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What is it?
It’s very difficult to have a bad night out in London these days. The restaurants – already stratospherically good before the pandemic – have taken advantage of various lockdowns and closures to fine-tune their menus, and the ones that have survived have only come out swinging. The bars, meanwhile, are better than ever, charged with a post-crisis hedonism and dedicated obsessively to their craft.
So when, despite the intense competition, one post-lockdown establishment manages to open both a restaurant and bar that stand out above the rest, it’s all the more impressive. This is pan-Indian restaurant Pali Hill and its sister cocktail bar, Bandra Bhai, located in the basement. Upstairs, chef Avinash Shashidhara – a River Café and Hibiscus alumn – rules the roost, crafting creative, brashly-flavoured dishes inspired by the subcontinent, all in a well-heeled setting inspired by restaurant’s namesake (a wealthy Mumbai suburb). Below, the decor and vibe are borrowed from the ‘smuggler’s dens’ – speakeasies peopled by gold smugglers and their entourages, that peppered India in the 1970s. It’s delightfully tacky, all animal-print upholstery, tactile fabrics, and tassel-fringed lights. Dav Eames is the head barman, and he really knows his stuff: his thoughtful, cleverly-concocted cocktails are what make Bandra Bhai a truly excellent bar.
So, yes, punters may have plenty of choice these days – but why go anywhere else for pre-dinner drinks, or post-drinks dinner, when you have the perfect Friday night formula here? Start downstairs, where the louche, secretive atmosphere sets the right tone for date night or an unbuttoned eve with friends. Flag Eames down if you spot him and listen to him wax lyrical about each drink on the tidy but finely-tuned menu – what you order is a matter of preference, since each concoction is just as delicious as the next. Then, once sufficiently salved, head upstairs and share a legion of tongue-torching curries, succulent grills, and fall-apart flat breads. Bliss.
What should I order?
At Bandra Bhai, order the Gabbar Singh Side Hustle if you like your cocktails on the sunny side – zippy pineapple is balanced by nutty cognac and earthy celery, a surprising blend reminiscent of fruity marzipan. For those who prefer moodier libations, the Smokey Joe is a banger: 12-year-aged whiskey smouldering with smoke-infused apricot liqueur, Martini rosso, and black tea.
Upstairs, the ‘small plates’ section of the menu is crammed with tempting bits – molten cheese-and-girolles-topped flatbread, a breahtlessly spicy aubergine kebab – but the crab sukkha trumps them all: glorious and oozing curried crab meat stuffed into puffed-up, deep fried Mangalore buns.
No Indian feast is complete without the country’s favourite cheese, and Pali Hill’s comforting take on matar paneer is a must order: fresh (thanks to the bobbing peas), rich, and straightforward, it lets every ingredient speak for itself. Sop up with flaky flatbread.
Why should I go?
For an exciting take on ‘new Indian’ food from an ambitious chef, with cocktails to match.
79-81 Mortimer Street, W1W 7SJ