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