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!