You don’t actually need to eat at Bombay Darbar to know how great it is. Just poking your head inside on a Saturday night tells you everything you need to know about the place. Here’s what you’ll see: A large room with attentive waiters buzzing around, customers clearly taking delight in their food, and a festive atmosphere. Here’s what you won’t see: Empty tables, annoyed customers, or people leaving hungry.
Bombay Darbar is an Indian restaurant in Coconut Grove, and like most Indian restaurants, they have a number of vegan options. Unlike most Indian restaurants, the staff knows which items can be made vegan and which can’t as well as I imagine they know their own phone numbers.
To start, all customers are served thin crackers with a tomato chutney and cilantro chutney. The amount flavor that is packed into these amuse-bouches is a sign of things to come. There are not enough crackers to finish the chutneys (I’m sure you could ask for more), but that’s not a bad thing: Hold onto them for dipping pleasure later on in the meal.
Like any reasonable people, my wife and always begin our meal at Darbar with an order of samosas (fine, two orders of samosas). They are crispy and doughy, and they are flavorful and comforting. The sauce they are served with only enhances them, as do the chutneys served earlier in the meal. You’ll have to restrain yourself from ordering more and making samosa your main course. (With all meals at Darbar, be sure to specify you are vegan so the kitchen knows to leave off non-vegan garnishes.)
There are several vegan options for the main course, but you’ll have a hard time doing better than the Aloo Gobi or the Channa Masala (or in our case, the Aloo Gobi and the Channa Masala). The menu describes Aloo Gobi as “cauliflower and potatoes sautéed with fresh herbs.” Reading that, you need to get out of your mind the bland, boiled vegetables you might have had growing up. For those who already love vegetables, Aloo Gobi will reaffirm that love, and for those who don’t, Aloo Gobi will change your mind. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself analyzing the sauce it is served in, contemplating the secret to transforming vegetables into something you never thought they could be: desirable and satisfying.
Like a memorable Tom Hanks performance makes you forget you are watching the actor Tom Hanks, Darbar’s Channa Masala makes you forget you are eating chickpeas. The mix of textures and the flavors of the sauce will feel like gluttony when it is really “just” deliciously flavored legumes and vegetables. The Channa Masala, along with the basmati rice that all vegetable entrees with, will stick to the ribs of even the most carnivorous of eaters. Unfortunately, the naans at Darbar are not vegan, but you can get an order of roti, which, although nothing special, is helpful for mopping up the sauces.
In South Florida, you can’t search Yelp without running into Thai, Greek, Mexican, or Italian. Indian, in contrast, is more difficult to find. Fortunately, Bombay Darbar exists, because it will satisfy every craving you have for Indian food. For about $40 for two, you’ll leave stuffed and with a doggy bag for a late-night snack.