UPDATE: CLOSED, RIP.
I’m generally not on hugging terms with a restaurateur, but Bombay Bollywood’s Mariam is a hugger. She also calls everyone — and I do mean everyone — sweetie. Sometimes honey. Sometimes both in the same breath. As in, “Have a great day, honey. See you soon, sweetie.”
So you have to be cool with that.
And there are a few other curiosities. There’s the name. Not my cup of tea, but Mariam and her brother inherited it when they bought the Bombay Bollywood business a year ago.
There’s the Coke machine in the middle of the room that emits a constant whir. It’s out of place in an otherwise whimsically cluttered little room, woody and kitschy and with decorating vestiges of every restaurant that’s ever called this space home.
A mechanical bell at the front door seems set to a volume intended to alert the back of the kitchen of a guest (or someone who’s left without a hug) but the effect is pretty jarring on the dining room. One woman let out a shriek when we entered, so startled was she by the sharp ding-dong.
Not Mariam though. No shrieking from her. She is all-welcoming, all-enfolding, and her guests, at least the ones who keep arriving on our nights, seem to embrace this place as a second home. At my second visit, I was treated like a prodigal daughter for whom the fatted calf was about to be knocked off.
“Hello, sweetie. Nice to see you again. Come in, come in, I’ve just made bolani, sit down, sit down, I bring you some.”
And so she did, a tasty start. Bolani is an Afghan flatbread, stuffed with potato, onion and cilantro, served with thick yogurt and a thin, spicy, brick-red chutney. With quarters of naan bread come the house kabobs, called chabli. These are oval shaped meat patties, nicely seasoned and gently spiced, though the house coriander chutney does an admirable job of firing them up.
The pakoras — chicken, vegetable, shrimp — are all fine enough, but I’d save an appetite for dishes like qabili palau (very tender lamb buried in a pile of cardamom-scented basmati rice, topped with pistachios, caramelized carrots, golden raisins and chick peas) and mantu (steamed dumplings stuffed with minced beef, onion and coriander — or the vegetarian version with leeks, chickpeas and fresh peas — covered with a tomato sauce, yogurt and dried mint).
Good, too, are the vegetarian curries. You will be asked how you like the heat level — mild, medium, hot — but the dishes are all well-balanced, and with or without the chili factor, the fragrance of murmuring Indian spices remains a comfort.
If you like your butter chicken on the sweet side, you will like Mariam’s. I found it uncomfortably like a chicken dessert. My sons, who discovered the leftovers, thought it the best they’ve had.
Finish with homemade kulfi (ice cream) flavoured with pistachio and cardamom, set in a goat milk custard, and topped with chopped pistachio and toasted semia (fine noodles, like vermicelli).
Prices can feel steep at lunch (there is only the dinner menu with dinner portions and prices) and the advertised buffet is not operational for another month, according to Mariam. My lunch of vegetable soup, curry and rice, and kulfi was $25. And a more generous hand with the chicken and shrimp in the biryanis would make the $14 price feel fairer; the rice is fragrant and there’s lots of it, but the buried treats are few and far between.
Cash and Interac only, for now.