First Bite: Bombay Club

Transplanted from Cambridge, this Indian favorite has yet to find its place in the South End.

Bombay Club

Photograph by Dave Bradley

The New Bombay Club is something of a head-scratcher. Long a stalwart of the Harvard Square ethnic-dining scene, it jumped the river in January, replacing the funky fusion spot Pho Republique on Washington Street. And while the food is very good, and the new room is brighter and more modern than the old Cambridge space, the Bombay Club seems caught halfway between its former persona and some future iteration yet to be determined.

The Kapoor family, who also run the upscale Masala Art in Needham, have already begun courting fickle South Enders with a fresher, foodier brand of cooking. There are biweekly regional menus and uncommon seasonings — curry leaves in Kerala chicken and cantaloupe seeds on naan, for instance — as well as Italian sparkling water and a list of fruity cocktails.

It’s a good time to be introducing diners to Indian cuisine beyond tikka masala, and to that end the new Bombay Club shows promise. A dish like lychee paneer, which combines the sweet fruit with creamy cheese in a mild curry sauce, doesn’t usually find its way onto American menus, makingits presence here a delightful surprise. Chef Sridhar Periyasamy comes from southern India, and his dosas — crispy crêpes stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas or chicken — are exceptionally good. There are also many grilled options, like seafood and kebabs.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to consider this new place without comparing it with Pho Republique, which served as a lively, affordable hangout (and whose kitschy shell lamps and ornately carved wooden bar are still here). Bombay’s brighter, gold-toned décor is polite, and even the loud music at night can’t give the place a party vibe. Adding to the challenge, nearby Mela has already carved out a niche as the neighborhood’s modern Indian bistro.

One can’t help but wish the Bombay Club could splice in a bit of Pho’s DNA and turn up the fun quotient, adding more-baroque décor and street food for the cocktail crowd. Earnestness might get you far in Cambridge, but in Boston, you have to give ’em the old razzle-dazzle.

1415 Washington St., Boston, 617-247-2500, bombayclub.com.

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