Bollywood Lounge

June 2, 2009By Paris UpdateArchive
bollywood lounge

The dance numbers on the big screen matched the dance of spices on the palate.

I’m one of those glass-half-full people. A born optimist, a trusting soul. So I always tend to think that I’m going to find the holy grail of South Asian cooking in Paris. As the title suggests, I still haven’t found it and

bollywood lounge

Pros: Excellent naan and a chance to sample Indian wines; nonstop Bollywood dance numbers on a big screen

Cons: High-decibel dance numbers on big screen; uneven quality of the food

I’m one of those glass-half-full people. A born optimist, a trusting soul. So I always tend to think that I’m going to find the holy grail of South Asian cooking in Paris. As the title suggests, I still haven’t found it and probably never will, and must really make more of the stuff myself. It’s not rocket science.

I thought I had found the grail the other evening when, after my third visit to Les Premiers Retables, the superb little Louvre show on medieval altarpieces (I know I should get a life, but sadly, I can’t get enough of them), I repaired to Bollywood Lounge with another lover of all things Gothic, at her recommendation.

Like her, I was rather bowled over, and not just by the decibels. The staff turned the sound down when they realized that I wouldn’t shout my order over the dB. No, the place was in party mood, with the most ethnically diverse group of young people I have ever seen in a restaurant, all tucking in and having a rowdy good time but never pushing my hair-trigger tolerometer into the red. I reckon I had as good a time as they did.

The “crazy pakoras” – BL’s title, not mine – were crispy and funky-tasting, with real spices, and my lamb tikka masala charmed the pants off my taste buds with a full-on Bollywood-style dance number of mixed spices and herbs. It seemed to have been made for me then and there. I knew it wasn’t, because you can’t produce that kind of food in a trice: it needs long simmering. And meat dishes are always better reheated anyway, after they’ve had time to develop their flavors. But the impression was true.

Then there was the cheese naan. This one always intrigues English-speaking visitors, and where it comes from no one knows: probably Paris, ca. 1980. I was so taken by the first one I ever had, around that time, that I thought I had come across another holy grail, paneer, the fresh curds that go into spinach and vegetable dishes in South Asian dairy-eating cultures. I asked the waiter what kind of cheese it was. He didn’t know, but would go and ask the chef. With mounting excitement and bated breath (yes, all of that) I waited for his return. He leaned down and, visibly pleased with himself, whispered the secret ingredient into my ear: La Vache qui Rit…. But that processed cheese, the French equivalent of Kraft Dairylea, really works, folks. And the one at BL is superb, as the dough is somewhere between a normal naan and a paratha, which is made from flakier, oilier dough. It comes to your table at BL straight from the oven and is so good you just wolf it down, trying to avoid burning lips and tongue with the incandescent processed cheese.

So that was Friday (late opening hours at the Louvre). Come Monday, I went back with a friend for a second try and was sorely disappointed. So was she, mostly. The naan was as good as ever, but my fish amratsari starter – imagine cubic fish fingers – was dull, overcooked and had still been deep-frozen five minutes earlier; it reminded me of school dinners. The “fashionable Goan shrimp” could have been interestingly mild if it hadn’t been for a distinct taste of something-not-quite-right-at-all in two out of the first three shrimp to go down. The rest remained uneaten, as I had a restaurant review to write.

My date’s mixed starters were enjoyable in parts but her watery lamb curry was totally lacking in masala attitude and also went back unfinished. A mattur paneer – a dish of that cheese and green peas – was far better, except that it could have been much better.

We did put away a bottle of a very creditable Indian Sauvignon Blanc from Grover Estates. Apart from the curiosity value of drinking wine made in India and (gasp!) shipped to France, its residual sugar was a great foil for the spicy food – as are all the sweeter wines.

If you’re a born pessimist, you could try Bollywood Lounge, as you won’t be disappointed. An optimist should try it on a weekend night, when the food is flying out of the kitchen, but should avoid it on Mondays, when I have the distinct impression that he or she might be eating the remains of the weekend.

Richard Hesse

Bollywood Lounge: 57, rue Galande, 75005 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 26 25 26. Métro: Saint Michel or Maubert Mututalité. Nearest Vélib stations: 6, rue du Fouarre; 9, rue Dante. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price menus: €22 and €25. A la carte: about €30-35*.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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