Jonathan Schofield finds an 'Indian street food and craft ale' place right up his street
I loved Bombay Brew in Rochdale. For well-versed food lovers it’s much like the mini Bundobust chain but with meat. And seafood. In other words good food and excellent beers and wines.
I also loved the mix of cultures here, it’s a proper east meets west. The restaurant in the former 1700s Wellington Hotel comes via Ben Boothman who appreciates the fact a couple of generations of Rochdalians of all backgrounds have grown up with Subcontinental food as part of their staple diet. Indeed, Milkstone Road, close to Rochdale train station, is more authentic by a curry mile than Wilmslow Road in Rusholme. Everyone in Rochdale knows that and Boothman is clearly riffing along with his insider knowledge and experience.
The octopus in masala butter topped with an egg should be all wrong, a freak. It works perfectly.
The result is an £150k upgrade of the premises incorporating a make-over plus a new kitchen and a bumped-up cellar. The dining areas have walls adorned with entertaining artwork from the excellent Doodlher that follows the theme of ‘Indian street food’ (the main image above comes from the artist's website, check out her work via the link, she's good). Of course, ‘street food’ has been one of the most abused food expressions for five years, so let’s forget that, and allow me to reminisce for a moment.
The Wellington Hotel became a nightclub in the 1980s. It was called Dukes and then Bojangles. Although that sequence may have been the other way round. I grew up in Rochdale so to be dining where I once propped up the bar with my mates, usually fellow footie players Parry and Lamby, while drinking and staring at girls, an occupation randomly punctuated by enthusiastic ‘dancing’, was amusing and disturbing in equal measure. Those are four decade old memories and they’re a bit misty. If it all went wrong and you didn't get the girl with that cleverly timed and perfectly executed approach during the slow dances there was always a kebab shop nearby.
I recall on one occasion taking several of my uni-friends to Bojangles. They were southerners and thus far we'd had a great time in Rochdale, walks on the moors, strolls to cute pubs. In Bojangles we were also having a great time. One of the girls, dressed like a Princess Diana clone, with collar raised over pearls, remarked how she was loving Rochdale. She went off for a dance to Wham. Something like that. Maybe Tears for Fears. A minute in, a young local gentleman launched himself horizontally across the dancefloor and bit her on the ankle. Welcome to the North. He was chucked out offering no explanation for his actions. The bite hadn't broken the skin so we continued dancing. And some people started snogging. Then we went for kebabs.
Anyway, back to Bombay Brew where you can go for small plates or bigger house curries. There’s a funny little note on the menu saying if you hate coriander it can be removed from dishes. I really don’t understand hating coriander, it’s like a lift to the soul. Chuck that coriander in for me.
One of the small plates is now one of my new favourite dishes. It’s not small. The octopus in masala butter and topped with a lightly poached egg (£8) should be all wrong, a freak. It isn’t and it includes two of my favourite things in the world; seafood and egg. The two mingle to great effect when you would think they might cancel themselves out. Both in texture and taste this works, while the masala sauce is an appealing adornment.
Mark Garner, aka Gordo, says he’s given up eating octopus as he’s seen studies showing how intelligent they are. I’m not there yet. I’m unreformed. When I go back to Bombay Brew, this will be the first dish on my list, washed down with the Bombay Brew brand ale, an attractive, easy-going and entirely appropriate Indian Pale Ale. There is a huge selection of craft beers available as well, from White Rhino Brewing Co. I also managed to get rid of a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
As for the other dishes, there wasn’t a duff note, despite the slightly trying too hard ‘fun’ menu spelling. The Bom-bae lollipops (£6) were entertaining with carom, garam masala and ginger, the tandoori fried chicken wings (£5.50) were crisp with succulent flesh beneath and the Bombay spudz (£4.50) were delightful with good spice. Black pea pakoda (£5) were a lovely surprise, proper Lancashire meets Mumbai, a charming sing-song between black peas and chickpeas. The presentation ensured the dishes all looked their handsome best. Onion and sprout fritters (£4.50) were like traditional bhaajis but not quite and there was nothing wrong with them. The rice (£2) was timed right.
Purists of course might grumble at this mixing of the west and east. In a town where most of the Asian cooking is Bangladeshi then having octopus on an Asian-inspired menu is different to say the least.
Purists are usually wrong, about every subject under the sun, not just food. There are few absolutes outside mathematics and physics and almost more than anything else food reflects the way humans interact and the different influences those interactions bring to food. The Lancashire accent with much of the Bombay Brew food put me in mind of the Scottish/Indian mix at Roti in Chorlton.
Ben Boothman and his team have done a really splendid job here. If you’re going from Manchester, take the direct train from Victoria, not the very slow tram. It’s at least three times quicker. Then maybe have a stroll to work up an appetite. The streets are mean by the station but if you walk to Bombay Brew via the lovely medieval parish church, down the dramatic steps through a park, to Rochdale’s spectacular Town Hall then you’ll be impressed. The area around here is called the Esplanade by the way.
Rochdale's Victorian Town Hall is big enough and grand enough for a city and is surrounded on three sides by gardens. Turn right from the Town Hall and you’ll soon be at your dinner destination. The short walk here goes alongside the recently revealed River Roch which previously sulked in a culvert.
Rochdale is going through changes, not as rapidly as it might, but you get the sense things are moving, especially around the Esplanade. Additions such as Bombay Brew can only help hasten things along.
A final note.
There’s plenty of food for everybody so you don’t have to throw yourself horizontally across the floor to chomp on the ankle of a posh girl from Henley-on-Thames. It's not worth it.
Bombay Brew - Indian Street Food & Craft Ale, 1 Drake St, Rochdale, OL16 1RE. 01706 869502
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Octopus 8, lollipops 7, chicken wings 7, spuds 7, blackpea pakoda 7, rice 7
Lively and informal, the place has clearly hit the ground running
A warm welcome, lots of smiles and good recommendations