When Bombay Darbar came to Fort Lauderdale, they didn’t do it the easy way. They opened on the east side of Las Olas, right before the street of shops and restaurants gives way to the residential section just west of the Intracoastal. They went into a large space that in the last few years had housed several restaurants.
And the restaurant – the second in South Florida after a popular Miami spot – has thrived there. “We are going strong and the plans are to keep expanding,” manager Derek Werynski says.
When they opened in March 2019, they were right where they wanted to be. “We saw the need for an Indian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale,” he says. “Las Olas was our target and goal, to open a nice-sized restaurant.”
They wanted a mixture of locals and tourists; Werynski says they see their position on Las Olas not as the end of the shopping and dining section, but as the first thing people hit when they’re heading inland.
“If you’re coming from the beach, then you’ll absolutely see me,” he says.
What you’ll discover is a spacious, modern restaurant that seats almost 150 and features Buddha statues imported from India and an easy modern elegance. The pan-Indian menu includes plenty of shared plates and small dishes that often get ordered at the restaurant’s popular happy hour. Since coming to Fort Lauderdale, Werynski has been impressed by customers’ knowledge of Indian food. “People in Fort Lauderdale, they’re foodies,” he says. “They know more than people in Miami.”
And while the restaurant might be on one of the main tourist drags, those are the customers he wants to cater to most.
“Ninety percent of my clientele in Miami is repeat customers,” he says. “I always prefer to invest and look after local customers. Tourists come and go. All my daily business should be local customers. That’s what we looked at when opening on Las Olas.”
For people who might not be overly familiar with Indian food, he recommends coming in for a thali, a traditional Indian platter. The restaurant does a lunch thali that’s either chicken, lamb or vegetarian; all offer a few different popular dishes. “That’s a very good tester for people who want to try different options,” he says.
Brunch, which runs from noon to 4 on Sundays, also offers the chance to try lots of different things.
Before COVID, the restaurant was getting into Bollywood-themed nights and other events involving performers and DJs. Werynski is looking to get back to that soon. But mostly, he’s about building that local patron base through word-of- mouth, of people who try something they’ve not had before and then bring somebody else to do the same. “That’s how Bombay Darbar grew over the years,” he says. “It means a lot to us. It’s a reward for us for all our hard work.”
The Dish: Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (Bombay Darbar recommends chicken breasts or thighs, organic or free range)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Heat canola or avocado oil in a large pan. Mix ingredients for sauce (all ingredients except for rice and chicken) for one to two minutes, then add chicken.
Stir as cooking. Serve with your choice of basmati rice. Add herbs for added flavor.