Gerry Corner meets co-owner Marko Husak and tucks into 'the best food in the western world'
THE indy Indian food and drink brand tipped for greatness is giving Liverpool a taste of what they can expect in the not-too-distant.
Business is brisk at the Bundobust bus, where a marriage of south Asian street food and booze brewed specially to partner it, is a match made in heaven for visitors to the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo.
Bold Street will be home to the third restaurant in the award-laden Bundobust family, which has been working its way from east to west – via Leeds and Manchester – since Bradford boys Marko Husak and Mayur Patel were introduced to each other in the North’s Official Capital of Curry.
Like all the best ideas, you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner
Liverpool is going to have to wait a little longer than expected for the Bold Street branch where the first-floor space, a former clothes store, is proving a challenge. It’s tailor made, all right, just not for a restaurant and the planned autumn opening is now looking more like January or February 2019.
Meanwhile, Chris Botham, who heads up the Manchester operation, is on festival duty at the Invisible Wind Factory in Liverpool’s North Docks. As he sets an array of food before me, he says customers have been telling them that the New Year can’t come soon enough.
Right on cue, a passing festival-goer, points an emphatic finger at my late lunch. “This,” he declares, “is the best food in the western world”.
He may be right but this cuisine’s origins have their roots firmly in the eastern world, or more specifically the Indian state of Gujarat, where a kaleidoscope of colours, flavours, shapes and textures combine to create a unique taste sensation, and all without fur means or foul. In other words, no meat, no chicken, and no seafood for that matter.
Oh, did I not mention, Bundobust is one hundred per cent vegetarian. And it has quite a nerve moving into a city centre where every other restaurant opening in the past ten years seems to have involved meat and few veg.
Earlier in the day, joint founder Husak tells me the experience of Manchester, where Bundobust was voted the city’s best restaurant and Observer food critic Jay Rayner raved about the place, has “given us great confidence”. Besides, he adds, “vegetarian is the fastest growing market in the UK”.
Nevertheless, they don’t make a big deal of the “V” word – indeed, you will struggle to find any mention of it on their website.“There is still a bit of a stigma,” he says. “We don’t want to put them off. A lot of people come in and they don’t even know they’ve not eaten meat.”
Back at the van, I dig into the one real concession to the carnivore, the Vada Pav, Bundobust’s answer to burger and chips. “Mumbai’s favourite burger” is a deep-fried spicy mashed potato disc, served in a brioche bun, with one half smeared in a vibrant chutney of mint and coriander, the other a chilli-fired red version.
Think super-charged scallops. And the double carbohydrate-hit soaks up the beer like nothing else. On the side, okra fries, in a chickpea batter, seasoned with black salt and mango powder, are perfectly dry and crunchy and moreish.
Two other dishes - bundo chaat and bhel puri – are classic Indian snack food, the latter in in particular hitting the senses like a high-explosive device: peas, red onion and tomato tossed in tamarind chutney and spices, shards of samosa pastry and puffed rice adding the shrapnel, and topped off with pomegranate seeds.
Both are served cold and feel like proper street food, not just small portions of a sit down curry. And when the food is, as Rayner concluded, “uncompromising, self-confident and clever”, who needs the butchered flesh of animals anyway.
That’s not even to mention the beer, which here includes a well-named Bombay Dazzler, a classic Belgian witbier with subcurrents of cardomom, coriander and ginger. On tap, it goes down a treat with the Mumbai bap, and a new improved version is on the way.
“We use drinks that cut through the spice, and hold up to the spice,” Husak says. Liverpool brewers Black Lodge and Mad Hatter may both be contributing to future Bundobust drinks lists.
Like all the best ideas, you wonder why nobody thought of it sooner; combining, as Husak puts its, “the nation’s favourite beverage and the most popular food in Britain”.
Rayner declared there should be a Bundobust in every university town in the north of England. To his credit, Husak says they prize quality over quantity. “We’d love to have ten restaurants but it’s getting chefs in who are always A1, food that’s always A1, the atmosphere always A1. We don’t want to lose the vibe.”
The convivial, communal feel is all part of the Bundobust offer. So for now they are focusing on Bold Street, Liverpool’s world on a plate, where extraction, ventilation, noise pollution and smell pollution issues are gradually being overcome to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Back at the pop-up, which is how it all started, a packed festival crowd’s day-long binge on food and booze is starting to take a toll and the Invisible Wind Factory is living up to its name…
Bundobust Liverpool opens on Bold Street later this/early next year.