The Chor Bazaar of Bombay is the‚ “thieves’ market”, a place for second-hand goods, curios and bits and bobs. You need to know this to understand the name behind this restaurant of 15 years standing in London’s Mayfair. It’s a play on words which gives you a real feel for what this place is doing. The decor is eclectic, like it really was put together from trips to the Bazaar, giving the place a down to earth and rustic charm you wouldn’t expect in such a well heeled area.
I came to sample the Old Bombay Street Food menu, one of the many special menus the restaurant provides from time to time to showcase the real versatility and regional variations found in Indian food. Rival restaurant Dishoom has been bringing the informal fun of Indian street and snack food to a London audience for a few years now, meaning Chor Bizarre’s special menu whilst still innovative, is something for which London’s many curry-philes might have some frame of reference.
Bhel puri is an Indian institution. It’s not something which can easily be described to the uninitiated in a way which does it justice. Basically, it’s a crunchy, spicy and tangy snack food treat, mainly made of “moori” puffed rice (think a cross between a sugar puff and rice crispie, but neutral flavoured and a little more dense and spongy), which may sound bland and dull. But it is the other ingredients which create the magic; sev (fried noodles of lentil flour), finely chopped red onions and the chutneys. Date and tamarind chutney gives tang, green chilli chutney a serious kick.
The Chor Bizarre Bhel is respectfully and authentically created. The flavours combine and contrast exactly as a Bhel puri should. A crunchy puri (fried flat bread) on the top completed the Bombay street food theme. The presentation in a banana leaf makes this look like a pretty and colourful dish. My only criticism was that the puffed rice had been too thoroughly mixed with the chutneys, so was a little soggy. The puffed rice needs to retain a little dryness and crunch so that you have a combination of textures as well as flavour. This could be fixed by either less mixing before serving. Customers can be instructed to mix the ingredients more thoroughly when they are served.
Sev Batata Puri
Those thin fried lentil noodles called “sev” made another appearance in this dish. They are a staple in Indian snack foods. Small crunchy puris, like the one which topped the Bombay Bhel, were covered with chick peas, potato, yoghurt, green chilli chutney and date and tamarind chutney. A generous amount of sev was then sprinkled over the puris. These were cute small treats, just big enough to be eaten in a mouthful. The flavours were delightful.
There is a Hindi word “chatpat”, which describes a sour, sweet and spicy flavour which is quintessentially Indian and has to be tried to be believed. This was it!
Paneer bread pakora
This was described on the menu as “Indian Cottage Cheese and Bread Pakora Served With Fresh Mint Chutney”, which whilst accurate, isn’t representative of the character of the dish. If you didn’t see the dish itself, you would be unlikely to order it from that description.
Paneer is homemade Indian cheese, which here has been mixed with some breadcrumbs and spices. It is then encased in thin filo style pastry which is fried. It’s a bit like a spicy and delicately cheesy samosa, with the mint chutney bringing all the flavours together.
Anda Paratha Roll
This was a dish like a double layered wrap; one layer of the wrapping was a soft buttery paratha (Indian flatbread cooked in melted butter on a skillet) and the second was of egg. The stuffing was cubed , marinaded cooked chicken. It is satisfying and flavoursome.
Just the sort of thing you’d love to be able to grab as your lunchtime treat at work. Of course, if you live in Bombay or Delhi, that’s exactly what you’d do. No need to resort to soggy and cardboardy sandwiches, unlike us London folk!
The word “bhaji” usually means anything fried. Hence onion bhaji is simply fried onion. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pao Bhaji would be some form of battered and fried food. It is, in fact, a potato heavy stir fried curry flavoured mash, full of heat and spice.
Just the thing to spread over a slightly sweet bread bun and tuck into. Like all great Indian vegetarian food, the intense spicing and chilli kick means that even confirmed carnivores don’t miss the meat.
Batata Wada Pao
The batata wada pao had a similar sweet bun to the Pao Bhaji (“pao” is a word taken from the Portuguese word for bread, initially by the people of Goa , but now used in much of north India for leavened bread). The pao is filled with a fried potato and chickpea dumpling, tinted with turmeric and dressed with a special chilli, garlic sauce and peanut chutney.
Before you eat, you need to spread the chutneys around the whole of the dumpling (the “wada”), then press down over the whole thing from the top to ensure the dumpling is evenly flattened so you get a little bit of bread, chutney and dumpling in each bite. This dish was quietly filling with its bread and potato combination, so I would recommend it as one for sharing.
This minced lamb dish was for me pleasant, but not something I was going to be wholly enthusiastic about given my aversion to egg. I found that the amount of egg amongst the minced lamb wasn’t so great that my enjoyment was spoiled.
My dining and real life partner, Him Indoors, found this dish to be delicious, which I mention in the interests of fairness. Eggs aren’t to my taste, and it is only my personal preferences which meant I didn’t love this dish completely.
Falooda is a dessert made with Indian ice cream, kulfi. The overall effect is like an ice cream milkshake. Like many Indian desserts, it is extremely sweet. Featuring nuts, cooked vermicelli noodles, rose syrup and swollen basil seeds, I found this to be fresh tasting and fragrant.
After the heat of some of the dishes we had enjoyed previously, it was wonderful to have something cold, sweet and soothing to cool the palate with.
This is a pudding my mother used to make; a rice pudding made in oodles of milk, thick, creamy and highly indulgent. It perhaps isn’t suited to a non-Indian palate; Him Indoors found it far too sweet and thick textured. I loved it, as it brought back many memories of family gatherings in my childhood. Phirni is not an everyday pudding, it is only made for special occasions as the saffron, nuts and sheer amount of milk used to make it would be expensive for an Indian household. This is one for the real lovers of Indian food to try as it was super authentic.
I am somewhat ashamed that it has taken me this long to discover Chor Bizarre. I’ve long bemoaned the lack of decent quality Indian restaurants serving real Indian food which hasn’t been made from a jar of sauce. But I have discovered it now, and it will be a place I will return to. I will even bring family members with me, some of whom are very discerning about their Indian food. This place serves authentic Indian food in inviting surroundings. A great place to spend time, indulge and enjoy yourself.
16 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4HW Tel 020 7629 9802
This feature can also be found in edition 12 of Flush Magazine, to read click on the link HERE