Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the future of the hospitality industry has been cause for concern, with thousands of businesses under threat. In the UK, many hospitality businesses have been forced to adopt new formats to survive in this brave new world, under extraordinary financial strain since the beginning of the British government’s imposed lockdown in March. Many of London’s favourite restaurants have pivoted to takeaway-only, with most also offering delivery – some delivering as far as any address within the M25. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Inspired by the dabbawalas of Mumbai, Mayfair restaurant Bombay Bustle has launched a new collection and delivery service in response to being closed for eat-in, due to the coronavirus pandemic. An institution of men who use Mumbai’s local railway, handcarts and bicycles to deliver meals across the city (mostly home cooked), dabbawalas provide a remarkably efficient lunchbox delivery service. Each day, around 130,000 tiffin boxes are delivered throughout the city then later returned by around 5,000 dabbawalas, using colour coded delivery addresses. Around 80 million deliveries are made each year and fewer than 300 lunch boxes go missing. In light of the Covid-19 crisis, Mumbai’s dabbawalas are unable to work with the city coming to a standstill. In attempt to assist them during this challenging time, Bombay Bustle will donate a percentage of sales to The Nutan Mumbai Tiffinbox Suppliers Charity Trust.
On the launch of the delivery service, Bombay Bustle Co-founder Samyukta Nair said: “Everyone, across the globe, is facing huge changes to their daily routine, with many unable to continue working and doing things they enjoy. The dabbawala community is part of the fabric of society in Mumbai and have continued to provide something constant in the complex, bustling metropolis of the city, bridging the gap between work and home, between different cultures and diverse regional cuisines, with their near clockwork precision. We owe so much to them, they were the inspiration for Bombay Bustle and helped us immensely during our research. We want to offer them some help during this challenging time, in the hope we can make a small difference.”
I miss restaurants and eating out, more than I can possibly put into words. Takeaways are great, but how good can one really be? It’s difficult to admit, but there’s more to life than food. And the same can be said for restaurant experiences. Of course, the food is important, as is the service, atmosphere, company. Even the seemingly small things make huge differences to the overall experience, the things we often overlook but notice if only on a subconscious level. Volume, pacing, lighting. Even if my favourite chefs were to serve a feast of my all-time favourite dishes, direct to my small dining table, I’d still feel as though I were on death row, snarfing my favourite foods in a violently fluorescent prison cell with its hideous lighting.
To many Brits, an Indian takeaway conjures ideas of curries such as jalfrezi, tikka masala, bhuna, or korma (astonishingly the most ordered ‘Indian dish’ from Just Eat in 2017). There’s nothing particularly wrong with the standard takeaway, though Bombay Bustle does things a little differently, serving high-end restaurant quality food that’s delivered in recyclable cardboard bowls and even presented to restaurant standard. Delivery is available to addresses within the M25.
In addition to the Mumbai-style home cooking celebrated through a selection of dishes from Executive Chef Surender Mohan, the restaurant’s bar, The Retiring Room, is currently serving batched cocktails for two, including a Tequila Riser, Paan Collins, and Old Gold Fashioned. The Smoking Mary (£9) features a base of vodka, complete with tomato juice and a homemade smoked chilli sauce.
As for the food, two fish mains were expertly cooked, arriving at a perfect temperature, without being overcooked. Fish doesn’t travel particularly well, and my south London home is at least 45 minutes away from the restaurant, traffic permitting. Recheado fish tikka (£16) was a particular highlight, with two fillets of stone bass stuffed with chillies, rubbed with a Goan-style marinade and expertly cooked in the tandoor, capped with a pile of fried ‘salli’ potato sticks for crunch. Kerala fish curry (£16) featured flaky white fish in a fragrant sauce rich with coconut and curry leaves. Prawn Balchao (£11) also harboured perfectly-cooked prawns, tamed with Goan palm vinegar, tomato and fiery sun-dried chilli. A must-order.
A side of malai broccoli (£9) featured firm florets marinated with cream cheese, rampant with cardamom, accompanied by some pine nuts to provide additional depth of texture, and some fattiness alongside the cheese. Brought to India from Mexico, kidney beans were gloriously celebrated within Bombay Bustle’s rajma rasile (£6). The beans’ slight sweetness were offset by whole spices, tomato and onion, amplified with cumin, turmeric, and bay. The restaurant’s aloo mutter was an exemplary take on the classic Punjabi dish, while a trio of aloo masala samosas were greaseless with thin, brittle wrappers, joined by a smooth chutney of tamarind and dates. Garlic naan (£2.50) and jeera pulao (£4) are also takeaway essentials, both executed well. Post-lockdown takeaways will never be the same.
Delivery is available for lunch and dinner, from Monday – Sunday across London. Orders can be placed via Deliveroo, Uber Eats, or from Bombay Bustle’s website.