[Sidebar] October 5 - 12, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Bombay Club

An exotic find on Federal Hill

by Ian Donnis

145 Dean St., Providence, 273-6363
Open Mon-Sat, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m.
Sun, 12:30-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

The notion of an Indian restaurant on Federal Hill, that bastion of Italian-influenced fare, might seem a little incongruous at first blush. But there are other non-Mediterranean eateries scattered around the hill, and besides, it's good to be able to mix up some samosas and lassi with your rigatoni.

Located off Atwells Avenue in the space formerly occupied by a Portuguese restaurant, Bombay Club is fairly inconspicuous, other than a cheerful exterior sign. Once inside, though, visitors are transported and not just by the restaurant's skillful blend of cumin, tumeric, coriander, and other fine spices. Use a little imagination while sipping a Kingfisher at the jaunty L-shaped lacquered bar and you could be in London.

A small adjoining dining room with about 10 tables is highlighted by pristine white walls, some covered with folk art embroideries, as well as suspended lights and hanging plants. Service is gracious from the get-go and meals start with rounds of flat, crisp crackers, accompanied by a caddy laden with dishes of onion chutney, tamarind sauce and mint chutney. While these hallmarks are part of what enthusiasts love about Indian restaurants, the food at Bombay Club is unusually good and reflects a high degree of care in the kitchen.

Take the meat samosas (two pieces for $2.95), crispy turnovers stuffed with minced lamb. In less capable hands, these can be doughy, if still satisfying. The samosas at Bombay Club, though, are absolutely delicious, with an appealing contrast between the flaky exteriors and the delicate, bright seasoning of the lamb. Other appetizers include chicken pakoras ($4), three soups (chicken, tomato and mulligatawany), and, of course, nan and an array of other freshly baked flat breads ($1.95 to $3.25).

The proprietors here are Harshinder and Karan Pathania, brothers from Punjab, and their one-year-old restaurant consequently reflects an orientation toward their native northern India. Everything I sampled at Bombay Club was tasty, including the tandoori chicken ($8.95) and lamb saag ($9.95). But the specialties baked in the tandoor, a clay oven, are especially impressive. Recommended by the staff, fish tikka ($10.95), a generous serving of salmon, perfectly cooked with a light blend of saffron and other spices, is dazzling. While Bombay Club offers a full bar, as well as traditional drinks like lassi, a yogurt and rosewater concoction, cold beer goes best with this kind of fare.

The generous heart of Bombay Club was evident when I returned for some take-out. To my delight, the staff included a complimentary order of the tomato soup, smooth and comforting, yet exotic with an undercurrent of curry powder and other spices. Murg malai ($10.95), chunks of chicken breast marinated with aromatic cardamom, another one of those tandoor specialties, is nothing less than one of the best things you can eat in Providence -- and farther afield -- for under $11. Joined by a salad of iceberg, sliced cucumber and red onions, the chicken is wonderful on its own and more so with a squeeze of lemon. Dip the pleasantly browned chunks in an accompanying yogurt sauce flavored with cilantro, and you've got something truly magical.

One quibble: after experiences in which I've been served relatively mild fare at Indian restaurants even after requesting the heat treatment, two companions and I asked, to little avail, for our dinner dishes to register 8 out of 10 on the spicy scale.

As is typical of Indian food, Bombay Club offers a selection of curries and vindaloos, along with plenty of choices to please vegetarians, including baigan bartha ($7.95), roasted eggplant cooked with onions and tomatoes, and flavored with cumin and garlic, and vegetable biryani ($8.50), basmati rice cooked with potatoes, carrots, peas, green peppers and lima beans. The restaurant also has a weekend buffet, a 15 percent discount for college students (with identification), and many of the entrees can be had for about half the price at lunch. With all this, Bombay Club is a culinary fraternity with which I'd be happy to be associated.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.

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