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!