Beneath the gourmet Indian restaurant Pali Hill, Bandra Bhai is a secret retro cocktail bar inspired by a smugglers’ lair. Report by Olivia Palamountain and Jenny Southan
Opened in July 2021, Bandra Bhai is located down a flight of stairs at the back of the Pali Hill restaurant in Fitzrovia in London. He is curiously described as “a elegant tribute to daring, retro 1970s india and his old smuggling haunts”. Globetrender was intrigued and so booked a table in the bar and restaurant for a meal afterwards.
While perusing the cocktail menu, we learned: “Until the early 1990s, India was a closed economy. Limited items have been available for purchase and imported goods were scarce. It created a prosperous black market and a circle of “smugglers” who could get you everything exotic malt whiskey and gold watches on Japanese television. Often there were fronts for those doubtful transactions, sometimes posing as a photo studio or even sexologists. Bandra Bhai is our language cheek tribute to the smuggler cash transaction at the time.Interestingly, the entire bar was created in India and shipped to London in a container in order to “offer a completely authentic feeling”. Interiors are upscale, with black and white posters, fringed brown glass shade, low velvet sofas dotted with leopard print cushions, and a the copper–topped bar.
It was quiet the night we were there but we were very impressed with the innovative cocktails (priced at £12.50, £14.50 or £16.50). The first was “Disco Inferno”, a deliciously addictive combination of cvodka infused with ardamom, mango, chilli and lime (although it was not served in a shimmering gold disco ball I had heard of). I also tried the zingy”Bangbang Bandstand”, with tequila, ginger syrup, lemon, rose grapefruit and ginger ale. Far from being overly fruity and sweet, these are truly adult libations that have been the subject of much thought and expertise. Other tempting cocktails included the “Rajdoot”, a vodka martini inspired by the traditional “Vesper” but with a touch of Indian spices, cassia bark, glasswort, sage and Elderflower. “Shetty’s Sidecar” also sounded great – with cognac, pineapple, cardamom, almond and celery, finished with maraschino cherry and angostura bitters.Clearly seeking to appeal to a more affluent clientele than the speakeasies of East London, Bandra Bhai also focuses on cchampagne, with house service to be Devauxit is Great Reserve. This also lists Rathfinny, Dom Perignon and Krug. Bar snacks are also available – the masala roasted cashews with avocado, tomato and lime (£10) are very tasty.
Bandra Bhai is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.After our drinks we went up to Pali Hill for dinner. There was a time when generic, anglicised dishes defined Indian cuisine for many Brits, but thanks to a new legion of restaurants giving India’s ancient and diverse cuisines the respect they deserve, those days are numbered.
In London, our insatiable appetite for nuanced Indian regional cuisine and street food has a new home in Pali Hill. Located on the former site of the upscale institution that was Gaylord Restaurant (closed after 53 years of North Indian cuisine), Pali Hill is the first London property of Mumbai-based Azure Hospitality Group .
There’s a lot of storylines on the menu; exotic ingredients – ajwain, stone flower, mirchi ka salan – sit alongside seasonal British produce such as hand-dipped Cornish lamb, Jerusalem artichokes and Scottish scallops on small and larger plates, as well as entrees flambés from the grill and pastries from the tandoor.
Yes, it makes it hard to decide what to order, but it also means a surprise with every delivery.
Papadi chaat, these gloriously crispy fried pieces of dough are covered in yogurt and topped with tomato, pumpkin, pomegranate, sev and a mint and tamarind chutney. Each bite is a perfect explosion of sweetness, acidity, salt and spice. We like that.
Another hit is the tandoori Cornish monkfish with mango pickle marinade and new season corn chilli and lime. Less successful, however, are the Mangalore chignon and the Dorset crab sukkha with fennel seeds, crushed chilli and ginger.
While this is probably one of Pali Hill’s favorite dishes, the combination of thick, doughy bread and delicate crabmeat doesn’t sit well with me, with the former drowning out the latter in a particularly gross way.
Vegetarian? This being Indian food, there is something to get excited about. From a sophisticated saag paneer with the first turnip greens of the season, Tuscan kale, spinach and cumin; and roasted eggplant with yogurt, wet walnuts, chutney, pomegranate and mint; okra sautéed with ginger, tomato, fennel seeds, fresh coriander; you’ll appreciate the effort and imagination that goes into each vegetable dish.
End on a (very) sweet note with vanilla carrot “halwa” ice cream or try the chocolate cake, coconut rum and whipped cream, it’s more exciting than it looks.
The eclectic dishes are reflected in the contemporary dining room, which ticks all the groovy boxes – think nods to mid-century Indian design, a vibrant color palette and bespoke works by Indian artists – and although the service was efficient and friendly, we were a little miffed to see the staff packing the restaurant around us while we were still eating dessert. Let us know it’s almost time to leave or wait a few minutes before tearing down the vibe.
Pali Hill is not cheap. It’s actually quite pricey, with the cheerful atmosphere belying the rather large bill that is presented after a few beers and a modest order. But the portions are generous and we leave nothing to be desired.