Calming, coolly attired in dark wood tones and very collected, Bombay River sits across busy Broad Street in Red Bank from a Chinese restaurant called Temple that defied stereotype when it opened a half-dozen years ago with both a gussied-up menu and chi-chi décor to serve date-night renditions of self-styled “gourmet” Chinese.
Bombay River looks the dressed-to-kill part, swathed as it is in rich browns accented by gold and pops of white cloth on the table tops. There’s a warmth to the staff that complements the suave, sophisticated surroundings and a bill of fare that promises modern takes on the familiar as well as inventions that tout this river town’s Mexican community and its penchant for south-of-the-border cuisines.
Translation: There’s a section of “Bombay River Fajitas” on the menu.
At first glance, Bombay River, which opened in late April, had me worried that it was an ornate pretender with a gimmick or two up its sleeve. Then the harabarah kabab turned my head. The ubiquitous Indian spinach-potato snack, typically served in patty form, here is shaped more like a torpedo—a kind of kibbeh, really—and it’s more luxurious and brighter than the norm because it substitutes creamy cheese for the spuds and adds flecks of minced carrots for both color and a smidgen of sweet. Dab in mint chutney, and be delighted.
Eggplant chat, with its starring ingredient crisped and tossed with chickpeas in a sour-syrupy tamarind sauce, is a hunky starter that’s fragrant with masala. Only funky asafoetida laces this spice mix and tames the potentially cloying sauce, while slivers of onions and a flourish of cilantro keep the classic dish honest.
Speaking of classics: Bombay River’s proprietor Sourabh “Sam” Jain may tout his restaurant’s modern sensibilities, but the breads out of the clay oven are blessedly traditional. There’s a ping of heat in the onion kulcha and a rustic appeal to the roti, which was needed again and again to sop up the sublime creamy tomato sauce of the lamb butter masala. With riffs of ginger and garlic infiltrating both the rich gravy and the supple chunks of lamb, it’s an opulent dish that truly does require a spoon. (Not a lamb lover? Grab the chicken tikka masala here and have a similar experience.)
In the now-for-something-different department, there’s the “fajita,” which doesn’t come with the customary side basket of flour tortillas. If you want a wrapper, use your roti, or naan, or kulcha. You can do a fajita in chicken, lamb or shrimp form, but we tried the minty vegetable-black bean stew number, with almost-meaty cottage cheese kababs and jasmine rice. I’m not sure if the addition of black beans qualifies this dish as a fusion between Indian and Mexican, but it tasted mighty good.
If Bombay River looks like an Indian version of neighbor Temple, where I’ve found the food to be overpriced and lacking soul, its food offers a different first impression. There’s a base line of authenticity that gives Bombay River heart and a sense of adventure that brings energy to its plates. It’s an admirable balance.
Bombay River, 90 Broad Street in Red Bank. Open daily, except Mondays, for lunch and dinner. BYO. 732-530-1598; www.bombayriver.com.Click here to leave a comment