palate cleanser

Bandra Bhai

Fitzrovia, W1W

Pahli Hill, which has already impressed as one of London’s best new Indian restaurants, recently re-launched its equally impressive subterranean cocktail bar, Bandra Bhai.

At first, Bandra Bhai may be a little tricky to find. The door blends with a wall in the basement next to a poster for the ‘Dawakana clinic’. This is all part of the ruse. When trade was severely restricted in Mumbai, the black market for whisky and other outlawed products had to operate behind a more ‘innocent’ front. Once you find the door, it’s an intimate, dimly-lit space with a speakeasy vibe, decorated with tasteful posters of Indian film stars and other curious ornaments. The Azure hospitality group, which owns several restaurants in New Delhi and beyond, have gone to Herculean efforts to get everything as authentic as possible, including importing all of the furniture from India.

They have applied the same effort to their strategic hires. In the restaurant, Avinash Shashidhara, formerly of The River Café and Hibiscus, is at the helm, whilst for Bandra Bhai Dav Eames is in charge of the drinks. Dav spent the last decade as mixologist-in-chief for Marcus Wareing and Chantelle Nicholson’s restaurants and invented such iconic drinks as ‘The Londonist’ for The Gilbert Scott. Both this bar and London are lucky to have him.

All cocktails are around the £12-16 price point, including non-alcoholic versions at £6. I started with a ‘Rajdoot Martini’ and I recommend this as an opening gambit for any session here. An amusing riff on the Vesper, the gin and vodka elements are carefully stirred with a little Cocchi Americano. But here’s the rub: it’s infused with sage, cassia and samphire. The latter element evokes a sea breeze, as if you’re on a scooter driving along India’s west coast trying to escape the heat. It’s also beautifully viscous, as any Martini should be.

The ‘Green for Gold’ is essentially a gimlet with a fiery edge. This reminded me of Tredwells’ ‘Gunpowder Gimlet’ – Dav may have adapted one of his old drinks here but as Hitchcock once said “self-plagiarism is style.”

On this visit I skipped over the bestseller ‘Disco Inferno!’, earmarking this mango and chilli concoction for next time, and instead changed gears with the soothing ‘P.S.S.’ – a slightly wetter drink in three acts. The palate opens with peach, then you detect the stoneflower-infused Old Tom gin in the middle and it finishes with amontillado sherry.

The 10-strong cocktail list is full of gems but the ‘Spiced Jaggery Old Fashioned’ is worth a mention. This uses jaggery, a traditional Asian sugar, for its syrup element, along with Woodford Reserve and chat masala. For a little theatre, shine the light from your phone over this drink and it takes on a whole new appearance.

If you’re coming here just for the bar then there are some excellent bar snacks for soakage, including vegan-friendly hara kebabs (spinach, potato and peas) and spiced papari made from chickpea flour. And if cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s a good, if limited, wine selection (pared down from the restaurant’s list) including a rosé sparkling wine from East Sussex which I rather enjoyed, and beers from India’s burgeoning craft beer scene (not a clichéd Cobra or Kingfisher in sight).

Bandra Bhai is a great addition to Pahli Hill, not only allowing you to bookend any meal in the restaurant with pre and post-dinner libations, but a bar that will surely become a destination in its own right.

79-81 Mortimer Street

September 2021


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