Night At The Bombay Roxy in the new Dishoom Kensington restaurant, reliving the Irani restaurant culture of the 1930s.
According to Ecclesiastes there’s nothing new under the sun: either that’s Old Testament for “the cheque is in the mail” or I need to get out more given that Indian restaurants featuring the kind of jazz associated with 52nd Street circa 1940 are thin on the ground in my postcode or indeed any UK postcode known to me.
But that’s what Night At The Bombay Roxy served up on Wednesday at the first of two press nights and will continue to serve until 14 December at the latest branch of Dishoom, located in the old Barker building just off Kensington High Street.
So if vindaloo à la John Kirby titillates your taste buds you now know where to find it and, in the immortal words of Damon Runyon, a story goes with it.
It seems that for three decades, beginning in 1935, the kind of jazz that we in the West know and love flourished in the Bombay area of the subcontinent. Who knew. Well, a cat named Naresh Fernandes for one and armed with that knowledge he researched and wrote a book he called Taj Mahal Foxtrot.
Some time after it appeared in print it caught the attention of Swamp Studios who conceived the idea of a production set in a failed cinema in Bombay, now reinvented as a jazz club-cum-restaurant by ex-jailbird Cyrus Irani (played by Vikash Bhai, pictured above right) attempting to turn his life around. That, more or less – in the guise of “an immersive Indian noir set in Bombay’s Glamorous Jazz Age” – is the dish now being set before us and the credit reads “inspired by” Taj Mahal Foxtrot. So just what do we have?
On the assumption that readers of JBN.S will be content to take a raincheck on the more melodramatic elements of the evening – which include climactic gunplay – and cut to the chase let me say at once that the jazz is out of the right bottle albeit emanating from a gallery above the heads of the diners and by extension awkward at best, impossible at worst to see. Having said that, of the musicians in question four – Miguel Gorodi, trumpet, Helena Kay, saxophone/clarinet, Leon Greening, piano, and David Ingamells, drums – are graduates of the Guildhall School of Music with all the cachet that implies, while lone holdout double bassist Loz Garratt claims as his alma mater the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music. The music was played sans introductions but it did include tasty versions of Easy Living, In A Mellow Tone, Putting On The Ritz and Nobody Else But Me.
I began this piece with the observation that there is nothing new under the sun; I got that right, for at the end of the evening the entire cast plus waiters and waitresses broke into a spirited faux spontaneous dance, schtick with which the dramatist writing out of Stratford-on-Avon was wont to end his lighter works lo, these four hundred years ago. Catch it if you can.