All posts tagged “Indian

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Gymkhana: The Tasty (Colonial) Memories in Mayfair

Social and colonial stuff

For those with limited cultural and Commonwealth knowledge (like me), Gymkhana may be summed up as a posh colonial-style sport club where members come dine and drink. And walking in, the ambiance and the design – a well-lacquered floor, framed pre- and post-colonial equestrian memorabilia, hunting taxidermy, and so forth – did live up to the brief. Social, nearly informal. There was also an unmistaken vibe of masculine gentility as I was seated at the table by a pristinely uniformed staff (in a Nehru jacket?) who explained away, with great but simplified detail, the culinary crux of Indian cuisine that I am never familiar with. (Yes, by now, I hope you have spotted that the cuisine of South Asian origins is not my forte).

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Cinnamon Soho: Modern Indian Joins Crowd on Kingly Street

The Cinnamon…

The team behind Cinnamon Soho is led by chef Vivek Singh who has earned praise from his award-winning Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen. The look of the new Soho venture – the monochrome of grey to contrast with wooden furniture – did not cry for the same quirkiness as the other Cinnamon’s and verged on being too generic.

Dishes

The menu, divided into all-day bites, balls, and the usual fare of ‘starters’, ‘mains’, ‘sides’ and ‘desserts’, was reminiscent of modern Indian fare that chef Singh is renowned for. The balls (any 4 for £4 or 10 for £8.80) were enjoyable snacks. Beef Shammi Kebab (the dark one in the front) had a good balance of spices and oozed delectable heat. It went nicely with the cooling mint chutney, while given the size of the ball, I found the cucumber yogurt irrelevant. The same could be said for Potato Bondas (the middle one) which claimed a pungent turmeric note and a crispy chickpea skin. I found the ball self-sufficient and discarded the grated coconut chutney (which tasted rather watery). Bangla Scotch Eggs (the two in the back) were the better of the bunch. These were spiced and hard-boiled quail eggs coated with light Bengali vegetable patty (instead of a meat casing), crumbed (could do with some more) and fried. Bold. Velvety. The mango chutney (I think) played a decent mediator (but again I had to be careful not to drown the taste of the scotch egg out with excessive saucing). Haleem with Saffron Pau (£4.80) was a multi-grain-infused soup with beef cubes. (I asked what the haleem was before ordering and the staff had to run and find out the answer). I liked the airy pau (bread). Bheja Fry Lamb Brain (£6.50) was a well composed dish, served with a mince curry. The brain fritters were grease-less and creamy; the curry (made from garam masala, I believe) boast some balanced heat. Shepherd’s Pie (£12) was a modern take on lamb rogan josh. It had some proper chilli kicks, with fragrant coriander and cumin seeds and sweet acidity from tomatoes to add dimensions; the chunks of lamb were also cooked to delightful tenderness; the tumeric mash appeased the palate. Aubergine Crush (£3) was a good bargain. Mild heat from mushy aubergines; sweetness from peas; and some lime tang.

I had a pleasant, modern, yet authentic meal at Cinnamon Soho. The kitchen has a good potential. That said, the food was let down by the service, which was a cross between nonchalance and forced friendliness. The staff was not enthusiastic or extremely well prepared to answer questions about the menu, and at times, lacked effectiveness (clearing plates swiftly, etc.) which was crucial during lunch hours. There was a noticeable gap between the ordering time and the arrival of my dishes despite the fact that it was an early lunch hour. That said, Cinnamon Soho has only been opened for two weeks and I hope these creases will soon be ironed out.

 

RATING: 3/5

CINNAMON SOHO

5 Kingly Street
London
W1B 5PF

Tel. 020 7437 1664

www.cinnamon-kitchen.com
Cinnamon Soho on Urbanspoon

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Ethnically Cheap in (Relatively) Central London

Cheap, not sh*t!

Right. It’s not a myth to get an alright meal in a restaurant with a seat and in a heater-ed venue for around £12-15. There is always a time when I have to deal with my gastronomic overspending, and after years of nip-picking “cheap sh*t” out of “cheap eat”, I have come across a few little gems, full of character and serving up alright food at an insanely bargained price. Here are some of them…

Stick & Bowl

Stick & Bowl on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

A small Chinese haunt for maids in Kensington, opposite Royal Garden Hotel where Min Jiang is situated. The more genteel Kensington residents also like it (I learned this from my very proper friend who live in the area), but they send the maids to fetch their takeaway. The eatery is a tiny hole and made of counters and high stools suitable for a no-more-than-half-an-hour meal. The food is usually very nicely prepared. Big portion, et al. My favourite is the crispy noodle with seafood gravy (below), which boasts a greaseless and well textured nest of egg noodle toppled with an assortment of springy prawns, tenderised squids, distinctly flavoured fish balls and crunchy veggies in sticky gravy. (Their aubergine and rice dish is also reliable). During my last visit, I also found the pan fried pork dumpling bearable. Gingery. The casing could do with more work. All in all, with a glass of tap water, comes to around £10.

 

Marie’s (Thai) Cafe

Marie's Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3.5/5

By day Marie’s Cafe serves (dodgy-looking) English breakfast. By nightfall it turns into a very bustling Thai restaurant (of a predominantly white crowd). The cooking is far from bad and reminds me very much of a home-cooked Thai meal. Say, when your Thai friends (who can cook) invite you over for a home feast. This place captures that very well. Decent-sized portion. No dish costs more than £6.50. The flavours are almost there (see, “friends” aren’t professional chefs) and not uncompromisingly westernised. There is only one version of som tam (papaya salad) there and it comes sans papaya. Very much like a zingy, fiery Thai slaw. This is not unauthentic as in Thailand you always get cabbage as a side to your som tam anyway. Chicken Massaman featured perfectly cooked chicken breast slices. The curry was hot enough but lacked tamarind acidity. I DIY-ed my flavour by pouring a little of the som tam juice in. Not tamarind but it would do. Squid Prik Khing was alright. Finely scorched and tenderised squid was sauteed with hot, gingery sauce. It would be nicer without the bell peppers, as they made the dish a little too Chinese for my liking. These three dishes with a hearty bowl of steamed rice and a bottle of water came to £20. It could feed two.

Indian YMCA

Indian Ymca on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

This vast cafeteria at Indian YMCA looks as if it never receives a refurbishment since India gained its independence. It also runs strict opening hours. The food – mostly curries – is pre-cooked and left on hot plates, so it’s best to go at the beginning of their service. Dirt cheap. A table-ful of lamb, goat, chicken, fish curries, two rice dishes, onion bhaji, two mango lassi and one bottle of water came to £11. I don’t have a fine knowledge in Indian dishes but I found the lamb and the goat well simmered in hot gingery curry with subtle tomato acidity. Moist meat. Both dishes oozed a perfume of clove and bay leaf. The fish curry was lighter in taste but the fish itself was too dry and too cooked. The onion bhaji (as we got there end of service) had already lost its crispy-ness. Mango lassi was vibrant and tasted as if they could be priced at £4-5 at any other Indian gaff. An okay meal for the price.


The addresses to note…

Stick & Bowl

31 High Street Kensington
London
W8 5NP

Tel. 020 7937 2778

Marie’s Cafe

90 Lower Marsh
Waterloo
London
SE1 7AB

Tel. 020 7928 1050

Indian YMCA

41 Fitzroy Square
Fitzrovia
London
W1T 6AQ

Tel. 020 7387 0411

www.indianymca.org

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Tilda Diwali Supper Club @ Grazing Asia

After its launch in July, Grazing Asia Supper Club has already expanded into a Pan Asian super hub. The new and more intimate location, courtesy of GA founder and blogger Luiz Hara (@thelondonfoodie) is set in Old Street/ Islington, and the brand new hobs are ready to sizzle!!

The first of this new Grazing Asia Supper Club calendar was Diwali Supper Club hosted by Luiz and Maunika (@cookinacurry) and sponsored by household rice brand Tilda. 18 guests. Invitation only. I was not only in for a little bit of ceremonious lights, as Diwali would have it, but also a Pan Indian banquet.

Mozzarella-filled Tilda Basmati Sun-Dried Tomato rice balls were deep fried for raunchy crispy-ness and served with aromatic mint sauce, but I found more joy in murdering this plateful of chunky, gelatin-looking pineapple chutney with firm Paneer Haraa Tikka. Good, subtle hint of garlic and chilli to be balanced out by the sulphurous sweetness of the chutney.


The banquet followed…

We were encouraged to get on our feet and topple our plate with mountains of Pan Indian goodies. Food, as Maunika described, that could be found across homes in the subcontinent. I was particularly struck by the honesty of these gargantuan dishes in front of me. There were golden Keralan Fish Curry, perfumed Haraa Masala Chicken, glaringly red and mushy Baingan Ka Bharta, Lamb Yakhni Pulao and Roasted Cumin & Pomegranate Raita.

I picked bits.. and voila!

The fish curry was pleasantly done. Perfectly cooked fillets wondrously perfumed by the coconut milk. Delicate flavours. The aubergine dish had feisty kicks of ginger and chill. It gave me a tinkling sensation but was not relentlessly aggressive. The bowl of chicken thigh strips marinated and cooked in mint and coriander, however, was my favourite. Tender, light and fragrant. I mixed all this up with the rice slowcooked in lamb stock. It didn’t take me long to walk over for a second helping.

There came my demise. Two puddings..

I only managed a spoonful of this one. Bhapa Doi. A Belgali dessert made from steamed cardamom and sweetened yogurt and served with a drizzle of rich mango puree. The other dish of Tilda Rice Pancakes infused with cream and ginger looked sumptuous but alas(!) my trousers (and an expanding waistline) said no!!

Tilda Diwali Supper Club was good fun. Food of stunning proportion and authenticity. And, surely, there couldn’t be a more auspicious way to mark the beginning of the new Grazing Asia booking calendar.

Don’t forget to check out the Grazing Asia calendar for upcoming events of your choice(s) here.


Edible Experiences

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Indi-Go: Worthy Olympic Detour at Westfield

A novel idea it was that once you get out of the Tube and on your way to London’s brand new Olympic Park you’ll have to walk across.. *ahem* a shockingly vast maze of shopping mall. Westfield Stratford City, it is. I won’t bore you with my impressions, but I only want to tell you this..

Indi-Go!

Amidst all the chain and semi-chain restaurants at Westfield (I am talking Rosa’s, Franco Manca, Comptoir Libanais, etc.) lies this little gem, Indi-Go. A little Indian island on the Balcony boasting an open plan kitchen and a huge queue of ethnic crowds. Very cafe-like and looking inappropriately un-atmospheric. You queue, order food, get them things that vibrate, feel the vibration, get your food on a plastic tray (Yikes!), fetch your knife and fork, eat.. and leave. No service. No service charge. Not a kind of place you’ll linger there longer than an hour.

The menu at Indi-Go is pleasantly lengthy and focuses on Indian street food. Bhel Puri, Pau Bhaji, that sort of things. There are some biryani, some curries and many Indian sweets!!! This shows good promise :-D

I and the other bib was in a rush, so we tucked in what we felt would be the least time-consuming. Pani Poori was nicely presented and tasted good. These were six light, crispy rice balls filled with chickpeas, red onions, potatoes, coriander leaves and a frisky dose of spices. The tangy lime and mint sauce, albeit watery, shook the balls to livelihood. Then came the curries in massive bowls. Adraki Murgh – a thick, luscious chicken curry – rendered itself a wonderful heat and a perfect balance of sweetness, gingery-ness, cumin and spices. Firework in my mouth and very tender chicken pieces, too!! The same may be said of Kashmiri Lamb Curry. I particularly liked it for meaty robustness and a delicate note of saffron. That said, it wasn’t so much a soul reviver as the Murgh. I mopped it all up with two expertly and most deliciously puffed naans. Seriously they were as fluffy as a duvet!

And I spent my last few minutes juggling Gulab Jamun. Perfectly aerated and ridiculously spongy cake balls soaked in gently sweet syrup. LOVED IT!!

That was my meal. So immensely authentic it brought me to think of places like Dishoom and Delhi Grill. The bill for two of about £34 barely left a scratch on my wallet. If only we had more time, I would love to slowly nibble my way through the menu.

And, yes. I bl**dy take my words back. I can see myself linger at Indi-Go.. for hours!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

INDI-GO

The Balcony (1st Flr)
Westfield Stratford City
Montfichet Road
Olympic Park
London
E20 1EJ

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Roti Chai: A Little Bit of India

Roti.. Chai..

Catchy name. Ironically, at present, there was no “roti” on the menu and my “chai” tasted not delectably milky or outstandingly spiced.

So?

What was Roti Chai?

Say, a hybrid of a cafe and a snack bar (as there was a commendable list of alcoholic drinks). From the outside it appeared a little like E.A.T but an experience of walking in revealed a funky, paired down dining area, with upbeat Indian music and a lovely lady whom I often bumped into often at Dishoom. Good urban vibe, not particularly ethnic. Ideal for fast and furious lunch or bum-resting after shopping spree.

The menu boast a mix-and-match of Pan-Indian street bites, designed for sharing, with an average price per dish at around £4-6. No indication of how heated each dish was. No curries or biryani yet. I was told the selection would get bigger and would also be sync’ed with the finer dining downstairs restaurant (which is not yet opened). Bhel Puri (1) – toasted rice in tamarind and chilli dressing – was a joy to eat. Loose grains of crispy rice. Wonderfully tossed. I saw no sticky syrup but there was dimension to the flavours. Tamarind sweetness and acidity. A playful chilli kick. It would be ideal if there were more contrasting texture and freshness from chopped onions, tomatoes and peanuts. Vegetable Samosa (2) was cracking and fiery. Two plumb pieces deep filled with robustly spiced potato, peas and sweetcorn. Another layer of heat from chilli-ed chickpeas. The mint sauce wasn’t enough to cool it down!

Hakka Chilli Paneer (3) was very much a stir-fry dish and a disappointment. The paneer suffered from being too finely cubed and too glazed, leaving me wonder where all the cheesy flavours had gone. I understood this was an Indo-Chinese dish, hence less spice dimensions, but as it was being paired in this rather heated menu, it made my heart sink when biting into things less aromatic and orgasmic. Chicken Keema Kaleji (4) served with pao bread was the winner of the day. Minced chicken and chopped liver cooked in a nicely balanced masala sauce. Sweetness from tomatoes distilled the chilli heat and the spice-ful aggression. Generous bits of creamy liver added much meaty richness to the paste. Mopped it all up with good quality, nicely buttered pao bun. Loved it.

“Tikki Wala”. Two options: bun kebab (5) and bun tikki (6). The bun kebab on the right featured this spiced lamb patty; the left a vegetarian option. The lamb had this pleasant elasticity but could do with less tamarind glazing on top. The sweetness aggravated my palate as I was sinking my teeth in. Took a minute or so for the feisty taste of the patty to kick in. The vegetarian option could do with a touch more seasoning and a more crisped-up skin. The salad garnish looked awkward. I’d rather the buns were served commando – Spuntino way!

Kulfi (7). Two choices of pistachio of mango. Amazing. Believed they sourced it from the same distributor as Dishoom. Velvety. They killed the heat in my mouth straightaway. Not that you needed two of them.. but I couldn’t see why you should limit yourself to just one?  ;)

I found good promises in Roti Chai, despite its currently small menu. There was this visibly sanitary appeal to the dishes but one bite (into a few dishes) showed the kitchen was not in for compromise. Though almost all dishes came in a bowl, the portion was never too meagre. My meal today, which filled up two bellies and also was left with some uneaten buns, came to about £40.

Stopped myself for now. I will be back for the downstairs restaurant…

.. soon hopefully?

And by then I hope the “chai” will taste better, and there will be a “roti”.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

ROTI CHAI

3 Portman Mews South
London
W1H 6HS

www.rotichai.co.uk

Roti Chai on Urbanspoon