Norwich: Bombay Restaurant

There were just two people sitting in the Bombay restaurant - separately. Since this was early on a Tuesday evening, the lack of punters was not entirely surprising, but it's not often you see people eating along in restaurants these days.

There were just two people sitting in the Bombay restaurant - separately. Since this was early on a Tuesday evening, the lack of punters was not entirely surprising, but it's not often you see people eating along in restaurants these days.

As well as the usual middle-aged man was an attractive young woman - whose presence seemed inexplicable until I noticed she was heavily pregnant. I decided she must have been driven there by bizarre cravings. But a few minutes later a young man appeared and sat opposite, and I noticed there had been two plates on the table all along. Whether his disappearance was caused by an unpleasant reaction to curry I will never know, because the two left with barely a word.

But our surreal evening had barely started. Soon afterwards arrived a group of six and another of four, one of whom announced: “I've come all the way from Newcastle for a good curry.”

This announcement seemed slightly surprising - Norwich's fame in this department has not spread nationally, as far as I am aware, and it seems unlikely that there is a dearth of Indian restaurants in Newcastle.

What was even more astonishing was a sudden cry of “Why-aye man”, in perfect Geordie - from the elderly, presumably Bangladeshi, proprietor. It turned that our host had lived in Manchester and Newcastle before moving to Norwich 20 years ago. So he grilled the man who had come all the way from Newcastle about the city - at which point it turned out that he actually hailed from Darlington. To add to the bizarre episode, the only man among five women at the other table actually was from Newcastle.

Our host's Geordie accent was better than anyone else's in the room, and had us all in stitches while the younger waiter busied himself bringing the drinks.

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Meanwhile we were making our way through the spiciest meal we had had in a long time. We started with poppadoms, which came with mango chutney (no bits), mint yogurt, chopped onion and a disturbingly runny brown liquid that our Darlington friend suggested was gravy, but may in fact have been tamarind.

A starter of onion bhaji yielded two smallish balls, with a wedge of onion and some salad. Unusually, they had left the pickles from the poppadoms on the table, and a bit of chutney and yogurt was perfect with the bhajis (lightly spiced; not too floury or too greasy). Sheek kebab gave the first hint of the chilli levels to come, and was much more interesting than the hot dog it resembled, even down to the fried onions that were offered with it.

We moved on to mains of lamb kuchie - a dish that was unexpectedly fiery for something that sounds like it should be a term of endearment for a pet spaniel. It had strips of lamb in a spicy tomato and garlic sauce, and certainly needed plenty of lager to wash it down. So did a vegetable balti, which had plenty of green beans and mushrooms along with sweetcorn, potato and other veg.

We ordered a side dish of chana bhaji (chick peas) after deliberating between several dishes of whose English translations we were unsure. This, too, had made closer acquaintance with chilli than is usual in a side fish.

Behind us the Geordie was ordering a vindaloo, presumably with the aim of impressing his five lovely ladies. Sadly, history does not record whether he was able to finish it.

The bill was all this, plus three pints of Kingfisher, was a shade under £30, which seemed mightily reasonable, not to mention cheaper than many of the city centre curry houses.

The décor does leave a bit to be desired in places, including old fashioned dark blue velveteen chairs, the backs of which have been covered in what appear to be pillowcases, and the use of tablecloths in the toilets in place of towels.

But the service is good, and friendly, and if you hail from the north-east, extremely entertaining too. Just make sure you can handle the chilli.

t Bombay Restaurant, 43 Timber Hill, Norwich.

t What about parking? Walking or public transport might be easier - it is very central - but you can park in the Castle Mall car park.

t Do I need to book? Probably not, but you can call 01603 620305 or 619908 if you want to.

t What about takeaway? Yes, and they do deliveries too.

t Disabled access? To most of the restaurant, yes, but the toilets are up (extremely steep) stairs.

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