I’m usually a patient guy, but I don’t understand why it takes people so long to order from restaurant menus. I often fight the urge to lean across the table and suggest to befuddled lunch buddies that they needn’t divine the one perfect dish. For crying out loud, just pick something.
But there is one cuisine that always trips up my brash tactics: Indian food. At Indian restaurants, I take forever to order. Why? Because with Indian food, there are dozens of perfect dishes. Indian food is the best, and unless you share plates at a big family dinner, you’re always forced to forego some incredible options.
Basically, Northampton needed an Indian buffet, where the hungry masses could portion out whatever they wanted, sampling numerous entrees without breaking the bank. Finally, it’s here — and the food is wonderful.
Bombay Royale opened in One Roundhouse Plaza, along Crafts Avenue, at the beginning of February. The restaurant serves sit-down lunch and dinner as well as take-out, but what really caught my eye was the lunch buffet — served from noon to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and from noon to 3 p.m. on the weekends.
I paid a visit just after noon on Tuesday last week, but about 40 people had already beat me to the lunch rush. Only a couple of tables were free in the bright, open dining room, so I dropped my coat on a seat at the bar counter and headed to the buffet.
As I picked up my plate, I heard the woman in front of me describe this food to her friend as “terribly delicious.” Since her office is next door, she explained, she’s had to fight the temptation to come here every day. I can think of worse scenarios. There are cheaper lunch options in town than this $9.95 buffet, which allows visitors to return with clean plates for more. But aside from a few mainstays like cabbage poriyal, tikka masala, and tandoori chicken, the buffet options here change daily.
During my visit I tried every buffet item. I love spicy food, and was a bit disappointed to find that every offering leaned toward mild. Must we be guarded against a spoonful or two of vindaloo?
Despite that minor gripe, the eats were fresh and flavorful, and a few items in particular stood out. I loved the lamb malabar — boneless cubes of lamb cooked in coconut sauce with mustard seeds and curry leaves — for its tender meat and slightly-spicy coconut creaminess.
The vegetables cooked in pureed spinach made for a smooth, savory side, which is a shame for any finicky eaters unfamiliar with this dish. Yes, it looks like green mud. And yes, it’s really good.
I was also impressed by the chicken tikka masala, a dish first developed for the wimpy palates of British colonialists. This masala sauce typically combines creamy yogurt and tomato with onion, garlic, ginger, coconut, and chili — all good things, except the result is often so dialed back from spicy that it’s practically vodka sauce. I’m happy to report that Bombay Royale’s chicken tikka masala gets the thick consistency right but isn’t afraid to hit the tomato flavor hard and also spice it up a bit.
The rice pudding was thin and not so appealing, but I liked the day’s other dessert: carrot halwa, a blood-orange-colored paste served warm, made from grated carrot, milk, sugar, nuts and cardamom. It’s sweet and enjoyable, and the sugar whipped with cooked milk tasted like Froot Loops, although I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of the sweet stuff.
Oh, and the naan — that tasty soft flatbread — is hot, slightly crispy, and served up promptly at every table.
The other buffet offerings didn’t distinguish themselves much, but most are solidly made and help to round out a hearty lunch. The aloo beans and the channa masala are saucy vehicles for soft mouthfuls of potato and chickpeas, respectively. The cabbage poriyal, which is basically seasoned coleslaw without the truckload of mayo, retains a good crunchiness for being slightly cooked. And the gobi mutter — cauliflower and green peas cooked in cashew almond sauce — adds some nice roasted, nutty flavor to the lineup.
I wasn’t wowed by the pepper chicken, which is exactly what it sounds like: straightforward roasted white meat with a bit of a peppery punch. The vermicelli uppuma featured chunks of juicy roasted green peppers, but the bed of noodles they were served in was dry and unremarkable. And the onion pakora, while capably made, is really just deep-fried shredded onion, which loses its appeal a few minutes out of the fryer.
By the time I left, I had eaten so much that I walked at about half speed. For $9.95, it’s a great deal. Bombay Royale may not be perfect — it’s only a month old, after all, as evidenced by the not-quite-finished decor — but this place ups the Indian food game in Northampton with filling cuisine that’s also convenient, fast, and cheap. It’s a welcome arrival for local Indian-food lovers who don’t always have time to sit down for a full-service meal.•
Contact Hunter Styles at hstyles@valleyadvocate. com.