Well-established Torquay restaurant Bombay Express recently won gold at the Taste of the West Awards, silver at the Devon Tourism Awards and was a finalist at the British Curry Awards. So why did its owner decide this was the time to pull the plug on it?
Owner and head chef Rehan Uddin told DevonLive that after more than a decade of success, Bombay Express had “finished on a high.” He rebranded the restaurant, naming it Indi-Yang, and it reopened around a month ago.
You won’t be able to get poppadoms or bhajis there anymore. The emphasis now is on healthy, nutritious dishes that are full of ingredients and flavors from across Asia including Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Read more:Sadness as one of Devon’s best cafes closing its doors
“We were preconceived as a run-of-the-mill balti house – even though we were serving high-end Indian cuisine – so the name had to change,” Rehan explained. “The issue with Indian food is it has become more expensive to have a curry-based menu. You would have to charge £ 15 to £ 18 for a curry to return the same profit and that isn’t sustainable. The price of oil is going up, and chicken. VAT is coming back with a bang. I had to develop a model that fits the current climate. We had to move into a new market.
“I’ve had this concept for five years, waiting patiently for its time to emerge. The pandemic sped up the process. There isn’t anywhere else locally combining ingredients from different Asian countries to create new dishes. “
Rehan said that healthy food is often “quite bland”, and he wanted his menu to be full of flavor, with gut health at the core of each recipe. “It’s not only great tasting food but it offers several benefits for people’s bodies,” he said. “We don’t use dairy products and our use of mock meats, veg and fish has hugely increased. Normally in Indian restaurants, it’s onion city. Onions expand your stomach and make you feel full up to your throat. We eliminated it to some extent. All our dishes are visually stunning but to know what they taste like, you’d have to come and try them. “
A popular item on the new menu is the “Indian chips” which are a cross between a prawn cracker and a poppadom. So how did Rehan develop his new menu?
“I own the Asian Restaurant Owners’ Network and that allowed me, over six or seven years, to connect with chefs from different backgrounds including Japanese and Korean. We’ve had multiple conversations about cuisine, ”he said. “My only concern was whether Torbay was ready for this but the feedback has been phenomenal.”
Bombay Express’ customer base was mostly people aged 30 upwards. His new restaurant is proving popular with people aged 18 upwards.
“The younger generation has been brought up on anime and manga and they love the K-pop we’re playing in the restaurant,” said Rehan. “They are familiar with bao buns and noodle bowls.”
The restaurant doesn’t allow under-11s. “We’re a 42-seat restaurant trying to create a vibe and the environment has to match our great food,” he said. “You really feel like you’re away, possibly in the city. Most importantly, we’re based on three floors with a mezzanine that could become a playground for kids and it needs to be a safe environment. “
Traditionally, Indian restaurants recruit from cities such as London and Birmingham. Rehan, who was born and bred in Torbay, feels strongly about recruiting locally.
“Torquay is not a very multiculturally blessed town,” he said. “I could have jumped to a city and done this but I’ve always believed the biggest task was to produce this in Torbay. The idea is to grow it in Torbay over the next few years and bring back employment in the local community rather than bringing people in externally. That’s the only way forward for long-term success. “