Curry in a hurry is a bit confusing

Bangalore Express City
1 Corbet Court, Gracechurch Street,
Cost per person without wine: £25
ONE of my first memories of arriving in London was going for a curry on Brick Lane. While I wasn’t particularly impressed by the food the décor has stuck in my mind – massive and slightly wonky paintings of Princess Diana and others of fairytale princesses riding flying dragons. Since then I have experienced a number of great Indians (or, often, Pakistanis). There are basic but brilliant ones like Tayyabs and swanky Michelin-starred ones, and there are fancy Euro-Indian or Anglo-Indian places. And then there are the affordable Indians. The daddy in this category is Masala Zone, which now has outlets for its cheap-as-chapattis street food all over central London.

Bangalore Express is slightly different. The owners also run a fine-dining restaurant called The Painted Heron on Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, but opened the first Bang Ex (as nobody will call it) in Waterloo.

First impressions walking in were that it felt a little like the inside of a kaleidoscope, or a 1960s Top of the Pops set, with zig-zags on the plasticky walls. That said, it has a simple, uncluttered, modern feel with plain wooden tables and chairs or benches. Word has obviously spread quickly about this place, because on Thursday lunchtime it was packed.

Normally you’d think that was a collective thumbs-up, but I’m not entirely convinced. The lack of options in the City means that anywhere where the knives are clean and the food doesn’t come out of tins is going to be busy.

We were a little bamboozled by the menu. “There’s a flow-chart on it,” said my friend, with the air of a man in a horror film who has just found an axe in his bed. He was right. There was, under the heading Big Plates of Curry and Rice. You can choose between tiger prawns, “fish” and various sorts of meat, six cooking styles, from “mild korma” to “fiery hot vindaloo”, a vegetable side and six styles of rice. Quite who would want Vindaloo duck with sweet potato mash and lemon and chilli rice I don’t know.

The rest of the menu is also a bit confusing, with tapas, a tandoori section, dosas, salads, low fat plates, thalis and Big Plates. Some of these seem a bit ill-judged – an Indian style calzone pizza with mixed seafood and broccoli sounds like a big mistake. And what is Caribbean-style goat curry doing on there? Not to mention paneer tikka stuffed with pickled lemon and clotted cream.

I started with lamb meatballs, which arrived very quickly (maybe too quickly, they might have benefited from a bit more time in the oven). They were okay, delivering a nice red chilli kick and lots of coriander seed. For a main I decided to go weird, with bunny chow with curried lamb. Bunny chow is a South African dish where the meat is served in a hollowed-out lump of bread, and this had all the subtlety of a Jacques Kallis bouncer. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was stodgy. My friend’s gloopy lamb roganjosh with chickpeas and spinach and mushroom rice was also on the “ugh” side, and there wasn’t much mushroom with the rice. He was also unimpressed with his chipped plate.

A side dish of black lentils was a huge, thick soup. Frankly there was far too much food. A dessert of pistachio and mango kulfis on sticks were basically Mini Milk, and lacked any real flavour.

Maybe I’m being harsh. Other diners seemed happy, knocking back the jugs of lager and lots of them seemed to be eating the Indian fish and chips (the former being an unspecified “flaky white fish”) with chilli chips and mushy peas. I’m all for innovation, but I’m not convinced by some of the ones here. Masala burgers and chilli chips – available with grilled halloumi or gherkins – sounds more like collision cuisine that fusion food.

Still, if you want somewhere cheap and cheerful where you can be sure of coming away with a full belly, then Bangalore Express will do the job. Just don’t get too experimental. And don’t get scared by the flow chart.