Belfast has notions about itself and its restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, we all take great pride in having three Michelin-starred restaurants in the city and a cohort of excellent mid-range, modern and often exciting brasserie and bistro type restaurants. But where are the great Italians, French, Spanish, South Asians, Chinese, Thais and others?
here are a few but these are the exception. Macao on Ormeau Road, Chilli House on Dublin Road and the Steamboat in Donegall Pass stand out in an otherwise very average portfolio of Chinese restaurants. Madame Pho is an authentic Vietnamese and Bia Rebel could rub shoulders with the best on Takeshita Street, Tokyo.
The Italians would be impressed by Coppi and the Spaniards would swoon over the liberties taken by Ora Tapas. I can’t think of a single authentic French restaurant in the city, although the Millhouse in Fermanagh gets good reviews.
And what about the Indian subcontinent? I’m still a fan of Bengal Brasserie in Ormeau Road and Bites of India on lower Ravenhill Road, although the service is questionable at times. Bengal and Bites are the real McCoys according to Irish Curry Awards founder Ali Askir.
But there’s another Indian who takes things just as seriously: Mumbai 27. Mumbai 27 is a much grander affair than India’s cozy little bites. There are cabins and intimate corners.
But is the food better? Not as far as I can understand. But Bites of India sets the bar very high. On the same level when it comes to food, it all depends on the type of environment you prefer.
I like both. They do their job well. One job that Mumbai does exceptionally well is lamb chops. Marinated and grilled and served on a wooden board with garlic mustard mayonnaise and a few tobacco onions, the tandoori flavors, all deep, warm and spicy but far from overdone, are the norm for moguls .
I can imagine, like this tycoon with unlimited wealth and 24-hour staff, lying on a mountain of silk cushions gnawing on endless lamb chops from Mumbai 27.
But I’m in company and I need to come down to earth and move on to a main course. Nothing will beat the chops. Nevertheless, the classic shashlik that soon appears turns out to be a belt.
The dark juice of the shashlik is as convincing as any great French red wine reduction, the soft and tender chicken meat cuts with that convincing and lingering tandoori flavor and the crunchy and sweet coarsely chopped onion and peppers. There is a choice of side sauces but if it’s volume as well as quality you’re looking for, this is the place for you.
Elsewhere around the table, there’s flame-grilled rack of lamb, grilled prawns and whole sea bass.
The lamb and sea bass are on point but I would forget the prawns. I should never have a king prawn because I haven’t put one in my mouth yet that tastes anything. We have dall pach puran, lentils mixed with five Indian spices and spinach with fenugreek, onion and coriander, aromatic, comforting and essential. To make things even better, some of the lightest, hot and sizzling naans with hints of crispiness on the crust.
Mumbai 27 has been at the top of its game for a few years now and although the glamorous 90s interior is a bit tired, it is still one of the best in Belfast. I know people from Birmingham and Bradford, the twin tandoor capitals of Indian food culture in England, who rate Mumbai 27 very high and that’s saying something. What this city needs is more newcomers, more diversity, more competition, especially in the South Asian culinary sector. Meanwhile, Mumbai 27 occupies that spot.
THE LAW PROJECT
2 course Sunday lunch: £19.95
Pre-theatre lesson 2: £18.95
2-course lunch formula: £11.95