Ashok Bajaj operates nine upscale restaurants around the DC area, but his first, Bombay Club, holds a particularly special place in his heart. “This is where I come after opening any new restaurant. This is where I find stress release,” he says. It’s also where he’s hosted four US presidents (Trump was the rare exception) along with countless bold-faced names ranging from Nelson Mandela to Stevie Wonder.
“Nothing is wrong here. Bombay Club has been popular all along for 32 years. The revenue has grown every year a little bit,” Bajaj says. But for the detail-oriented restaurateur, it’s essential that his baby remains in tip-top shape. So Bombay Club recently completed a full makeover for a more modern look and menu. Don’t worry: you can still get the tandoori salmon and lamb vindaloo.
The original Bombay Club was inspired by clubs from India’s British-colonial era and featured art with hunting scenes on the walls. (Bajaj always told people the dead animals were “just taking a nap.”) But Bajaj says the look doesn’t reflect what India is now.
“Those clubs have changed,” Bajaj says. “I want to showcase what’s happening. There’s an evolution in the last 10 years, 15 years in India. Not only has it become more modernized, but cuisine has changed too.”
London-based designer Harry Gregory of ARA Design, who created the restaurant’s original look more than 30 years ago, is behind the refresh, which was delayed because of the pandemic. He’s replaced the warm color scheme with cooler grays and blues, including new Italian leather chairs and reupholstered striped velour banquettes. The private dining room features one-of-a-kind wall coverings, while the dining room showcases photos and art depicting Indian costume, dance, and culture. Among the pieces is a series of silhouettes made of brushed aluminum depicting various poses of the traditional Indian Kathak dance.
While almost everything is new, some fixtures have stayed, such as the large chandelier in the center of the dining room and the white grand piano for live music. “When people walk in, we want them to feel it’s a fresh and new look. But we still want to remind people it’s the same Bombay Club,” Bajaj says.
The kitchen also got a makeover and will be turning out new dishes along with old favorites. Among the dozen or so additions: crab kori roti with roasted coconut, a duck kebab with goat cheeses and orange chutney, and a whole goat leg for two. Longtime staples such as green chili chicken, Khubani duck, and the silver-platter thali remain on the menu.
“When I opened Bombay Club, Indian food was not popular in America. People knew curries and this and that… But it was hard educating people,” Bajaj says. The updated menu aims to better reflect the fact that many more people have now traveled to India, and Indian restaurants have proliferated around the area (including Bajaj’s Rasika and Bindaas).
So with the latest updates, is Bajaj hoping to resume his streak of feeding presidents and lure in the newest White House neighbor? The restaurateur notes that Hunter Biden has been in many times, but “I don’t know if President Biden is an Indian food fan.” Instead, he expects Biden might visit La Bise, his French brasserie that recently replaced Oval Room across the street from Bombay Club.
“A lot of his staffers have been there. Jen Psaki, she’s been there. A lot of press comes there,” Bajaj says. “As long as he’s doing the right thing for the world, for the country, I’m OK if he doesn’t come here. But if he comes, he’ll be welcome.”