DUKE Street in Darlington has long been known as the street of estate agents. However, it can now equally be regarded as the town’s food quarter with the advent of several cafes and restaurants in recent years including the new Indian – Duke Bombay Café – which my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting on a recent Saturday night.
In India, the original Bombay cafes have almost disappeared. Opened early last century by Persian immigrants, their faded elegance welcomed all – rich businessmen, sweaty taxi-wallers and courting couples.
Fans turned slowly, Bentwood chairs reflected in the stained mirrors, next to sepia family portraits. Students had breakfast, families dined, lawyers read briefs, writers found their characters at lunchtimes and later… and this is the very atmosphere which Duke Bombay Café evokes. Dark wood panelling, long mirrors, a warren of intimate and larger rooms offering a pleasurable hum of conversation in the air, never too overpowering.
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We were greeted cheerily by two of the phalanx of waiting staff and shown to a perfect corner table where we could watch the world passing by, as well as our fellow guests. Each diner is presented with a paper menu – food on one side and drinks on the other. This menu is definitely a bit different. Food is grouped as Salad Plates, Small Plates, Grills, Big Plates, Sides, Biryani and Bread and Rice. Don’t expect to find the usual list of familiar favourites, this is your ideal opportunity to look closely and choose something new. That said, the menu does state that “old school” curries are available as well, just ask for menus if you want to be a traditionalist. Sipping our Cobra beers, we perused the choices and decided that we would skip a first course, having been caught out too many times with the “eyes too big” syndrome. We also decided that we would share everything, thus avoiding the usual envious glances at each others plates halfway through proceedings.
So, we plumped for daighi, a mouthwatering slow-cooked lamb dish with the heat of garlic, chilli and turmeric, and chicken hatkora, a very distinctive Bangladeshi lemon dish with garlic, shallots and peppers. To go with these, we selected an aubergine bhaji with egg and spices, the house black daal, a garlic naan and a portion of fragrant rice.
While awaiting our mains, we munched on a couple of poppodums with chutneys which is always an excellent way to get you in the mood for what is to come, without overloading your palate or stomach.
Our waiters were pleasant and knowledgeable about the café and the menu – they told us that the business is run by two brothers who wanted to create something a little bit different from the norm and to give Darlington a taste of street food. This is achieved with an eclectic mix of serving dishes ranging from balti bowls to something which looked very much like an old milk saucepan.
When our meal was served we feasted on its appearance as well as its taste and shared everything in a friendly and amicable manner.
The lemon chicken dish was light and tangy, contrasting well with the richer, darker lamb.
The side dishes were excellent, though the daal was a little thin for my taste but the aubergine made up for that.
I was too full after clearing every last morsel of the above to contemplate a dessert, but my wife wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of a pud, or was she…? The waiter seemed a little taken aback when she asked to see the dessert menu and ominously said he would have to go and ask chef. He swiftly returned with the disappointing news that “desserts are off tonight, we haven’t got any”, which was something of a novel experience for us.
Our bill came to £44.70 for the above including a couple of Cobras each and we thoroughly enjoyed this little piece of Bombay life.
The Bombay Cafe, itself a former estate agents, is a welcome addition to Duke Street’s growing list of restaurants.
Ambience: 4/5 stars
Service: 4/5 stars
Food quality: 4/5 stars
Value for money: 4/5 stars
Duke Bombay Cafe,
22, Duke Street,