Bombay Cafe Bunty’s is the real thing: real Indian food direct from India.
Indian food in Berlin is often a game of pretenders, dishing out balti bowls of Indian-seeming stuff that sometimes satisfies on a ‘Well, it *reminds* me of Indian food’ level.
Bombay Cafe Bunty’s changes this game. It’s a well-oiled operation lifted directly from India itself and planted onto the streets of Charlottenburg, bringing the true taste of India with it. Its owner, Bunty, already runs a successful 5* resort in Mumbai, and Bombay Cafe Bunty’s is the first international outpost in his planned Indian food empire.
I heard about Bombay Cafe Bunty’s from Zed from Moksa who, until now, has been single-handedly leading the charge of ‘Man, that’s fucking good’ Indian food. I was recently tagged in a Facebook post from Moksa:
Did you know that there are over seven hundred Indian based restaurants in Berlin? Since the last 10 years of me being here, there hasn’t been one worth mentioning. That changes now. It’s Bombay Cafe Bunty’s.
This place reminds me of the restaurants you would find at Cyber Hub in Delhi, top-notch innovation and quality. This concept takes Indian cuisine and makes it their own. Well done you guys! Anyways, they literally just opened their doors and it’s just a matter of time till you see them on all the big blogs… BERLIN LOVES YOU, Berlin – Ick liebe dir, Berlin Food Stories.
For this to come from Zed, Head Berlin Indian Food Naysayer, something special must be happening at Bombay Cafe Bunty’s.
So we got our vaccinations and West German visas and booked two train tickets to Charlottenburg to see what all the fuss is about.
The eponymous Bunty met us at the door of Bombay Cafe Bunty’s – a non-pretentious and welcoming storefront not far from Savignyplatz – and brought us inside.
The smart interior of the restaurant was designed by Bunty himself, and shows off his personality and humour – through photos of Indian sights and scenes he took himself, to street art-inspired artworks by friends of his, and a huge neon sign reading “Be Nice or Fucking Leave” (we tried our best to comply).
The interior is more casual, intimate bistro than golden elephant curry house kitsch. But I did miss the ubiquitous Indian music though – instead, Bunty spins Easily Listening.
Bunty offered to bring us a selection of his favourites dishes. How could we refuse? He did warn us: “In India, it’s rude not to finish everything on your plate. So I hope you’re hungry because there’ll be a lot – and you’re eating it all.” Well, we tried our goddamn darndest.
The first two plates were sweet potato chaat and crispy, battered kale, each smothered in a swirling mix of mint yogurts, tamarind chutneys and pomegranate.
The sweet potato chaat, pillowy cubes of lightly battered mashed sweet potato, are a masterful feat of intermingling textures – once you bite through that light, crisp coating, the inside gives way, like falling into a satin-lined dream. It catches you off-guard – unexpected luxuriance – probably what sweet potato pommes see when they close their eyes. And the flavours of the overlapping sauces each stay distinct – fresh, creamy mint and sour, tangy tamarind defined to the last.
As we bit into the battered kale, Bunty remarked: “You never knew kale could taste so good.” He’s right – after frying, the kale becomes brittle, crispy and bitter, while the light, spiced batter adds support, sweetness and a satisfying crunch. The batter: light, crisp, no sign of grease.
In fact, head chef Rajbir is, according to Bunty, the best vegetarian food chef in India. He’s worked with Bunty a long time, and his previous restaurant in India saw him running a kitchen staff of 400 cooks. He told me about his interest in ‘modernising’ Indian food – removing the signature huge levels of ghee or butter and instead making lighter sauces that are easier to digest. He’s a miracle worker though, because you could never tell that his dishes weren’t as deliciously indulgent as the ghee-filled ones I know and love.
The Chicken Lollypops arrived next. Half of Bombay Cafe Bunty’s menu is Indian classics… lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken etc., and the other half of the menu is just these guys screwing around. “Food should be fun,” Bunty says, as he places the lollypops in front of us.
These club-like lollypops are made from delicately-seasoned minced chicken, mounted on a bread-stick and breadcrumbed. They’re served with a mint and beetroot sauce. Grab a lollypop, bite into it and you’re hit with the aroma of the Indian herbs. Their flavour is carried throughout steaming chicken mince, with a savoury spice mix adding a deeper base.
By this point, we were getting rather full, and Bunty was getting concerned. He still had plans for us. Then the mains arrived: the South Indian vegetable ‘hopper’ and the Bombay chicken ‘Bunny Chow’.
The hopper is like an extra-fine dosa, made with rice flour and coconut milk. The mixed-vegetable curry at the centre of the hopper was mild and aromatic, light and nourishing tasting and lacking the weight often associated with curries.
The Bunny Chow is actually their take on a South African street food dish, where the Indian communities of Durban use hollowed-out loaves of bread to hold their curries. Bunty’s take on this uses not bread but a type of crumbly, buttery pastry bowl. It’s like a pie. A great pie.
The curry is immensely delicate and rich, the chicken cooked before-hand in their coal-fuelled tandoor oven. It was a buttery dream for curry fans.
After a twenty minute break (Bunty guessed we’d need a breather) where Bunty told us of his love of eating the best food the world has to offer (hence his restaurant’s exacting standards), the dessert arrived.
Shimmering in the light, the bright colours put their neon light to shame. This was another triumph of texture – the light whipped cream, the crispy, syrupy red fried whatever, and the not-so-sweet matcha ice cream. We shared this one – and thank god for it – and it really was a great, palate-cleansing dessert. If Bunty had brought out their Nutella-naan bread dessert instead, I would have died.
Our meal at Bombay Cafe Bunty’s had a comfort-food feel at heart – carby, satisfying and filling. I didn’t expect this home food-meets-gourmet concept, and it’s something that definitely sets them apart from India Club.
Their 5* pedigree means that everything is perfectly executed, and the flavours are all beautifully subtle and layered. There’s a sophistication to it which’ll do well in Berlin – especially in Charlottenburg – although I did often feel I was missing some of that brashness of flavour and ill-tempered fire that less refined Indian food can deliver.
That being said, Bombay Cafe Bunty’s raises the bar for Indian food in Berlin. Granted, the bar was subterranean.
The market for curry in Berlin is wide open, and in the coming years we’ll see many more entrepreneurial Indians taking on bricks and mortar in Berlin. And we’ll welcome them with open arms.
I didn’t get to try Bunty’s tandoori chicken, which is a shame, but it means that Moksa’s is still the best I’ve ever tried. And when Moksa’s new restaurant opens, I’ll be waiting in line. Thanks for the tip, Zed.
Bombay Cafe Bunty’s