Wednesday 19 December 2007

Jaipur - Albert Road, Southsea, 17/12/07

With each visit I continue to warm to Jaipur, a feeling reinforced by the cold on a dark bitter evening. The chef patron seems to have a restaurant just the right size to enable him to cook to order without losing control.

Sheek Kebabs were worth the wait. Lean mince rolled with fruity bits of red and green pepper, properly crisp on the outside. Mirchi Ka Salan too, gorgeous supple slices of Lamb in a scorching peanutty curry, chilli hot and dry tasting, like the north indian plains. Hariyali Dal - thick lentils, spinach, oozed fresh bright flavours of tomato and lemon. Portions again enough to satisfy even the heartiest appetite (my stomach is horse sized).

Our bottle of Pinot Grigio had either been in the freezer or outside, icy cold and not the right temperature but then some would say why order wine in a curry joint you silly sod!? I dispute this of course!* Anyhow it featured on a a bill for five hungry people of £79, this is value. One could almost base a visit to Portsmouth on the premise of dining at the restaurant - rather good.

Willp2328visit: 8/10
UPGRADED score: 8/10

*Aromatic or particuarly crisp clean whites, roses or full bodied fruit laden reds are good partners.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Paradise Balti - Petersfield, 12/12/07

'The Paradise isn't Paradise' said someone on Wednesday night and true enough it isn't but the place serves up flavourful food in a warm, cosy, womb like environment nonetheless.

After at least a 3 year absence there were some pre dinner nerves - how would they cope with the descending revellers from the Petersfield curry club?

In the event, as is so often the case, everything went smoothly. We ate well enough, although there were few too many chicken curries, flesh with a strange smoky flavour and smooth rubbery texture resembling processed meat. Balti Chicken, Chicken Korai and Jalfrezi all made from the same stock sauce were just about discernable. The Balti slightly more aromatic than the Korai in turn more tomatoey, less hot than a Jalfrezi, buzzing with butter, chilli resin, salt and heady coriander. The Vindaloo was very good, pleasantly sour possessing a dryish rasp but the best dishes were Tarka Dall and excellent Mushroom rice with fried egg. Bhindi much cleaner (less oil) than previous, Saag Aloo and mix veg curry enjoyable too. Soft doughy Naans - Peshwari, gently sweetened by almond flour and Garlic, could have been sharper - filled us up further.

All in all, reasonable formula curry.

willp2328visit: 6/10

Saturday 8 December 2007

Madhuban - Liss, 7/12/07

Whether it was extra orange zest in the breakfast marmalade or excess carbs from another end of week visit to the Madhuban I cannot say but I felt fleet of foot during the Saturday morning run. Suppose it could have been the fact I had a relatively light meal. Tikka to start and finish (no dessert – I’ve got a box of novelty toys and ‘highly decorated’ ice cream pots in the loft. Besides if I have too much ice cream my brain freezes like Sylvester Stallones).

Lamb tikka to start was okay, a little gristly perhaps. Then Darjeeling Chicken Tikka looked superb, each nugget encrusted in a resplendent olive green herb paste but tasted similar to Chicken Tikka. Not a bad thing but I’d hoped for a difference. There was a mixed vegetable curry – Neramishee Marareesh – a bit of a mouthful to say and eat, cloying, voluptuously flavoursome as well and a bottle of aromatic german white wine with a soft lychee finish at 9.95 concluding things satisfactorily.

Willp2328visit: 6/10

Mirchi - Albert Road, Southsea

The PLACE is new. According to the takeaway menu it was ‘newly opened on 13 November’. According to the waiter they’ve been up and running 10 weeks. Do the Maths and you'll realise you've two different answers.

As well as this fact or fiction we were told about start out offers. Free poppadoms with every main meal, complementary bottles of wine if you spend so much, percentage discounts and…a Holiday give away for two! I’d have enjoyed a 2 week break in the part of Bangladesh that’s not flooded except one had to be a party of 4 to claim (search me?).

More’s the pity, SERVICE was hospitable enough to make such a trip seem quite attractive. Perhaps a little pushy – pickles with this, that, sauces? ‘What Sauces’? ‘Erm, Mango Chutney…’ ‘No thanks we’re fine’ – but they’re keen to pay back that business loan fast. On early evidence, if word gets around, they will and without having to offer vacations to undisclosed destinations as the PRICES sit a little higher than the norm and the FOOD pretty much succeeded on all levels.

To begin fresh crab (clue = a fragment of shell) blended into a well balanced paste folded inside a sour, zesty lime peel stuffed fried bread. To follow Mirchi Dhansak. Properly hot with ripe green and red chillies giving thick lentil sauce – in turns bitter with twist of lemon, grainily sugary and peppery with mint – real piquancy. Meanwhile the tender morsels of lamb were marbled with enough fat to give extra flavour to the meat. Aubergine was stewy, bit average but always best match. As was a mound of pilau rice, rich, buttery and perfumed with cardamom. Dave chose a super svelte Padina in a runny creamy sauce distinctly flavoured with almond and mint, once again a rare multi dimensional mild curry.

In SUMMARY the dishes were colourful, well presented, came in large quantities and were packed with flavour. Ideal. No wonder Mirchi’s efforts left us feeling rather pleased.

Willp2328 score: 7.5/10

Sunday 2 December 2007

December meeting - Paradise, Petersfield

The table is booked! Our last meeting of 2007 will be at Paradise Balti on December 12th. Aperitifs will be at Foggys.

As Christmas is coming, you may like to visit our Amazon shop and check out our Curry book recommendations. Just click the link on the right.


The more I think about it, the more I think we were badly ripped off at Saaki for our November 2007 meeting.
I suspect:
1) there was no qualified cook
2) they didn't even bother to go shopping before our visit

2) it appeared that we were served scraps - whatever was in the cupboard
1) even an amateur cook could have done better

And finally - the fact that the locals have obviously voted with their feet - not a single takeaway was collected and not one other person came to the 'restaurant' while we were there...

Saturday 1 December 2007

Madhuban - Liss, 30/11/07

A bustling Friday evening, the restaurant was full, no one put off by the torrential downpour outside (why would they be, the place is watertight!). The staff were a brisk, not in the mood for concessions. No Aloo Chat, ‘not on Friday night’ , no time to digest pickles and dips before they were whisked away – to another table (naughty naughty).

After a wait food arrived and everything was more or less spot on. Bents, born and raised a veggie, full of nut roasts and bovril pronounced Madhuban's Chicken Tikka starter the ‘best’ meat he’d eaten and he’s been eating lots recently. Three times in a month including a steak! Dense flesh in customary charred cheesy yoghurt coating it was worthy of his praise. He may well have looked avariciously at the Methi Chicken I had next. Wet, buttery with an abundance of fenugreek imprating a gentle bitterness and a strong tea like taste augmented by ground coriander. We shared a lovely Mutter Paneer (sic), peas and textured curd cheese in a rich almond cream sauce, earthy sweet with cumin powder and a Bhindi Bhajee. There was plenty of richly aromatic pilau rice and a 17 quid bottle of steely Chablis to wash it down.

willp23328visit: 7/10

Friday 30 November 2007

Aubergine - Albert Road, Southsea

A while ago I let my instincts guide me to Aubergine indian restaurant on Albert Road, Southsea. The PLACE had been open a month and looked new from the street, arctic white, creaseless table cloths, immaculately folded napkins, red roses, purple cream wallpaper, high back leather chairs bla bla bla. Shame some oik had already cracked the crystal clear window.

Another responsible for helping these guys write their menu, or not helping. PRICES are very fair but when reading a la carte, one is faintly alarmed at what appears to be on offer. Examples? The Luck Now Ke Keek Kebab, ‘Minced of Lamb with chefs Spiced on coriander, cheese, moulded on to skewers’ (wince) and oh! to learn of the carnal delight involving ‘fresh bottom mushrooms’! Maybe the menu was written by a pigeon. The potato and cauliflower in Aloo Gobi are ‘cooed’ with onion, garlic, ginger, tomato and coriander.

Sometimes I am adventurous, my companion Mikey is so in we went. Greeted with beaming smiles, the 2 waiters were genuinely warm souls, proud and happy happy to have customers. So I say SERVICE was lovely. After settling in Poppadoms and dips didn’t really hint at what was to come, except perhaps a market fresh onion salad. And what was to follow! Immediately superb Chicken Tikka. 4 golden brown encrusted morsels of perfectly textured poultry, beautifully arranged around a crisp bouncy nest of shredded lettuce and raw cabbage with overlapping swirls of what may have been coriander and onion chutneys. A prawn puree said to taste as good as it looked. 2 standard starters rendered quite special.

Expectations rising main courses were next and didn’t let slip. In polished copper pots shaped like minarets Goan Machli and Sylheti Gosht. Large chunks of outstandingly cute tasting Telapia fillet in Mikey’s coconut infused concoction surprised and delighted in equal measure. How a curry can come over hot and mild simultaneously I don’t know but this one did. Meanwhile on my side of the table the aromas enthusing from my lamb dish for once tasted as nose suggested, spices tantalized the roof of my mouth. Pilau rice was first rate, moist, flavourful, threaded with saffron and onion. On the side but by no means in the shade Tarka Dal a warm marriage of yellow lentils, garlic and cherry tomato. Paneer Kadhai, ripe cubelets of cottage cheese bathing luxuriantly alongside small, sweet hunks of green pepper in a rich silken amber gravy.

Yes first time the FOOD was better than any place on Albert Road. It would’ve been appreciated by anyone, everyone. The house white more of a girl thing though. Sweet, honeyed nectar, desert wine. And there! I almost forgot! We were given a complimentary rice pudding square to round off the meal. Willy Wonka eat your heart out! This last surprise - instead of same old chocolate mints - light and foamy, a great palette cleanser whether prepared by the pastry chef or plucked from the fridge.

...I really wanted to go back but having built Aubergine up so much in the corridors of my mind I was worried another visit might be a let down, leaving me lost, unhinged…Still I resolved to enter through the doors of the restaurant again because I really thought (and still do) the team deserve success, its early days yet. To become established takes time while any favours from publishers would be welcome (the menu!).

On returning with pocket dynamo Steve in luxurious spring sunshine, salt on our lips, smiles splashed with rum (aperitifs at The One Eyed Dog). Complimentary poppadoms followed by an elaborate mound of chicken chat. Light, tangy, topped with salad leaves, cucumber strips, beetroot shavings adding a sweet dimension every other mouthful. For main course there was Rogan Gosht. Well stewed mutton though gravy similar to aforementioned Sylheti Gosht. Excellent Channa Pindi, chic peas in smooth Madras strength sauce giving a gorgeous earthy Bombay mix flavour, both accompanied by attractive pilau rice.

...Aubergine is a discovery I’m quietly pleased at having made, so far its having more success than the Ramsay equivalent. The locals are keen and the press are on board thanks to an excellent write up in the News. Indeed this tempted me back Thursday evening.

The restaurant is open for Xmas day! But at least they're not serving til 3am anymore. The waiters looked tired, ditto the table flowers. Nonetheless I had for myself aforementioned Prawn Puree. Juicy prawns in sweet ever so slightly smokey tomato onion jam, wrapped in a fat eggy pancake cigar. Next a main course of ‘Mahi Tikka Ajwani’. 6 Salmon morsels arranged in sun dial fashion around a shredded salad with drizzle! Fish with a honeyed crust given dynamism by herby, thymey tasting ajowan and an ever present garlic ginger twang. A good portion of soft golden orange pilau rice and Saag Aloo (bit too salty, oddly flavoured with parsley but nonetheless a decent contrast to the Salmon) completed a good meal at 15 pound a head.

At last in SUMMARY Aubergine isn't a run of the mill joint at all, blessed with a kitchen capable of some outstanding dishes available at low prices. Recommended pre-post theatre.

willp2328score: 7/10

Saturday 24 November 2007

Madhuban - Liss, 23/11/07

Several men and women (do they compete as well or just drink and shout?) sporting darts playing girths eating in the cosy confines on a crisp late November evening. Friday 7.30 pm, already filling up, service is brisk without being impolite. Simply get your order in and be confident the food will arrive in good time without a rush. My brother and I settled in for a long evening.

Starters of a quarter Tandoori Chicken, plenty of flesh underneath sharp tasting sour yoghurt crust of lemon juice, paprika and Keema Khumbi satisfied. Though easy to please Tom’s Khumbi consisted of 5 button sized mushrooms strategically placed around an overlarge salad of slippery onion that looked sat on. To follow he thoroughly enjoyed Dhaba Gosht on my recommendation and an excellent stuffed paratha, with a gooey filling of cheese and soft onion. On the plus side Jardaloo Sali Boti had grate tranches of super succulent lamb off the bone in a medium to mild stew curried with woody sweet cinnamon, fragrant indian bay leaves and dry, musky tumeric. On the down side it was ever so slightly rich but not rich enough with ground almonds and had no obvious vinegary tinge. The choice accompaniment Bombay Aloo - starchy potatoes in a tomato onion mush with hint of chilli resin - was faultless, rice too. In the end we left content, passing Saaki, still open but looking lonesome, on the way to station. Even on average form the Madhuban still eclipses the little place.

willp2328visit: 6/10

Thursday 15 November 2007


Whatever the web site says at the moment, please note that we've decided to give Paradise a chance in December. The food quality has never been an issue there, only the service. So let's see how they do.

Saaki - Liss, 14/11/07

I am faintly embarassed by the naive optimism I displayed after suggesting Saaki had refreshed it's operation. Exactly 7 days previous I had enjoyable food but having just had a pitiable curry club meal it's difficult to reconcile the two.

Perhaps success has run out of the family to paraphrase the menu. Clearly I was fortunate a week ago to get in and out beforehand. Never seen as many glum faces around a dinner table since the last supper. Just as well no other diners endured Saakis labours.

Things began in uninspired fashion and got worse. On the starter platter: an eruption of lettuce leaves hiding small and chewy Onion Bhajias, Garlic Mushrooms with tomato ketchup sauce as well as Aubergine slices, tasting of oil and lemon juice. Sloppy but just about passable for restaurant food. Another 10 minutes and we were served the mains. Oh dear. Aforementioned Lamb Kazana was ok but the pilau rice had more flavour than a bizarrely titled Fresco King Prawn. Korai and Madras curries were terrible. The former with scraggy lumps of chicken, insipid except for saturated coriander leaf, the latter, yellow in colour, showing a complete absence of paprika, cinnamon, tomato puree, fresh tomatoes, nothing but chicken stock in a watery gravy astringent with chilli powder. Bombay Aloo, alais "spicy potatoes" barely registered on the palate. Although I've had worse pumpkin and mix vegetable dishes elsewhere both looked jaundiced.

After possibly the worst indian food in memory I could never return to Saaki confident of a decent meal.

willp2328visit: 2/10

Tuesday 13 November 2007

November meeting - reminder!

Just a quick update to remind members that the November meeting will be at Saaki in Liss on Wednesday 14th. Drinks are from 19:30 at the Whistlestop, where no we'll doubt say hello to some old friends, before crossing the railway line for dinner at Saaki from about 20:30. This is our one Curry Club visit to Liss in 2007, although I know that there have been several private trips to the Madhuban.

Once again, a shortage of replies to the monthly e-mail. If you're planning to come (or not), an e-mail would still be very welcome. contact@... or webmaster@... - either will do.

By the way, the December meeting is back at base in Petersfield (Foggys/Paradise)

Saturday 10 November 2007

Jaipur - Albert Road, Southsea

While Rich and Aaron busy stationing the car (took 20 minutes) I made my way to Jaipur. Hides itself as well as parking spaces on Albert Road. PLACE is small but really quite roomy. Modern art-deco space, off white walls displaying impressionistic acrylic landscapes, filled out with bambi brown furnishings. Pristine. Rowdy gathering of Pompey harpies slowly built to crescendo. Someone’s birthday! Wood floor meant whole place drowned in sound. Still SERVICE remained restrained, polite.

An adventure in taste! So declares the restaurant’s menu. Won’t cost you the earth either. PRICES £3-3.50 Starters, circa £6 for sweep of House Specials, £3.45 Veg, £2.20 pilau.
Certainly a change from formula curry. Best part of meal, our selection of curry mains. Goan Lamb, homestyle intensity of flavour, ingredients made themselves known – coconut, root ginger, fat red, green chillies, sour lime leaves. Refreshing and lovely. Jaipuri Lamb, various strong, warm and bitter sweet overtones from cassia bark, ground cinnamon, cloves. Manchurian Chicken, honey rich, thick dark and viscous. Heavy but sumptuously sweet. Starters had been fine if unremarkable. I chose the Nargisi Kebab, 4 breadcrumbed meat and lentil nuggets. A Bhindi Bhajee had familiar butter tea taste while 2 pilau rice and a Misi Roti (unleavened bread stuffed with spinach) were ok though not truly memorable.

...However, the lingering memory of the curries presuaded me to take my two sisters along, still on unviersity hols. There's a dreadful Paul McCartney song called 'Riding into Jaipur' (Mock raga, Paul attempts George). We didn't ride in but trudged wearily over the threshold, me after a hard days work, the girls after a hard afternoon shop.

First up favourite Chicken tikka served on a mediterranean salad including green, red peppers. Satisfactory beginnings. Once again more than pleased by my main course - an excellent Lahori Lamb. Cubes of pale pink meat warmly spiced with cinnamon, pepper mixed with aromatic cloves, nutty chana dal. Alongside, a pilau rice and Bhindi Khukure. Parsnip flavoured crispy okra shavings, light and original. Girls thought it was the tops, better than the Madhuban. I don't know if I'd agree, the starters I've had haven't wowed but the House Specials are especial, quite removed from what one would come across elsewhere along Albert Road.

...Another outing with Zoe and Dave confirmed feeling dishes are prepared upon order with little reliance on stock sauces at least our cricket loving waiter said so. He took quite a liking to us, was keen to chat and revealed he too has played with Keech, Prittipaul and Maru (of Hampshire CCC). Broke into folded poppas, dips and a good bottle of Casilero Del Diablo Chardonnay, zingy, fresh and ever so slightly fizzy. Discussed Britney going off the rails, was she stoned at the MTV awards or merely disinterested? Will the dentist come to the rescue of the kids teeth before they are destroyed by Ms Spears milk shake, junk food diet!?

Putting aside this matter of international concern the meal proper began with a superb Shami Kebab. Lean lamb burgers pungent with ground cumin tumeric, tart chives and garlic, each flavour taking turns to leap gleefully onto the tip of my tongue. Ajwani Aloo, baby new potatoes in a tangy preparation of, juicy tomatoes, bitter curry leaves and glorious thymey ajowan seeds, deserved equal praise accompanying a lovely Fish Shorisha. Succulent chunks of oily white fish similar to Haddock in a mustard and ginger sauce. Zoe's Pasanda contained deliciously tender lamb in an almondy sauce with a hint of red wine, Dave was perhaps the least well off in that his Badami curry came with tough chicken pieces an elementary error I would have found hard to overlook had it been my choice.

In SUMMARY individuality in the cooking really impresses.

Willp2328 score: 7/10

Friday 9 November 2007

Saaki - Liss

Alas I am no Columbus! This week t’was my intention to explore uncharted territory, to The Agra Tandoori in Havant but on Wednesday eve I ended up in Liss. Saaki, on the banks of the River Rother, once a foaming torrent now a quiet trickle. Inside the PLACE resembles a Mogul marquee, rich maroon, an enormous glass chandelier suspended from the tented ceiling.

‘Success runs in the family’ announces the menu. One illustrious relative, ‘a man of many parts’ opened the first indian restaurant in Britain before Waterloo then became shampooing surgeon (chief hairdresser or carpet cleaner?) to royalty no less! Yes, the restaurant had between 20 and 30 diners ably supported by 2 waiters, presumably heirs to Sake Dean Mahomet. SERVICE allowed for my companion and I to enjoy a slow relaxed evening out. At the end, we slipped away into the night with a takeaway menu as a keepsake only to find on 2nd glance we could have got £5 off our £30 bill! However, I was spared going back 3 years, building a time machine etc.. on 3rd glance the offer expired October 31st 2003 and why bother? PRICES are such a 4 course meal comes to £15.

Our FOOD consisted of a stuffed Pepper and a delicious savoury Lamb Kebab wrapped in a Chapati followed by Prawn Patia, which caused a highly satisfying bitchy chilli kick at the back of the throat and an average Chicken Tikka Dupiaza. The best dish, ‘Misti Lou’, not a dewy eyed prostitute but a gorgeous Pumpkin bhaji.

...A year later I find Saaki apparently revitalised, now boasting a smart website and an up to date takeaway menu featuring some new dishes also available to eat in, just as well for Rich, Aaran and I. A long temper is needed, the on duty waiter (just one this time) strolls around, chefs cook and serve. Still everyone was happy.

Happier when our meal arrived of course, perfectly content with big lumps of tart, spicy Chicken Tikka glazed with a camel brown crust. Aaran likes Aloo Chat and he loved Saaki’s version most. Curries were better than in November 2006. On the table a hot creamy Kazana. Good quality cuts of chicken breast smothered in a dark orange sauce pleasantly fragrant with cinnamon, mild sweet cardamom, thickened with almond flour and coconut, blended with hot green chillies. Lamb Saag, touch gloopy but holding distinct flavours of cumin enriched creamed spinach, fenugreek and coriander. As well as Chicken Dhansak. A hearty mix with pleasing afterkick though perhaps too redolent of chilli powder. Pilau was tasty enough to come through and complimented the Kazana beautifully and helped support side dish of Mita Aloo. Diced sweet potato whipped up into a light, fluffy, creamy treat.

...Revisiting my write up on the above visit I am faintly embarassed by its naive optimism after a pitiable curry club meal. Only 7 days seperated the 2 but there was a world of difference in experience. Perhaps success has run out of the family to paraphrase the menu. Never seen as many glum faces around a dinner table since the last supper. Just as well no other diners endured Saakis labours.

Things began in uninspired fashion and got worse. On the starter platter: an eruption of lettuce leaves hiding small and chewy Onion Bhajias, Garlic Mushrooms with tomato ketchup sauce as well as Aubergine slices, tasting of oil and lemon juice. Sloppy but just about passable for restaurant food. Another 10 minutes and we were served the mains. Oh dear. Aforementioned Lamb Kazana was ok but the pilau rice had more flavour than a bizarrely titled Fresco King Prawn. Korai and Madras curries were terrible. The former with scraggy lumps of chicken, insipid except for saturated coriander leaf, the latter, yellow in colour, showing a complete absence of paprika, cinnamon, tomato puree, fresh tomatoes, nothing but chicken stock in a watery gravy astringent with chilli powder. Bombay Aloo, alais "spicy potatoes" barely registered on the palate. Although I've had worse pumpkin and mix vegetable dishes elsewhere both looked jaundiced.

In SUMMARY after possibly the worst indian food in memory I could never return to Saaki confident of a decent meal. Its hard to reconcile the PfCC meet with previous visits. Except to say unlike the d├ęcor the cooking isn’t fit for royalty. Nonetheless, there aren’t many curry houses adopting their laid back approach to dining and mores the pity, I like this at least!

willp2328 score: 4/10

Thursday 1 November 2007

Blue Cobra - North End, Portsmouth

The explosion of new ‘contemporary’ indian restaurants has reached epidemic proportions, there are 3 along Kingston-London Road for chrissakes! Saffron, Ghandi etc. All opened in last 12 months, sport trendy bars, cool furnishings, soft seats, big square plates to eat off. Fresh presentation, rejuvenation, changing perceptions of the curry house, they’ll be known as curry lounges far into the LED future if the trend continues.

Essentially Blue Cobra is as above, the PLACE is chic, SERVICE efficient and highly professional. Busy Wednesday (the norm?), 2 big parties plus several couples including my sis and I, no sweat, despite my best efforts…Almost drowned my Lamb curry in wine, replacement pulao rice arrived in blink of eye…broke stem of glass, cleaned up just like that. In fact I was probably most annoyed by my misdmeanours.House White was lovely, clear, fruit driven beauty, Gosht Kata Massala, warmly spiced in ginger with moist onions. Fortunately delicious smoky Saag Aloo salvaged completely. FOOD too good to waste, Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi smelt hot and sour, gooey Motor Paneer tasted just right in tandem. To start and finish given complimentary Poppadoms, chutney tray (NB. best Lime Pickle!), shot of Baileys cream. Nice touches extended into the kitchen. Starters: Mixed Kebab, tender Lamb Tikka in red yoghurt marinade, excellent Chicken Tikka in herby green marinade, melted cheese atop, Sheek Kebab with caramelized onions. Chott Potti, light sauce, allowing for creamy texture of chic peas. (NOTE: side salad came with Beetroot malt vinegar preserve!). If the staff weren’t so pro they’d probably be dreading my return, but they can cope with social hand grenades like me easily so I will return, soon, though not before a hair cut and a change of clothes (does white wine stain?!).

...And I did, within a week! Enjoyed tart Aloo Chat*, Chicken Green Massala, medium hot, heady concoction with coriander paste, Bhindi Dupiaza, sweet, buttery, moist, chunks of onion and Tarka Dhal tasted straight from the garlic earth. Smattering of fellow diners, nevertheless allowed to linger longer after table cleared - an hour at least.

*FACT: Chat Massala = same flavouring found in Bombay Mix

...Third visit, a quiet Monday in August (everyone’s in Spain), I notice they've received a customer excellence award over the summer. Impressed again with the food. Between discussing my annual attempt to reconcile the ‘50 greatest rock albums’, (3 Diamond Dogs – Bowie 2 Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd 1 The Queen is Dead – Smiths) I chowed on a fillet of charcoal grilled Salmon, oily and succulent, especially tasty with retained mint sauce, then a smarting Naga Chicken. Large cubes of tandoori bird flesh in a juicy, sour chilli-tomato gravy. A large helping of potato in a cheese based onion paste enriched with crushed garlic and chives was much appreciated as well.

...I like taking friends here, particularly those with a student mentality where spending money on the good things is concerned. The restaurant is an hours walk from the nearest establishment offering some student quick fix. Dave studying for a masters in Geology but he's not one for slumming it. Apropos he's also a Swansea City fan with a sense of humour - essential when your teams best player of all time is Lee 'Beer Gut' Trundle and your teams next opponents are Billarickey (yes it does exist outside popular song).

To begin he had a foot long Sheekh kebab, 2 minced lamb sausages and Makhani Chicken, fattening, butterscotchy and thick with cream - homogenous but delicious all the same. I had a stuffed pepper, charred and juicy, bulging with chicken in a coriander and green chilli paste that left the tongue tingling. This was followed by Tava Gosht. Delcious bbq lamb in a moist onion based curry, mellow, bitter and fruity with panch poran (a mix of whole cumin, fenugreek, nigella, black mustard, fennel seeds), ably supported by very dry, starchy chana massala and popcorn like pilau with red onion tarka. Happy days living as a prole in the lower middle income bracket!

In SUMMARY Blue Cobra has a fair bit over the Albert Road equivalents.

willp2328 score: 7/10

Saturday 27 October 2007

Gurkha Durbar - Grayshott

The Petersfield Curry Club began its tenth year (?) with a visit to the roundly approved Gurkha Durbar. 15 of us, a XV, fitting given the clubs Rugby origins. For my part I’d only been to Grayshott once before to help Nan buy a carpet (my advice was only bought by the promise of an ice cream) so it was mostly new to me.

Aperitifs in the ‘Lounge Bar’ of the Fox And Pelican, rather plush, then up the road to the restaurant. PLACE is small and immaculate inside, pristine white walls draped with occasional Gurkha green flags, varnished wooden floor you could see your reflection in. In John’s absence Trevor fixed the menu and drinks were ordered.

Poppadoms came with mint yoghurt dip, mango chutney and something vaguely reminiscent of Branston pickle (Tamarind chutney ed!). We were SERVED very well. 4 starter platters between us, including deliciously moist Aloo Khaja (potato cakes with carrots, peas, ginger) as well as Chicken Liver (aka Kalejo Bhutuwa) that combined superbly with sweet roast red peppers and onion. Rather too salty char-grilled lamb only made into 50% of mouths, Sinka Prawn and the famous Momo were enjoyed by all. The main course included a couple of clay oven dishes, Chicken and Lamb (thumbs up), one each of several others, stand outs some of the milder dishes this time, Rato Kukhura, CTM cum Rezala, sweet, nutty, resplendent orange and Mayalu Khasi, Lamb like a velvety Korma. I’m a stickler for Veg and Aloo delivered super taste, Aloo Tama Bodi, bamboo shoots, black eyed beans and spuds, lovely mountain homestyle flavour to savour. Rice and Naans too…all at great value. PRICES are keen, not that the curry club care about menus just the FOOD which happened to be extremely good. Afterward, everyone invited back to Grayshott social club feeling well satisfied but by no means stuffed, besides the season has passed for stuffin’ (Turkeys everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief).

...On returning for my 23rd birthday, enjoyed slow paced evening in relative peace and calm. Informed by one waiter that in 2 weeks since Telegraph review restaurant has been fully booked, Monday the first quiet night. Glad of it? Unlikely, hard work second nature to a Gurkha.
After exchange of pleasantries our party of 6 set about ordering. House White, Pinot Grigio, a safe companion to curry meals, light, crisp, cutting through the spices, hitting top notes. Starters included aforementioned potato cakes (Aloo Khaja) and chicken livers (Kalejo Bhutuwa), one offering of deep fried Aubergine. Sensible portions - countless curry houses forget these are only supposed to be ‘appetisers’ - simple, fresh presentation. Chicken livers good depth and richness of flavour. Mains too many to mention. I chose Monkfish in a smooth, light tomato orange sauce, that sang of several spices, accompanied by a moist saffron gold rice, creamy homestyle black lentils (Kalo Daal), delicious and mild, as well as cumin spiced fried potatoes (Aloo Jeera), bit on the floury side.

...Aloo Jeera part of their Petersfield curry club selection third time around. This time the dish was executed perfectly, indicative of a restaurant going from strength to strength (like Englands Rugby World Cup team). We thoroughly enjoyed the same starter platter as in January. Choila one slight dud then was last night a highlight. Baby pieces of exquisite lamb, gorgeously salted with a smooth soft aftertaste of mustard and ripe spring onion. Momo, lovely, sweet, herby mince in fatty steamed dumplings, potato cakes, sinka prawn and chicken livers too. Mains, all delicious, no criticism, no need to be churlish. Largely medium to medium hot. Lamb curried 3 different ways. With lentils, rich, thick, hints of lemon. With peas and in a luxurious pink orange gravy resounding of ginger and garlic. Other treats included a piece of char grilled lamb, clay oven chicken each, 2 chicken curries in typical Nepalese style with tomato based sauce aromatic sauces, and 1 I missed. Mixed Vegetables, delicately treated, sumptuously buttery, Aloo Chana and Saag Aloo, Aloo Jeera both with firm starchy new potaoes simply added to the enjoyment.

...Eating with family friends from Fleet, almost every table (including ours) reserved. We were one of the first groups in, one of the last to leave. Another commendable meal. All of us enjoyed something different. A mild curry here, a clay oven dish there: on my left Mikey braved Tarai Kukhura, piquant, hot with chilli resin and on my right Dougie considered the 17 different spices in his Sherpa Lamb – I detected 7 or 8 though the bitter aroma of cloves was perhaps too predominant. However, little faulting the gorgeous Choila I had to start, more gingery than a fortnight previous, Kukhura Sag, a tangy, moist preparation of chicken and spinach or Pahelo Dal, yellow lentils, tempered with sulphurous garlic and coarse sweetness of cumin seed. Mushroom rice was perfectly acceptable too.

In SUMMARY the Gurkha Dubar is a fairly unique purveyor of ethnic cuisine, where one can enjoy dishes with individual character. Everything is beautifully presented and refreshingly moreish.

Willp2328 score: 8/10

Monday 22 October 2007

Spice Quarter - Cardiff

Funny how the Spice Quarter gets over looked by the national food press. Cardiff locals know its good, very good. Perhaps its because the PLACE is surrounded by corporate chains, Nandos etc in an open courtyard aka the brewery quarter. A drop kick from the Millenium Stadium though, so great pre/post Rugby match venue. Up the ornamental stairwell and into a dining salon of deep maroons, stately browns, expensive hardwood, lit by colourful eastern lanterns, ruby red, octerine, sequin blue. You can perch at the bar, watch chefs recruited from 5 star hotels in Delhi wielding large succulent cubes of paneer on skewers, scorching meat in the clay oven, dicing chillies.

SERVICE is fine, head waiter looks like manservant Queen Victoria came to depend on during her convalescent years at Osborne Palace. Women in saris, some Thai girls from downstairs sister restaurant the Thai Edge (also ex cellent). PRICES have risen a little (enough food and drink 30 squids evenings) but with a lunch set at 6.95 for 3 courses, including Indian deserts, kheer rice pud, gulab jamans, halwa and large portions its hard not to feel you’re getting value for money. Especially as the cooking is delicious, executed with a certain amount of culinary flare.

Chicken Malai Tikka, meaty hunks of char grilled Chicken in a tangy cheesy coating strong with warming acerbity of cloves began a meal with 2 sisters well. However, the curries were superb. Each sauce a smooth blend, nuanced and incredibly flavoursome. Unrivalled Rogan Gosht, a peppery maroon gravy of fruity tomato and a suggestion of ground almond given a lovely lift by kashmiri red chilli. A brilliant Lamb Saag. Superlative preparation of spinach, fenugreek and coriander. In accompaniment, Navratan Korma perfectly trod fine line being savoury and slightly sweet. Mix Veg, beans, carrots, peas in pureed yoghurt with creamy cashew nuts.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve eaten here, won’t be the last. I can vouch the FOOD is excellent, close to perfection though that would be impossible – so hard to please!!

Willp2328 score: 9/10

Monday 15 October 2007

Paradise Balti - Petersfield

Ah the much maligned Paradise. Loved by some, viewed suspiciously, even despised by others. Mother looked down her nose at me when I let slip I’d lunched there…in glorious isolation yes and not once but twice!! ‘Oh mother’ I pleaded, ‘The Paradise is no opium den’, though the peace and calm that descends when inside the PLACE, stepping in from busy, dizzy Lavant Street may feel poppy induced. SERVICE soothes, PRICES don’t quicken the pulse and there’s 20% off at lunch, and Wednesday, Sunday nights.

The discount was an explanation for my presence last Sunday, it only runs for a short while. I’m aware curry houses operate on geological time where special deals are concerned but further reasons for my patronage included a determination to keep my word (for once). The amount of occasions I promise the guys at the Paradise I’ll pop in and don’t – always see them after prayer, after work for me in the library. I was also keen to sample the new menu…suggested new chef, an improvement?

Previously the kitchen proved capable of a classic curry house Rogan Gosht garnished with onion tarka, Meat Vindaloo, not hellishly hot but lovely and warming in addition to decent Dhansaks, flavoursome Bhunas etc. Equally they’ve also cooked me a a Saag Paneer undeserving of its name, olive oil drenched spinach topped with mesh of grated cheddar cheese and a classic curry house Bhindi Bhajee, delicate ladies fingers battered and sticky, squeezed in the greasy hinges of a car door.

On Sunday I chose (wisely) to avoid the vegetables. Firstly enjoyed a Pomegranate Kebab. 2 large flat burgers, bound together with tasty mince, lentils. Oniony with a spiciness imparted by garam masala and deliciously accompanied by mellow orange tandoori yoghurt sauce, smooth, honeyed, with a slight chilli kick. Crowded plate just had room for fresh salad. The principle affair was a Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi. Good though it was almost outshone by brilliant pilau rice pungent with the aroma of a big indian bay leaf and cinnamon bark. Rice really added to a mighty Jalfrezi, not subtle but brimming with different flavours, salty, sour, sweet with green, red peppers, toms, chunks of onion, leafy, heady aftertaste of coriander. Onion Raitha alongside and a medium dry white, served at right temperature full bodied with apples and lime.

In SUMMARY I was very pleased. Being within walking distance I’ll go back soon (though I don’t promise) because of the snug ambience, unassuming staff and improved food. The restaurant offers decent formula curry.

Willp2328 score: 6/10

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Reminder - October meeting - Grayshott

Just a quick update to remind members that the October meeting will be at the Gurkha Durbar in Grayshott on Wednesday 10th. Drinks from 19:30 at the Fox and Pelican, and then dinner from about 20:30. There may be some afters at the Grayshott Social Club.

Not sure why this is, but lots of people seem to be away - maybe to escape the Autumn weather. If you're lurking in Paris for the Rugby World Cup semi-final, you have a decent excuse, and I am very jealous. Come on England! Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!

I've had only four positive replies to the monthly e-mail and am starting to be very nervous that we'll have a poor showing for this very fine restaurant. If you're planning to come (or not), an e-mail would still be very welcome. contact@... or webmaster@... - either will do.


Monday 8 October 2007

T & J Mahal - Elm Grove, Southsea

So called in ironic recognition of the 101 Great British curry houses named after India’s most iconic monument, the PLACE is situated conspicuously at the juncture where Elm Grove becomes Kings Road. Judging by fresh smiling faces posing with various culinary creations on the takeaway menu and a couple of slick asian youths at the bar a young team keep this trendy joint going. SERVICE is pretty good, not in the least bit haphazard. Given an ice bucket for wine and poppas (including a chutney tray with green chilli pickle) without asking. PRICES sit a little above average, mains range from £4.95 – crica £13, but how else could they afford the high backed chairs with ruby red cushion and sexy curves or the immaculate round tables?

Mikey and I settled in anticipating good FOOD and got it. Shallow fried lamb strips snugly coated in light puffy paprika fresh batter rewarded my decision to choose from an array of miscellaneous starters. Having eaten a vegan/alcoholics lunch (delete as appropriate) of raw carrot and stoned dates out of an ice cream tub, Lamb Methi Sag seemed a safe bet to fill me up. It was lovely. Soft sweet meat seasoned with aromatic salt, iron rich spinach and fenugreek providing a gently pervasive bitterness. Shared sides of Bombay Aloo and Chana Massala with tart spring onion were enjoyed, not forgetting gorgeous golden pilau, plentiful, moist, flavoured with toasted cumin seeds.

On the way home I was accosted by a jock outside a bar mistaking my Manchester United shirt – change strip 2000/01 – for a Scottish Rugby jersey. He proceeded to sing the praises of Cusiter & co. I protested despite the scary auburn hair I was an England fan and left him confused when on turning to go he saw ‘Keane, Number 16’ on my back. He’s probably at home right now (in his state he’ll need the day off work) checking for a Keane in the Scotland team and making sure it is fifteen-a-side. I’m at home thinking T & J’s is worth another visit.

...At home again thinking the same thing after a second trip but for a different reason. T & J’s executive curry impressed me initially but last nights meal that was no more than decent. I’m going back Saturday in part to reach a conclusion on the restaurant. Nonetheless my companions, Simon and Emma were enthusiastic – apropos of nothing they’re also the first people I’ve dined out with who’ve visited a place more times. Many more times in fact. They both enjoy proper food, it’s in Simon’s family. He once worked in KFC, his brothers are chefs in a hotel soon to be reviewed by the AA.

A good starter of Achari Chingri, plump tiger prawns smothered in a deep red brown tamarind sauce was sweet yet tart and sour. However, Garlic Chilli Chicken, average compared to some (Chilli Night’s). Chopped garlic and green chillies afloat in plenty of gravy with a buttery aftertaste but little to excite tastebuds. Ditto an Aubergine bhajee, mushy with a rather oily flavour. Pleased by a good portion of pale yellow pilau rice served in a gorgeous steel handi, by the complimentary indian sweets at the end - Peda (?) made from flour, condensed milk, sugar, ground pistachios ?? As well as service, coherent and genial.

...As it was on my third conclusive jaunt yet T & J’s food drew another blank. I’m not one to land low blows but 2 fists of dry chicken tikka with a paltry sandwich filling of spinach to begin was poor at over five pounds. Meanwhile a moist Gosht Dupiaza looked promising but had no obvious flavour save soft onions and stewed mutton. No hint of cumin or fenugreek, sometimes ‘medium curry’ is synonymous with blandness. Saag Paneer presented a similar conundrum, all salted butter. Even if I hadn’t suffered bad gust of cider induced wind, gassed so much I’d have only finished out of habit rather than out of a desire to eat more. Raspberry tainted Rose and complimentary Brandy saved me from food blues.

Meanwhile Zoe and Lucea (sic) didn’t eat much of their Lahori Lamb, Chicken Biyriani etc and asked for a doggie bag, at over twenty quid each would be a small shame waste it. Besides Zoe’s only earning 12k and Lucea has hypoglycemia.

Then again and in SUMMARY T & J Mahal is more style over substance.

Willp2328 score: 5.5/10

Friday 28 September 2007

Gurkha Chautari - Liphook

The PLACE is a hop, skip and jump from the Railway station or a hundred yard dash up the road from the Links (we did neither). There's a cosy dining room, comfy cushioned chairs. Self effacing vibe though regimental shields above the bar reflect quiet pride of men formerly of the 10th Gurkha Rifles. SERVICE honest, hard working and never, never intruded.PRICES aren't in the least bit off putting either. Starters (sittan!) most £3.50, mains (mukhya khana!!) £c7, veg £3-4 (tarkari!), sundries (ko parikar!!) £2-3. Only distraction, 'Riders On The Storm', 'Stairway to Heaven', 'Sultans of Swing', most welcome.

Anticipated fine FOOD and so it came to pass. Sittan comprised Aloo Chops, mustardy mash potato cakes. Momo, spicy pork mince in slippery steamed pastry. Kalejo, chicken livers, deep, rich, oniony chives and fenugreek giving a lingering bittersweet relish. Excellent Salmon Tikka melted in the mouth.Proceeding this rather fab foursome were a medium hot chicken curry not disimilar to Korai/Jalfrezi with a buttery pang. Gurkha Khasi, orbs of Lamb in a delicate oriental caramel sauce, slivers of onion, tomato, squares of green pepper. Crispy Duck, in an orange marmelade with a sourness imparted from pickled ginger as well as a brilliant charcoal orange Chicken Tikka.And the vegetables were luscious. Kurilo, turns out were Asparagus tips, ripe, sweet, tossed with toasty cumin seeds. Bhanta, Aubergine gently sauteed, salted, still firm and Aloo Tama Bodi, a great blend of textures.Overall a fabulous evening was enjoyed and what better note to end on than Pink Floyds 1975 magnum opus 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'?!

...Except this wasn’t the end of the affair. Met there with Rowly, an old school friend, discussed a great sporting weekend. England 3 Israel 0 (Israel have a centre back who’s also a pop star). England 4 India 3 in the ODI series (the Indian wicket keeper is married to a pop star) and England 28 USA 10 (no pop stars on show here – the England players aren’t popular because they’ve no star quality and no one’s ever heard of the American amateurs they toiled against).A la carte Chicken Livers. Good flavour though occasional mouthful a little too bitter. Then supremely textured clay oven Chicken in a wonderful sour yoghurt marinade that married hot green chillies with keen peppery mint. Vegetables shared, exquisite Aloo Tama Bodi (see above) and Spinach stir fried in the oriental style with vegetable oil, soft white slivers of onion and beansprout. A lovely end to a warm, fresh sunny evening that began with drinks in the Links.

...Golf as ever a welcome topic of conversation over dinner at the Gurkha with Godfather John Carter Thursday 27th September. Is Tiger Woods the greatest sportsman of all time? Certainly looks the part, his chest and biceps are real and yes he really is a golfer (just hope he keeps his cap on – he ages 30 years when he takes it off). As well as this poser I asked John what he was having to eat. ‘Chicken Madras, always have it’…so I had to explain that Nepalese chefs might not be so willing to churn this one out. He opted for Kursani Kurkura, Chicken in a hot sauce infused with green chillies, declared it ‘excellent’, gave a four pound tip too! From a Yorkshireman that’s as good as offering a small dowery. In fairness he also insisted on paying, so no he’s not a genuine lead wallet – been living in the south for too long.

As for me I enjoyed Bhuteko Prawns. Shrimps, fresh, honeyed and salty in a mild, thin tomato sauce obliging high notes of heady coriander leaf and sultry earthiness of cumin seed. Then a traditional Nepalese Chicken curry, wholesome and medium spiced. Very pleasant when combined with Mushrooms, lovely and slippery, tasting of root ginger and timur, kinda like Chinese five spice mix. Portions filled me perfectly, partly due to large steamed rice. House White, medium dry gave suggestion of lime and lemons.

In SUMMARY though the Menu might seem relatively succinct the cooking never comes up short. For a curry meal with an oriental twist and a classic rock sound track the Gurkha Chautari is the venue.

Willp2328 score: 8/10

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Kuti's Brasserie - Southampton

Its hard to miss Kutis Brasserie on Oxford Street, near the Sunseeker Ocean Village marina. WW2 German bombers didn’t. The PLACE is in a sixties pre fab, could be Carnaby Street but has been spruced up, silver, pink and purple. Saturday night and despite another defeat for Southampton FC there was a cheerful buzz about it. Turbaned door man let us in and quickly shown to table in the surprisingly commodious dining room.

SERVICE was good, waiters very eager – we were served by several different ones and asked same questions but they didn’t rush us. Allowed to consult the menu in good time, PRICES are okay, not ridiculous, bill £47, nibbles, 2 starters, 2 mains, 2 veg, 1 naan, 1 rice, 2 cobras.

After run of the mill poppadoms I was well ready for some FOOD in form of Achari Tikka, sizeable chunks of good quality chicken in a keen pickling paste. Read someone quibbling over the ‘small’ portions at Kuti’s but I can only assume this someone is the type who likes to moan despite there being no grounds for it - the kind who’ll rent an Alpine chalet then complain in the visitors book the garden has a slope etc. Portions are more than adequate.

Choosing from an extensive menu offering Venison, Duck, Beef, Ayre Fish curries I opted for Sally Boti next. A lavish garnish of the crispiest straw potatoes concealed a spicy red massala, sweet, succulent Apricots, tender Lamb and carried a warm aftertaste of cloves and almond essence. Accompaniments included plenty of audente Pilau rice, a so so Keema Naan and superior Brinjal Bhajee, a rousing blend of fat, spongy, flavourful eggplant, roast red and yellow peppers. First offered Saag Paneer though how I ordered this I don’t know as it wasn’t on the menu and I didn’t make a special request.

In SUMMARY though on basis of one visit I’d rather return to Kuti’s at Wickham, the menu is just a little more adventurous. Very good but not anything sensational.

Willp2328 score: 7/10

Friday 21 September 2007

Saffron - Kingston Road, Portsmouth

Once upon a time wars were waged over golden straws of saffron, so highly sought was this delicate spice. In the mid 14th century, after the Black Death, the price skyrocketed and a 3 month war broke out to secure shipments, involving Muslim and European merchants. Now you get it on the shelves in Tescos for a quid. Progress? I mulled this over last Wednesday as I flopped into Saffron Indian restaurant following school.

The PLACE announces itself in electric blue lettering, a pink glow radiating softly from behind net curtains. One waiter and I resided in the spacious air conditioned salon. The waiter didn’t so much as reside as wait patiently at a distance, not wishing to disturb my contemplation of a relatively concise menu (I rewarded him 10% for the SERVICE).

Munching on complimentary poppas I wasn’t long deciding. Chose Hush Tikka to begin. Turned out to be slim slivers of duck breast presented on a bed of sizzling tumeric yellow onions. An oval plate carried ripe salad and a tablespoon of a mustard coloured sauce tasting of…mustard (!) with a hint of lemon, roasted cumin seed. Decent value at £3.45 – PRICES btw are lower than other recent arrivals (T & Js, Blue Cobra, Ghandi etc). Main affair a Borboti curry. Tantalisingly close to being very good. Dry chicken pieces in a thick, pasty masala with juicy green beans, an accent of sharp sour chilli resin and a bitter, fragrant underscore of fenugreek. Best dish, Mishti Kodu. Soft pumpkin made sweetly aromatic, at the same time slightly eucalyptine by ground cardamom.

I enjoyed clean dishes, using ‘low cholesterol’ approach and whether true or no this didn’t dull the flavours. I’ll go back for sure. To meet the owner, one XXX. Also on the off chance of rubbing shoulders with Pompey stars, some are rumoured regulars.

...Not many regulars on second visit unless they happen to be related to the invisible man. 4 in my party and one other couple dined in. Served by a pumped up, slick young waiter sporting spiky hair. Softly spoken in keeping with calm, commodious ambience. Hush Tikka for Aaran and Rich, Chicken Tikka for me, nothing for Mike. Bad decision? We had to wait 45 minutes for starters, then another 45 for mains to arrive, still Mike protested he was fine (and he was, a solid fella).

Returning to the food. Subtle Chicken Tikka sprinkled with paprika, good bitesize pieces – loads of onion (again!). Indeed onions are the chefs speciality, really gets a kick out of frying them. Wonder if he cries when he peels them? Were enough delicately browned onions to stuff a pillow with in my Bhindi side dish, a pleasant, pulpy sub for Brinjal. No Aubergines y’see, they had run out. Someone hadn’t been shopping, perhaps explaining gap between courses, no ingredients except onions?! Anyhow when a Dhansak eventually arrived it was a bit suppressed and syrupy, same went for Rich and Aarans Chicken Kodu’s (no they’re not twins), spices and green chillies didn’t register. Mike got to have some food at last, including a good looking garlic naan. Sundries were best bit really. Brilliant pilau rice, soft, buttery and gently parfumed with mellow fennel, toasty cumin.

In SUMMARY Saffron A Ok though I’d head further on up the road to quoth Eric Clapton for Blue Cobra.

Willp2328 score: 6/10

Friday 14 September 2007

Chilli Night - Haslemere

Times are a changing, the Inn on the Hill no longer looks about ready to tumble down, cause a landslide. Never looked like the place to secure an interest free loan either which is just as well, its now a trendy wine bar. After an aperitif here we wandered half a mile through the fog to Chilli Night.

Intimate PLACE, bar in one corner then 7 or 8 tables, comfy conservatory style wicker chairs to relax in. Indeed a casual ambience prevailed, the staff numbered 3 and the SERVICE was pleasant and efficient all evening. Proudly showed off their Masterchef 2006 award at the end of a very good meal too.

The house red was spicy, more so than the FOOD of which there was enough to keep the garrison at Krishnapur from starvation. A Mixed Starter included Onion bhaji burger, a melt in the mouth Chicken pakora and a sheekh kebab. Initial hunger pains sated. Then came the mains. Here’s what I ate; a mound of pilau rice, half a mixed vegetable bhaji, a good portion of a mushrooms, both dry and distinct in flavour, and an exquisite Saag Paneer…somehow I managed to squeeze the following onto my plate and into my stomach as well; a well behaved Garlic Chilli Chicken, an almondy Tikka Massala, an excellent zesty Lamb Shaktora, Chicken Bhuna and a late arrival!! Prawn Dhansak.

Chilli Nights selection was a real variety show, Prince Charles would’ve approved. Saag Paneer fit for royalty, super vegetables. At last I had a reason for visting Haslemere. If I land this job in selling cameras, I thought, I’ll go next week!

...Next week turned out to be next month, started work in Jessops, hence return visit, Mum and sis Katy in tow. Mum happy with Prawn Puree, I gnawed my way through succulent Tandoori Chicken quarter. Mains included tangy, Bolognese-a-like Murgi Massala, juicy Lamb Shatkora (FACT: Shatkora = lime, imported from Bangladesh!! not directly surely…can Parcel force arrange that sort of thing?) and a smooth, rich Korma. Veg included another Saag Paneer with delicious cauliflower cheese cream sauce plus good Mix Veg Curry.

...So I stop off on Sunday train back from London, footsore after walking Regents canal path. Pleasingly busy. Highlight a magnificent puffed roti, crisp on the outside doughy within. Achari Murgh, Chicken with pickling spices tasted refreshingly zesty and revitalising as did my vegetable dish. Brave little Button Mushrooms lightly fried with fresh tomato and spring onion. A fine ending to a weekend in which I took in the sights and sounds of the British Model Railway Club of Great Britain's annual expo at Ally Pally (Yes I did pack my anorak), as well as the hustle, bustle and smells of Bangla Town.

...Visited before another trip to the capital. I began with a rather neutral sheek kebab followed up by Lamb Tikka Jalfrezi balti, a bit of a mouthful, particularly when served in pan size of a bird bath! Pretty riotous blend of green chillies, spring onion, ground coriander, peppery and firey. However, Bhindi Bhajee, a bit simple - okra and tomato plonked in a medium curry sauce. Same went for Begun Tomato (substitute okra for aubergine). The Lamb Vindaloo, sharp and bitter tasting concluded a decent but unimaginative meal.

...Chilli Night is a regular and deservedly popular curry club haunt. Soon September's visit came around. Following a slightly longer pause than normal (a pause usually filled chomping on poppadoms, commenting on the strength of the lime pickle, viscosity of the mango chutney etc…) starters arrived followed closely by…poppadoms. I was enjoying first sustenance since a rather crumbly tuna sandwich at a bowling alley several hours earlier to care. Half an flat onion bhajia up to scratch but not a patch on a Pakora, delicate batter coating a succulent morsel of Chicken or Chicken Tikka covered in a thicker than yer average, spicy yoghurt marinade. Good savouries then 2 / 3 excellent curries. No.1 Garlic Chilli Chicken. Slices of tandoori chicken in dryish masala where sour chillies, sulphurous garlic, fried onions, peppers entwined to salivating effect. No. 2 Lamb Shatkora. Best yet. Quick, zingy at first, meat soaking up mellow limey bitterness after. I’d return to have these dishes alone – all to myself! Only a Shrimp Jalfrezi, bit up front, confused. Mild Vegetable Bhaji, distinctive, flavoursome. Tarka Dall, bold buttery, of ideal glutinous consistency. Parfumed yellow rice soaked up, supported meal very ably. Hats off to the chefs for demonstrating a real confidence in their cooking.

In SUMMARY the menu barely diverges from traditional curry but they do it well, one is always assured of quantity at the very least.

Willp2328 score: 6.5/10

Friday 7 September 2007

Madhuban Tandoori - Liss

THE MADHUBAN, Liss Beloved of Pat Chapman (he runs cookery courses from here and bestowed the title ‘most caring curry house’ upon it), by the listeners of Radio 2 (best curry house in the south east) and by mums GP surgery, expectations were high.

First visit I was the only customer at lunch one Wednesday. The PLACE is keeping up appearances, blue and gold abound, lush greenery sprouting from the skirting boards. Waiter pleasant and had been to Cardiff once (relevance? I went to university there), couldn’t judge the SERVICE on this visit as he had sod all to do really but on a busy Friday night I can vouch for it being speedy, bit too fast maybe.

...Yes, reading between the lines I did go back, with all the family in tow and so soon! 2 evenings later. Each occasion the FOOD was very good and value for money, competitive PRICES.
Wednesday lunch I enjoyed a super Dopiaza. Great strips of onion, a tasty medium curry gravy. Bhindi Bhajee combined beautifully with the egg and peas in my special fried rice. Friday night starters included King Prawns in pineapple shells/coconut halves, these were dull, basically bhuna KP. Chicken/potato soup to my right (dad and sister Katy) were reportedly lovely, very dainty servings though. On to the mains, brother Tom’s Chicken Tikka Massala had a deep red hue and a pleasing swirl of cream atop, Dhajeerling Chic Tikka was excellent, I only sampled it, had Lamb meatballs in a chick pea massala. This with basamati saffron rice, Aloo Gobi, robust and very filling. Still I had room for pud but were told they had no Gulab Jumans!

...Fast forward 6 months. Manchester United had won the Premier League but the FA Cup proved a step too far. Saturday May 19th. Crushed like a can of Carling at 5.30pm not even a curry could console me. Trek to the Madhuban with a heavy heart. But hey the restaurant was looking and feeling superb, buzzing, staff busy as worker bees, serving lucky family of regulars treats from the honey garden. My sis & I really enjoyed our evening. Staff were jolly, caring, the Miah brothers (owners) out front meeting, greeting those eating like long lost friends. After poppadoms & chutney tray a fine Hariyali Chicken Chat had smooth tandoori mint raita as an excellent companion, Mulligatawny Soup, gummy & yummy. Jalfrezi, hot, molten. Mouth watering finger chillies, great chunks of Chicken Tikka straight outta the tandoor, off the skewer and into my curry. Good Madras Sambar – potato, carrot, languid strips of succulent cabbage - plus Saffron rice equalled happy me. Sis had Jardaloo Sali Boti. Hulking hunks of lean Lamb in a red ragout of apricot with Bombay Aloo. Textures, flavours more or less spot on. House White = Sauvingon Blanc.

...Back from the Lake District (where we discovered Madhuban curry sauces in a Windermere butchers), off the train and in for a curry. And what a curry! Elaichi Gosht indeed! Usual excellent tender meat, an unctuous dark brown gravy with aromatic green caradmoms, woody cinnamon flavours, sliced garlic and an exquisite buttery aftertaste. Fab Channa Massala with tart reminders of lemon, fragrant saffron rice and a couple of minced chicken rissoles (Hussaini Murgh Kebab). Another very good meal.

...And so on. Logbook, Day 5 in residence at the Madhuban - from ‘the diary room’:
Tonight I made a small but delicious discovery combining green chilli pickle and mango chutney. After poppadoms came chicken tikka, oozing taste with slippery onion rings, fresh side salad, proceeded by richest curry equation. 1 Palak Gosht* + 1 Tarka Dall** over pilau rice and Keema
Naan*** = hunger assuaged 4**** several hours.

*Lamb with spinach
**thick enough to wade through, highly redolent of garlic, spring onion
*** slightly chewy
****predictive text

...On this occasion I had a better than yer average Shami Kebab, mince patties pulped together with lentils, garlic, sweet cumin powder. Next, the Madhubans version of a Rogan Gosht – gentle and fruity, plenty of fresh tomatoes, herbs – together with Saag Paneer, creamy cubes of curd cheese in a mild preparation of spinach and onions. Paan, a mixture of sunflower, fennels seeds, aniseed the ultimate palate cleanser to end. £30.15 for 2 inc. grog! The highlight, deliciously perfumed saffron rice, the lowlight, a rather abrupt waiter who almost demanded we order because the place was ‘so busy’. Just wait til Sunday 24th June thinks I, it’s the restaurants 20th birthday and everyone’s invited.

...A week into its twentieth year and the Madhuban chugs along consistently as ever. Round the square table we had Kabli Kofta Bahar - keema meatballs and chic peas, Elaichi Gosht - cardamom lamb and Dhaba Gosht - roadside lamb. The Dhaba happened to be mine and was I going to share any? No. Chunks of Lamb in a thick cashew nut paste, creamy, nutty sweet and refined. Proves good curry does not have to be hot hot hot.

...Dhaba Gosht acclaimed by friend yesterday evening; 'top 2 restaurant dishes I've had', 'why top 2?', 'can't be certain I've eaten anything better'. I was equally satisfied. King Prawns (actually Tiger Prawns just as prawns are shrimps in curry joints) in tomato onion sauce on crunchy lettuce and chewy pancake setup truly delectable Lamb Dhansak. 5 levels to the taste. Sharp hint of lemon succeeded by a sugary low, then the heady high of fresh coriander, ending with aromatic bitterness of fenugreek and a round earthy lentil flavour. Methi Sag semed like the perfect accompaniment. It was.

...I am pleased to say I now ‘have’ a table. On arrival escorted to my usual place beside an ebony black Elephant. Couple of mates with me, enjoyed a good meal on a bustling evening. Delectably sweet chicken morsels in a tikka marinade tasting like mature cheese and bread crumbs then decent Achari Lamb, infused with zesty lime and cardamoms. Chana Massala, fine but no hint of lemon as before, Pilau a little audente. Apparently the patron has a new venture. An indian restaurant on a boat in Camberley that doubles as an international darts venue!

...Several men and women (do they compete as well or just drink and shout?) sporting darts playing girths eating in the cosy confines on a crisp late November evening. Friday 7.30 pm, already filling up, service is brisk without being impolite. Simply get your order in and be confident the food will arrive in good time without a rush. My brother and I settled in for a long evening.

Starters of a quarter Tandoori Chicken, plenty of flesh underneath sharp tasting sour yoghurt crust of lemon juice, paprika and Keema Khumbi satisfied. Though easy to please Tom’s Khumbi consisted of 5 button sized mushrooms strategically placed around an overlarge salad of slippery onion that looked sat on. To follow he thoroughly enjoyed Dhaba Gosht on my recommendation and an excellent stuffed paratha, with a gooey filling of cheese and soft onion. On the plus side Jardaloo Sali Boti had grate tranches of super succulent lamb off the bone in a medium to mild stew curried with woody sweet cinnamon, fragrant indian bay leaves and dry, musky tumeric. On the down side it was ever so slightly rich but not rich enough with ground almonds and had no obvious vinegary tinge. The choice accompaniment Bombay Aloo - starchy potatoes in a tomato onion mush with hint of chilli resin - was faultless, rice too. In the end we left content, passing Saaki, still open but looking lonesome, on the way to station. Even on average form the Madhuban still eclipses the little place.

A right and proper SUMMARY would be that this restaurant is one of the very best Bangladeshis in the whole of the South.

Willp2328 Score: 8/10

Tuesday 4 September 2007

September meeting - Chilli Night

Our September venue was one of our favourite places, Chilli Night in Haslemere.

This was during the Rugby World Cup, but despite that, we had a good turnout. For the record Japan lost narrowly to Fiji (31-35) earlier that evening and then Italy narrowly beat Romania (24-18). Whether that bodes well for our Scots friends or not, I don't know. Their 40-0 loss to New Zealand doesn't promise much.

So to the food: we enjoyed our mixed starters, but would have preferred the poppadums first - ferocious lime pickle! Main courses were Garlic Chilli Chicken. Lamb Shakoora, and Prawn Jalfrezi, accompanied by Tarka Dhal and mixed vegetables -all really good.

A great evening: it's only the luxury of choice in the area that stops me visiting more often.

Friday 24 August 2007

Cinnamon - Waterlooville

First rule to observe when you’re going out for the evening: Know where you’re going. Wednesday I failed this essential criteria, our party of three should’ve been sipping aperitifs between 7-7.30, instead we, or rather I (in attempt to save face) were absconding stray locals asking directions to Cinnamon Indian restaurant. Man With Macdonalds Happy Meal To The Rescue! Turned out the PLACE is on London Road, at the end of Waterlooville’s main shopping precinct (if that’s no too grand a description). A relatively new arrival, wouldn’t have been there when last I visited, for a Pirate themed Party at Macdonalds – the irony!

Back to the future, space is smartly upholstered, carpeted, quiet and roomy, ideal place for lounge lizards. SERVICE was subdued and unfussy, perfect. FOOD? ‘Expect the unexpected’ announced the menu! Poppadoms worth a passing comment for viscous mint yoghurt, Starters; top marks for onion bhajis, my Boti kebab could have been seasoned better but was complemented well by tamarind sauce, so far so good but nothing out of the ordinary. The Mains changed all that. Possibly the best array of curry’s I’ve sampled in the Petersfield-Pompey area – ‘Kodu’, Blood red, Madras strength Chicken dish with spicy pumpkin, onions, garlic, green chilli and coriander, ‘Chasnidargh’, similar to an Achari but with gentle sweetness of honey and an accent of vinegar, ‘Jaradaloo’, Parsee dish served on formal occasions, arranged marriage banquets (!), gave strong flavours of caradamom and coriander seed, a new taste to seasoned curry loving lips. Each of these delights cost £6.95, with Veg sides at £3.50, rice in the £2 range PRICES equal value for money.

...The same could not be said of tickets to the Cricket World Cup 2007. Average admission cost more than a labourers weekly wage, only local, rasta with big dreads blowing a long sad note on his conch. The barmy army were well represented bearing their lobster pink torsos, well balanced - beer in each hand - while a few Indians remained to cheer or jeer on their near neighbours.

It was the eve of England’s clash with Bangladesh spent at Cinnamon. Enjoyed plenty of banter with the genial waiters over possible outcomes (surely there could be only one?). Restaurant sadly empty but this allowed for army friend Tim and I to have a long laid back evening. 2 long sausage shaped sheek kebabs to start, succulent in the extreme, flavoured with mint and coriander leaf. Main course was Chicken Haandy Massala, unique combination of green cardamom, cloves lingered long and bitter sweet. Pilau rice fragrant enough to be enjoyed on its own. Aloo Gobi Methi, perfectly cooked, dry vegetable dish without any excess cooking fat. Accompanying Roti good as was the house white wine (dry, medium dry).

...Cut to a warm June evening, Friday night. Service good as ever, food never anything other than. Began with ChickenTikka. Large nuggety pieces in a spicy hot pale orange marinade, flecked with ?. To follow Lamb Dhaniawala. Tangy, strong, ever so slightly salty, flavour of roasted coriander-cumin seed predominating. Moghlai Spinach side, dreamily stirred with cream, caramelized onion, sultanas, sweet cinnamon, tempered with savoury garam massala the best of a good bunch (others – an enormous Chicken Aloo Chat, another Jardaloo). Alas between 7 and 9.15 Cinnamon had only ten diners. Why? Is it simply that people don’t want curry when its warm OR are the good citizens of Waterlooville simply unappreciative of good grub? Prefer an evening in the pub? Is it the restaurants drab town centre location? A mixture of all the above I fancy. Anyhow here’s hoping business picks up, the place is deserving of more patrons.

...20th July 2007. A date that will be literary history, marking last installment of the Harry Potter series. Prior to a midnight vigil at One Tree Books went to the distinctly unmagical Waterlooville for a curry Cinnamon style. ID’d when ordering 2 bottles of house white! Perhaps the Gryfindor scarfs aroused suspicion. Good meal again. Chicken Tikka then a delicious Garlic Chilli Lamb. Lean meat in a sour and juicy gravy laced with red chillies. As well as Saag Paneer, plain and simple but a little bland despite warm savoury spinach, plenty of curd cheese. A large serving of Special fried rice – egg, peas, runner beans, carrots, celery – provided the carbs. Sampled Kerala Curry, generous cubes of white fish in a toasty ochre sauce ending with sweet dulcet coconut flavour. I wonder what Dumbledores takeaway of choice would have been? God rest his soul!

...Alas nothing particularly magical about the food next visit. Boti Kebab, redolent of musky mustard oil to begin, fine but not enthusing. Ditto a Balti Shobuzi, pounded strips of meat in gravy with hot chilli resin, salty and astringent (coriander puree) sharp and sour (tamarind). Perhaps because of the vehemence of my main an okra side dish seemed under spiced. Still Aaran voted his Chicken Kodu the best.

Calm and spacious, the place remains a good spot for a laid back Friday evening meal out.

Willp2328 score: 7/10

Wednesday 22 August 2007

National Curry Week

National Curry Week will take place from 20th to 27th October. Lots of events are planned, and there's also a chance for it to make a real difference: restaurants that take part will encourage diners to contribute £1 a head to Oxfam. If you're visiting a restaurant in the coming weeks, please ask them nicely if they've signed up? You could even print off a copy of the form and take it with you - just in case. NCW advert

Saturday 18 August 2007

September meeting (and August report)

We had a very enjoyable excursion to Midhurst on 15th August, and although it was a Wednesday night, Khan's Brasserie seemed just about full when we arrived. Maybe it's because, just for a change, it wasn't raining. The management put on some specials (home cooking rather than regular menu items) including a chicken bhuna on the bone, a lamb dupiaza made with lamb chops, and a tasty lamb and pumpkin dish. We also enjoyed a king prawn balti, chana dhal, and a selection of side dishes. The starters were also very tasty, and the lime pickle was an absolute knock-out. Because so many people were driving independently, the drinks bill was quite low for a change, but it was a good evening, and we enjoyed the food and the welcome.

For September, we've decided to go for one of our favourite places, Chilli Night in Haslemere. This will be during the Rugby World Cup, but if you really want to see Japan v Fiji (17:00 BST) and Italy v Romania (19:00 BST) then that's your choice. If not, please rendezvous as usual at the excellent Inn on the Hill at about 19:30. An e-mail to the webmaster will help plan numbers.

Planning numbers is also important for the October meeting. On Wednesday 10th, we'd plan to go back to the Gurkha Durbar in Grayshott. Booking will be essential, and I'd like early indications please if you expect to make it. Hopefully England will still be in the World Cup at that point, so it will give us a chance to speculate about their prospects for the semi finals and beyond. Let's hope!

Friday 17 August 2007

Khans Brasserie - Midhurst

One E V Lucas wrote of Midhurst, ‘Sussex has no more contented town’. Plenty of today’s inhabitants at ease in low beamed Wheatsheaf pub where we congregated (an appropriate term - the place once served as an assembly for Roman Catholics) for drinks before the eating part of Augusts meeting.

Soon rumbling stomachs signaled dinner time. An easy stroll down main thoroughfare of the antiquated town centre to Khans kerbside brasserie.

In from the threshold to find dining room lit with a warm glow, carpeted and inviting.

Team put on a special meal for us. Few dishes actually from restaurant menu. Their efforts were roundly appreciated. Pleasant fare began with sheek kebab, ginger tinged chicken wings and delicious bhajia, light and fresh, luscious innards. Main dishes were of a similar strength but were different nevertheless. Lamb Chops, Chicken Thighs, good King Prawn Balti, onion gravy with subtle tang, moreish Lamb-Pumpkin dish of gentle, sweet, stewy consistency and a sour hint of green chilli. The best vegetable dish was a well executed chana dall that allowed peanut flavour of crunchy chic peas to prevail. Merits a return trip.

Willp2328 score: 6/10

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Desert Island Curry

One need not be well off or own a tarted up Ferrari to eat at Chillies...though at first glance one can't help feel an invitation might be required. The Cardiff restaurant resembles nan's front room indeed this is all it is. I'd heard about Chillies from Holly, girlfriend of Ben, bass player in my rock band. She told me she and Ben had been to a place where on Sundays Mondays you could choose anything off the menu, eat as much as you wanted for a price best described as commercial suicide.

On their visit Ben ate so much he couldn't cycle home, Holly carried him some of the way. Good old Ben, stolid as a yeoman, the boy who lived off sliced bread and beans for two weeks when the band were holed up in a recording studio near Reigate (the rest of us enjoyed bizzarre Chinese takeaway offers, 'Evening lunch', 'House of Dinner’). He's only set foot in a hotel once in his life by the way, doesn’t know what it means to be ‘served’. Comes from a big family, holiday together, first second cousins, once twice removed, step mothers, brothers, only the YHA will have them...Dad turned sixty last summer, dreamt of waking up to the sunrise on Glastonbury Tor...he was blindfolded, led to the top and surprised.

Anyhow all this emerged over a mountainous curry at Bay of Bengal. Hill walkers are pioneers, pioneers push boundaries, expand frontiers, I thought myself a hill walking curry eating pioneer, in search of new experience and adventure. Chillies had to be visited, a discovery waiting to happen, I'll be forever glad of it.

On my first visit I simply had the best curry I've ever tasted. Lamb Korci, tender pieces lamb tikka cooked with mince and potato in a thick spicy sauce. If one was forced to survive on a desert island with a revolving choice of eight meals, this would be one, if all of them went off or got swept away in a freak storm, then god willing I'd run through the sand and salvage my Lamb Korci...ummm hmmm.

I’ve been on the Hampshire curry scene for a year. Long enough to visit many a house and enjoy some delectable dishes, in themselves good enough to justify an evening out, even a spot among my desert island curries.

I’ve tasted curry nirvana at the Spice Lounge in the form of Lamb Sali Boti, barbecued meat in a medium spicy red massala, rich and sweet with tomato puree, apricots and coconut, garnished with crisp straw potato. Thrice at the Madhuban, Dhaba Gosht (chunks of Lamb in a thick cashew nut paste, creamy, nutty sweet and refined), Elaichi Gosht (tender meat, an unctuous dark brown gravy with aromatic green caradmoms, woody cinnamon flavours, sliced garlic and an exquisite buttery aftertaste) not forgetting the most superior Lamb Dhansak. Shahanaz’s Jeera Beef, Shapla’s Jalfrezi and Chicken Chilli Massala, are sure to reward a short roadtrip and why trek around Nepal when you can find brilliant Kalejo - chicken livers, deep, rich, with a lingering bittersweet relish – at the Gurkha Chautari?

I'd advise vegetarians to fill the petrol tank (with sunflower oil?) and head in the direction of Grayshott to sample the Gurkha Durbars potato based dishes, Aloo Chana (potatoes and chic peas) Aloo Tama Bodi, bamboo shoots, black eyed beans and spuds, Teel Aloo, all with lovely mountain homestyle flavour to savour. Cinnamon cook their vegetables using the tak-a-tak method, a combined technique of steaming and light stir frying with a minimum of oil, dig out on Moghlai Spinach, dreamily stirred with cream, caramelized onion, sultanas, sweet cinnamon, tempered with savoury garam massala. Appropriately Aubergine serve mean greens from Paneer Kadhai (ripe cubelets of cottage cheese bathing luxuriantly alongside small, sweet hunks of green pepper in a rich silken amber gravy) to Channa Pindi (chic peas in smooth Madras strength sauce giving a gorgeous earthy Bombay mix flavour) as well as a rather special Navratan Korma.

Heavens in here!

Thursday 26 July 2007

August meeting - Midhurst

The table is booked! The Petersfield Curry Club's August meeting will take place on Wednesday 15th, at Khan's Brasserie, 135 North Street, Midhurst. Aperitifs will be taken at the Wheatsheaf, near the top of North Street, about five minutes' walk from the restaurant. The entrance to the central car park is immediately opposite the restaurant - lots of space there, and free parking.

Some friends and I did a reconnaissance trip last night (25th July). The Wheatsheaf is great, serves Tanglefoot and Badger, but look out for the low flying woodwork if you're over 6 feet. Khan's was quiet (wet Wednesday evening) but the food was perfectly OK. We had three starters - chicken chat, tandoori lamb, and onion bhajis. The bhajis were actually some of the best I've tasted - freshly made, hot, light, very tasty; not stale or stodgy. Main courses were jeera chicken, lamb tikka balti, and chicken jalfrezi - all fine.

So that's the plan for August - please let me know if possible through the feedback page on the web site rather than by e-mail. This is because the spam level is getting stupid and I may - very soon - disable the usual address. Not until I've made the web site send its mail somewhere else.

All the best for what remains of the summer...

Thursday 12 July 2007

Golden Curry - Southsea

To step in is to step back in time. I vouch the PLACE hasn’t changed since 1979. Lime green wallpaper, mahogany brown chairs, table lamps, paper napkins, heavy-duty stainless steel cutlery to eat with. SERVICE by old hands polite and functional, prepared to make recommendations. PRICES are lower than nowadays too. Specials with rice circa £7-8.

Began by ordering very crisp Poppadoms for 3. With me, Rich, trainee PE teacher, part time DJ, Aaran, a courier with the travel bug. He tells me best curry he’s ever had from a box somewhere in Birmingham. Indeed the Golden Curry almost of same vintage as pioneering Birmingham Balti Houses. Calls itself a Tandoori restaurant but FOOD cooked with similar principles. For example the meat (lamb or beef), chicken is taken off bone, after being simmered in own juices, and put in your curry. Main course, Korai Gosht, just so. Cuts of lean Lamb in a rich medium sauce, fresh with coriander, slivers of green pepper, stewed toms bursting with juicy flavour. Chana Sag, filling and fibrous, more green pepper and tomato. Started with 2 Shami kebabs, mince burgers, no gristle, hints of ginger, coriander, lemon. 1 well seasoned t’other a tad dry, scorched round the edges.

One shouldn't expect genuine Indian, Bangladeshi fare or innovative fusion. Chutneys include watery mango chutney (a no no), sharp, thin, acrid tasting pickles, something sub contintenals are famed for. Range of starters are unexceptional. Aforementioned Shami Kebabs, ok, sinewy lamb tikka, less so, Tandoori Chicken, just enough flesh on rather mean sized leg. Sundries can disappoint. Pilau rice a bit dull and parched. When a liquid Tarka Dall arrived it kept trying to run away from me as if embarrassed by blackened apperance.

No, the restaurant is all about standard British curry. Juicy, piquant Chicken Chilli Massala had several naunces, kept me coming back for more. Meat Bhuna. Spot on. Arguably best I've tried. Dry, meaty with soothing coconut aftertaste. Bombay Aloo. Supreme waxy potatoes in a mild yet pleasing mush of onion and tomato, underlined with earthy pungency of tumeric.

If first visit to Golden Curry merited a Silver, second time left brassed off. Were it not for good company visit would have been a waste. With so many curry hos* to choose from in the Petersfield, Portsmouth area I wouldn't usually return after a rather average food experience but chance would have it that Aaran, 21 at the time of writing, soon 22 had decided on having an early birthday at the GC. 10 of us sat down together, 2 original Falkland Islanders (gran and grandpa) and a Kenyan (aarans step dad). A lovely evening ensued, everyone enjoyed their meal.

In SUMMARY, the restaurant isn't exactly comparable with other 'top 100', the Madhuban, not really an 'all rounder'. Its a traditional house serving formula curry, big flavours from prime ingredients. Good stuff except nowadays with foodies at large this is becoming the standard.

* houses (I'm not a serial manoganist with a passion for indian women)

Willp2328 score: 6/10

Sunday 1 July 2007

Google Map showing the restaurants we visit

If you click the title, of this post, you can see a map of the restaurants that the Curry Club visits, courtesy of Google Maps. It also shows some nearby suggestions, and obviously these could be scope for future meetings. Feedback welcome!

Friday 29 June 2007

Kutis - Wickham

Southampton's most renowned Bangladeshi has spread its wings to Wickham. New venture opened for 2007. Walking in on Wednesday followed by watery sunshine my mate Tim and I found it full. However, though there was still floor space to fill Management have resisted the urge to cram umpteen covers into the plush purple interior.

The PLACE appears fairly large from the outside, a great cream pub like building, even wooden tables outside. Perhaps there's a great big kitchen, perhaps why a beaming chef stood in the divide with the dining area absorbing the buzz. Smiling waiters in black, gold suits whisked to and fro serving throng of cheery customers - Many Happy Returns Alistair (extended to 50 year old who's birthday you share)! Proper SERVICE btw for which no charge is demanded though you'd be loath not to.

PRICES are about right too, except for mediocre pilau at £3.50! Overall spent £25.

Folded poppadoms and dips, onion salad studded with carrot. Lamb tikka marinated in a ginger and cheese, succulent, warm, syrupy and sour, earthy undertones of ground coriander. Achari murgh, great hunks of chicken taken off the bone in a hot brown red sauce with whole red chillies, lime leaves and pickling spices giving a sharp sweet aftertaste. Smoky, fairly dry masala of chic peas, shallots. A glass of house white, full and mellow redolent of apples. All the dish, save rice, tasted gorgeous, FOOD lovely.

Menu varied, full of unusual dishes as well as original takes on the familiar. Certainly a rival to Shapla 10 miles further north and worth the journey.

Willp2328 score: 8/10

Curry To Dye For

Enter an Indian Restaurant and you’re unlikely to come across the Weightwatchers brigade, especially if they’re seated sideways on. The food is widely considered cholesterol high, low brow, for beer guzzling vulgar types. Even Tandoori dishes - meat grilled in the oven and served with side salad no gravy - have been taboo, until recently at least.

Ten years ago in Surrey if you went for curry and opted for a Tikka item you would probably have been served luminous pink/glaringly red pieces of chicken, lamb, mutton dressed as, tainted with food dye. Tarnished and contaminated in fact. Following a stream of scares someone suggested, half proved artificial colourings caused allergies, asthma, migraines and even cancer. Therefore, the Surrey Curry Club was established to combat the use of unnatural colourings in regional curry dens. Curry chefs with a conscience were encouraged to join and commit to the complete removal of food dyes from the cooking process.

"Our advice to restaurants serving curry is to either follow the manufacturers instructions and measure carefully, use spices which also have colouring properties such as tumeric or paprika, use natural colours like beetroot, or to stop using artificial colours altogether" 1 reads part of the manifesto. To date 61 restaurants restaurants have signed up since the outset which can only be for the good.

Reasons why restaurants may not be listed range from: The restaurant not complying with all Trading Standards Legislation or with all Environmental Health requirements to the trader simply not being interested in becoming a member. When this is the case suspicions that too much artificial colour is being used are raised, indeed this is the main reason for restaurants not being on the list 2.

"It doesn’t improve the taste” said the waiter on patrol Thursday lunch at Halewi, Addlestone. Obvious but worth repeating. Nor does it really add to the appearance of a dish, like applying facial cosmetics, it doesn’t create the sort after 'natural' look. People want to be Mother nature's children and increasingly wish to eat mother nature's food.

My Jalfrezi at Haweli had a truly appetising and colourful appearance. Lightly browned hunks of chicken tikka sitting prettily in a tomato orange gravy with golden strips of caramelized onion, deep green chilli fingers and bright red slivers of pepper. Hot, sour and sweet, healthy. I felt better for it.

In addition to being unhealthy there are times when over use of food dye has actually ruined my curry, several CTM’s have tasted chemical. There continue to be die hard exponents of food colouring in the Indian Restaurant trade - the phosphorescent green garlic naan breads of an inner city Cardiff joint spring to mind –however, initiatives like the Surrey Curry Club seem to be inspiring a shift away from this outdated, good for nothing and no one tendency.

As for Weightwatchers, they should try Amaya in Knightsbridge for a 400 calorie lunch and tuck into some salubrious tandoori chicken.

1 Surrey Curry Club, Surrey County Council

2 Surrey Curry Club, Surrey County Council

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Masala Zone - London, W1

Celebration day in London. The Queens 81st (marked by a World War 2 fly over and a right royal cloudburst), the Chelsea festival (where I bought some Turkish delight) and the O2 popfest in Hyde Park.

Following a visit to excellent annual BP Portait Award up to Soho for Masala Zones ‘real indian food’ at realistic PRICES. Lunch £7.95 for 2 courses good value, great value when you consider the enthusiastic SERVICE and FOOD on offer.

Street snacks to start. A dish of creamy chic peas in sweet, sour tomato based sauce with tofu sized chunks of beautifully textured white bread and a garnish of cracked wheat noodles delighted. Next up, sisters Vegetable curry. Garden green and yellow, mellow, refreshing. Honeyed overtones of green banana balanced with nutty lentils, starchy potato and sprinkled with yam shavings. A Mangalore curry, succulent slices of chicken off the bone simmered in a slinky tomato-coconut infusion left taste buds quivering. Light and aromatic, fresh and fun - I was ready to dance out into the rain and sing like Gene Wilder, except I had to pause first and admire the decor. Rich browns and dark oranges, walls engraved with Indian cave paintings, by artists, who until their commission, hadn’t occasioned outside their village (!) What they made of London shown by a frieze which features a few recognisable landmarks and a number of inebriated Brits stumbling around, falling over. Who considers Western Europeans ‘civilized’? Not these tribal artistes from the back and beyond I venture. In SUMMARY a must for a casual lunch in the capital.

Willp2328 Score: 9/10

Thursday 14 June 2007

July and August meetings

The plans for the July and August meetings are as follows:

11th July - Liphook: drinks at the newly refurbished Links Hotel, and dinner at the Gurkha Chautari

15th August - Midhurst. Note that this is one week later than usual - the third, not the second Wednesday. Details will be confirmed later.

Wednesday 13 June 2007


If you have an Indian-style recipe that you would like to share, please add it as a comment to this message. Please don't rip off other people's work - give full acknowledgement if you copy something, and only copy it if you know for sure that this is permitted. If it's your own invention, please say so, and tell us something about it - the reasons you came up with it, or what inspired it?

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Salty Balti on the shores of Lake Windermere

I've often heard and read complaints about Salty curries but until a half term visit to the curry outback that is the Lake District I had not had one such experience.

A visit to the Prince of India restaurant changed all that. It wasn't exactly unpleasant. Just left a dry taste in the mouth, a craving for water (the fresh kind!) and made my sister feel sick in the night (I was fast asleep and in a seperate male dormitory so how could I care).

I'll let the restaurant off as a lovely languid evening was enjoyed, good chicken tikka too, but next time I eat at a place I'm not quite certain of I'll ask for the 'seasoning' to be a little less vigourous!

Thursday 31 May 2007

Full Marks (and Spencer)?

So at last, the Marks and Spencer Simply Food store has opened in Petersfield, in place of the old Somerfields shop. M&S are known for their high quality food, and it was good to see that this fairly small store has opened with a decent range of Indian dishes.

The main range has mainly chicken dishes of the sort that you'd find in a restaurant or takeaway: korma, CTM, jalfrezi and balti. Piri piri is the only recipe not seen on even the most basic menu. Other meats are represented by just lamb rogan josh and king prawn makhani. Maximum heat rating is three chillies - this feels like medium to me.

There are also some curries in the Balanced Meals section. These are a meal in a single tray, including rice, lentils, vegetables and so on. They usually work out at around 500 calories (more than a snack, certainly not a blow-out), but the only two I could see were keralan king prawn and red thai chicken curry. Both delicious, but I missed the Andhira lamb curry that has been available from other Simply Food stores.

There are several chicken curries with rice or naan outside the Balanced Meals section, including bhuna with naan, korma with pilau rice, CTM with pilau rice and CT balti with naan. Finally, there are some meals for two, and a tiny selection of Indian starters, rice and naans (including garlic).

Once or twice, when a restaurant hasn't come up to scratch, I've toyed with the idea of a Curry Club evening based on a supermarket's ready meals. Based on quality and variety of food, Sainsbury on its better nights could furnish one of these, Waitrose and M&S might just miss on variety. I have my doubts about Asda and Tesco after a couple of poor meals. Last Sunday night, a Morrisons' beef madras was superb! So maybe the ready meal Curry Club evening is a possibility, but I suspect that's not really where we want to go.

For now, I can't give M&S Simply Food full marks. They lose points for variety and price. But every dish I've tried has tasted good, and you can't beat the quality. It's a welcome addition to Petersfield's range of shops.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Shapla - Alresford

First visit was on the night of the fair, big wheels, candy floss, airguns, wonky pellets, prizes weren't worth winning anyway. There was a baby in a pram, sleeping in the corner of the gallery. Don't get me wrong I enjoy fairs, full of vintage atmosphere, buzz, the whirling waltzer, dizziness, mysterious ladies in tents, 'cross your palm with silver'... sadly no freaks or exotic animals, liberal democracy, there you have it. No concessions or compromise on curry club nights, just pure indulgence. At Shapla the food kept arriving, disappearing down our throats, the house wine kept flowing in same direction, a bit of belt loosening was going on around me.

The PLACE looks like it might once have sold antique furniture/family heirlooms of various aristo families living around Alresford from the outside. Inside it had warm and cosy feel of a tea parlour.

SERVICE? Staff lined up to greet the PFCC and were genial and efficient all evening. Waiters in well cut cream suits supported the gluttony.

PRICES were and are a little above average but there’s interesting variety on offer. I guess you could get out of there (indeed you might need rolling) for £25 having sampled the more exotic new additions to the menu for 2007.

Back in November 06 the FOOD was really flavoursome. Onion Bhajis had sweet and tender innards. Pilau rice, wonderfully aromatic. The prawns in the Prawn Korai tasted sea-fresh! So often they lose their taste in among the medium spices. The Methi Gosht, a delight as was the Chicken Special. Saag Aloo with good size chunks of potato and the Cauliflower bhajee was just the best I've ever tasted. Good breads as well, plain, garlic and peshwari naans.

So I returned, lunched with my brother on the way to Winchester a few weeks later. Had very well spiced Momo (minced lamb wrapped in wonton style pastry), brother had Mixed kebab, great tasting, natural looking chicken/lamb tikka. Mains included Prawn Patia spiked with chilli, excellent but too much for Tom who kept heading to the loo to cool off (?) and a Balti Dhansak, rich, lemony and earthy. Veg included a light, crisp Bindi Bhaji.

Shapla is among the best in the county, view confirmed by a family visit in April. Latest starters Jingha Noorani, Shapla Salmon and an indian mousakka of aubergine, curried mince, curd cheese, not forgetting a wonderfully presented deep fried sea bass tail. Among the mains; a series of welcome Seafood specials, from curry outposts including the west indies, as well as 2 or 3 Halibut dishes and a royal rich Salmon Amritsar – Dad’s choice. I took on a very powerful Jalfrezi, korma tasting Saag Paneer an antedote to the green chillies and revisited the Shapla Chicken Special, an enormous serving of tikka chicken, potato chunks, pineapple hunks in a filling swamp of creamy onions. Ground red chillies drove home sister Katy’s Chicken Chilli Massala, Mum had a mud yellow Butter Chicken with subtle aftertaste of mint. To round off this feast, rice, some rather dry, crisp rotis and Pinot Grigio to moisten our mouths.

Don't like ending on sour notes but staff were abrupt and rather arrogant this occasion, unacceptable regardless of it being bustling Easter Thursday.

Experience much more positive on a quiet Wednesday in June for curry club visit. New head waiter (?). Large bubbly poppadoms, luscious lime pickle and a peppery mint sauce succeeded by a Mixed Starter chosen at the chefs discretion (see menu)! Seems we caught him on a good day too! Served generous and appetising plate of chicken/lamb tikka, sheek kebab, stuffed mushroom and onion bhaji. Food highlights were still to come however. Arrived in form of excellent Lamb Jalfrezi, sour green finger chillies stealthily creeping up the back of the throat, superb Aubergine bhaji, juicy and smokey, a ginger tinged Chicken Bhuna Balti and Rossa, roast Duck breast in a cinnamon spiced resin. Worth passing mention, a Prawn Dhansak, savoury, none to sweet with a hint of lemon and CTM, fine as a definition of the formula. As aforementioned don't like ending on sour notes - sweet sherry to finish aroused much consternation!

NB House Red, pale in colour, vinegary and lacking body.

Willp2328 Score: 8/10