowl to be replenished, the server failing to bring sliced lemon to accompany one of the starters despite being asked twice, one of our main turning up five minutes after the others, random drinks we had not ordered being brought to the table and… the list could go on. Service came barely with a smile either. Maybe the restaurant had been overwhelmed by its new-found fame or the staff were just having a bad day, but somehow I don’t think so. At least for aficionados of Bombay Palace’s food, a take-away option is available; perhaps a safer bet.