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.