September 11 2021

Pig Guide review: Bandook Kitchen, Milsom Place

If you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place – Milsom Place, in fact: a super-pretty, characterful, split-level urban sanctuary based around a historic cobbled courtyard, today home to a variety of independent businesses and high street flagship stores. It’s also home to Bandook Kitchen, a key member of the highly-acclaimed Mint Room family who have branches of both restaurants in both Bristol and Bath.

While the Bristol incarnation (at the heart of Wapping Wharf) may have fashionista funk on its side, the Bath location has inherent grace and style; it’s all kinda ancient-meets-modern (Milsom Place dates back to the early 18th century, don’cha know), and there’s something magical about the whole complex before you even set foot in Bandook Kitchen itself.

Once inside the restaurant, it’s pretty magical too. Owner Moe Rahmen says he took inspirational cues and clues for the restaurant’s sophisticated but eclectic design flourishes (think, colour, colour, colour, working together in bold/subtle harmony; plush banquette seating; striking statement lighting) from the Hindustani cafés where the British and Indian army used to gather to eat together. Gosh! Those guys certainly had a keen eye for stylish detail. Moe’s looked back in order to look forward in terms of the menu too: from street food and small plates to full-on big dishes with a big history taking in dosas, chaats, pavs and all kinds of tantalising gotta-try-thats along the way, there’s something for everybody from the timid to the temerarious here, while the drinks menus (and take note that the cocktail list is a thing of beauty to behold) puts paid to the recent social media ‘outrage’ regarding restaurants hiking up drinks prices since reopening after the pandemic.

Despite that seductive interior, we enjoyed our most recent Bandook supper at a heated alfresco candle- and fairy-lit table that gave the whole experience a chilled out holiday-style vibe. The only stressful part of our evening was ordering: so much choice on the menu, all of it appealing, and every dish distinctly affordable. What to do? Start with a small’n’street selection, move on to Raj-syle feasting dishes… and bear in mind that you won’t raise any eyebrows if you end up asking for a doggy bag for leftovers.

A Samosa Chaat – described as a “deconstructed Punjabi vegetable samosa” – was so pretty that the thought of prodding it with a fork felt akin to a criminal offence. But once prodded, prepare to have your senses arrested by flavours: soft curried chickpeas, waves of thick, cool yoghurt and layers of tamarind and mint chutney, all scattered by fresh pomegranate jewels, make this little dish a Great Big Hit. Glossy Squid Koliwada shimmied across the table bringing further style and substance to proceedings; crisp little goujons of Amritsari Fish – the subtle chilli heat in the batter tempered by a mellow blast of mint chutney – proved to be compulsively crunchy; and Delhiwale’s Pocket Kebab (a flaky, buttery layered paratha stuffed – and I mean stuffed – with softly-spiced, super-moist chicken) danced along to an altogether earthier tempo… I don’t know who Delhiwale is, but if this is the kind of street food that he keeps in his pocket, he’s definitely a friend for life.

So far, so very non-stop exotic cabaret; in all honesty, just four small plates down (plus a couple of those cocktails), we could have stopped there. But a very good Twitter friend recommended that I try the Lucknowi Parda Lamb Biryani, and it would have been rude not to, so I did. It turned out that my Twitter friend has excellent taste: puncture the crisp pastry lid, and you unearth soft – and I mean, soft – morsels of lamb in the kind of silky, aromatic, subtly sweet/spicy broth that you just know is the kind of concoction that only an expert in the biryani field could prepare. Meanwhile, arriving at Mr Pig’s platform: Railway Lamb Curry, originally developed by chefs working on the railways during the British Raj. Railway is a curry that can’t be categorised: not as bold as, say, a Madras but far less subdued than a Korai or a Bhuna, and relying (I’m guessing?) more on ginger and garlic than chilli for heat, with a distinctly sweet/sour hit adding fascination at every stop on the way to an empty bowl.

Ah, I love Bandook Kitchen. I love the restaurant’s style, audacity and overall vibe. I love how it’s filled a big gap in the Bath eating out scene by blending upper-crust Indian fine dining with a casual, welcoming – and again, I have to reiterate this point – affordable ethos. It’s effortlessly uplifting, and unselfconsciously soul-soothing. And if you’re looking for pretty, you’ve come to the right place.

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