I should start off with a warning: There isn't a restaurant in town that could hope to serve me the best Indian food I've ever had. That award goes to a chef back in Budapest, who served up an unforgettable meal for a select group of journalists at the residence of the new Indian ambassador a few years ago. Until I make it to India or at least London no one will ever top that.
So, I don't look for amazing Indian meals in Moscow, although my frequent dining companion and I both adore cuisine from the subcontinent. (Her best-ever meal, I should add, was served up by a group of visiting Hare Krishnas.) Instead, I look for good, interesting Indian meals in comfortable settings at reasonable prices.
And so, discovering the newly opened Bombay Nights was a true pleasure.
Tucked into a friendly little courtyard behind the Lenin Library, Bombay Nights is from the get-go a refreshing departure from most of Moscow's Indian scene. Instead of the usual dark browns and heavy carpeting, Bombay Nights greets its customers with a bright, lively interior.
Climb the stairs from the entrance to the second floor and you'll find the "white dining room," so named for fairly obvious reasons. Those seeking relatively traditional decor should stay there, surrounded by all the usual trappings.
Those interested in something new, though, should keep climbing up to the third floor and take a table in the "blue dining room." Diners who make it to the blue room are enveloped in a fun, modern atmosphere, entertained by stylized murals and Indian music videos projected onto the wall. And there's an extra little surprise, but I'll get to that later.
Now, for the food. The first thing diners will notice once they open the menu, at least is the prices. Relative to the other Indian options in town, Bombay Nights is impressively reasonable. Appetizers run from 100 to 280 rubles and main courses from 250 to 490 rubles. The only truly expensive thing on the menu is the Tandoori Lobster for 1,200 rubles.
The second thing diners will notice is that the menu is extensive. Starters include the usual range of cold and hot appetizers, plus soups. Main courses, meanwhile, include a broad selection of Tandoori dishes, meat, poultry, fish and vegetable curries, plus breads, rice dishes and desserts. Happily, the menu also includes an entire page of southern Indian cuisine, something you don't often find.
And when the food comes, aside from the fact that it's quite tasty, diners are likely to notice little quirks not mistakes, but intentional quirks. The chef who, along with the owners and much of the staff, is Indian seems to have updated his recipe book a bit, creating a kind of Indian nouveau cuisine.
For starters, my dining companion ordered vegetable samosas (120 rubles), which were a little larger and lighter than usual but excellent, and the cashews were a nice touch. The tamarind sauce, meanwhile, had an unusual but wholly welcome fruitiness.
While my dining companion made short work of her samosas, I savored the lamb soup (130 rubles), a wonderfully green, surprisingly spicy broth with tender, tasty chunks of lamb.
Before I get to the main courses, a word or two about service: It was excellent. We were attended to throughout the evening by a supremely polite young Indian man, who had mastered the tricky art of being helpful without being overbearing. And, in a nice change from the Moscow routine, the one time he was nowhere to be found another waitperson, this time Russian, didn't even think about telling us to wait until he came back.
Leaving a respectful pause after we finished our appetizers, the waiter brought out our main courses, a Boti Kebab for my dining companion (440 rubles) and the Chicken Korma for myself (380 rubles). Here, though, I have my one complaint of the evening: The Boti Kebab was too cold, turning the otherwise flavorful sauce into a somewhat unpleasant paste. The lamb, though, was cooked exactly to the right degree and was blissfully tender.
The Chicken Korma, meanwhile, was fabulous and that is not a word I use very often. The chicken, well-trimmed and tender, beautifully absorbed the sauce, with its heavenly mixture of spice and tang.
To accompany the main courses, we ordered rice with cumin (150 rubles) and naan (25 rubles), both of which were also flawless. Beverages, though, were a bit expensive, at 165 rubles for half a liter of Heineken. Indian beer, we were assured, is on order and will be available soon. I only hope they cut the price a bit.
We finished off the meal by splitting a delectable portion of Gulab Jamun (150 rubles), accompanied by flavorful Indian tea (70 rubles). Again, no complaints.
In addition to Indian beer, meanwhile, the management is planning on bringing in a group of traditional Indian dancers to entertain diners in the blue room hence the surprise I mentioned earlier. When we were there, they had some locals filling in admirably, but one note to management the music was too loud. Guests still need to be able to converse, even if only enough to hear the admonitions of one's dining companion not to look too intently at the dancers.
All in all, then, a great start for a valuable new addition to Moscow's Indian scene. But be careful assuming quality and prices remain where they are, Bombay Nights is destined to become extremely crowded.
19 Starovagankovsky Per.
Metro: Biblioteka Imeni Lenina.
Hours: Noon to Midnight.