Saturday 31 May 2008

Hason Raja - Bloomsbury, London

The menu at Hason Raja is, to my taste, ideal. The food is largely Bangladeshi / North Indian, hearty and robust with liberal use of chilli and unground whole spices and portions, it transpired, are about the right size.

There are plenty of tandoori items among the starter selection. I enjoyed Salmon Tikka smothered with a smooth, sandy green herb paste but one could opt for charcoal smoked Monkfish, Brocolli, King Prawns.

Main dishes are classic. Anari Champ (Lamb with star ainse and pomegranate), Rara Rogan Gosht, Meat Shatkora (with wild lemon), Chicken Nilgri (with a prickly, minty spinach blend), Murgh Jalfrezi. I decided on Jungle Mache, a spicy Korai like curry tasting of mild, sweet capsicum, tangy garlic tomatoes with fiery peppercorns, bittersweet cardamom, liquorishy cloves.

Lots of good vegetable dishes too and a mustardy, succulent Bhindi Masala was great. Meanwhile Pilau rice proved slightly audente and just right.

A restaurant I'm pleased to have found - it would be a fine local as prices are OK (£25 a head with a glass or two of wine). Apparently it is Ricky Gervais' favourite, two floors should be enough to accomodate his list of celebrity 'mates'.

FOOD (& DRINK): 4.5

Willp2328 rating: 8/10

Monday 19 May 2008

Spice Lounge – Petersfield, 17/05/08

The restaurant sometimes feels like the epitome of the tempremental Great British curry house. It’s snug and warm inside, with an unpretentious demeanour that occasionally seems rather curious. The waiters generally provide decent service, though prolonged gaps between courses are not unknown, and for the most part the kitchen turns out tasty curries but doesn’t always show a dab hand with spice. With so many alternatives available to me reasons I eat here regularly are: 1) I know what to order and what not to order 2) Firuz the manager is a true gentleman and makes diners feel very welcome.

Eating in following an afternoon on Southsea common watching the FA Cup final, I enjoyed the typical Spice Lounge experience. The atmosphere was informal and homely, Firuz was characteristically kind and generous. Food wise ‘Ayre Biran’ was a tasteless, pan fried cutlet of white fish with obligatory salad whereas ‘Achari Murgh’, made with mango chutney, lime pickle, tomatoes and fruity fennel was full of flavour and spiked with chilli powder.

Their interpretations of traditional Indian and Bangladeshi fare are really bastardisations yet they work fine and who except for monomaniacs like me notices anyway? The ‘Achari’, the ‘Sali Boti’ – made with coconut, almond and tomato puree, rich and lovely like a luxury Korma – the ‘Chilli Mossala’, which makes clever use of ready made green chilli pickle are three examples. Thing is GB curry is a cuisine in itself and if that’s what you’re after – it probably is – then the Spice Lounge is almost as good as any. Vegetables can be bland (not Saturday’s earthy Chana Masala though) but side and main dishes alike are always well presented, rice and breads are perfectly acceptable.

In summary, I love the place for all its little imperfections. Oh and it’s pretty good value too.





Willp2328 rating: 6.5/10

Sunday 11 May 2008

Aubergine - Albert Road, Southsea, 9/5/08

I’m a celebrity! For the second time in a fortnight I was recognised! This is what it must be like to be a cast member of the Bill thinks I. Free drinks all round! Unfortunately though the train wouldn’t wait. Sitting in Second Class, I reflected on a good meal at Aubergine.

Great textured, meaty Chicken Tikka dressed up pretty followed by Makai Gosht, Baigan Bartha and enough fluffly plain rice. My curry of tender lamb cubes and buttery sweet corn was flavourful, yoghurt based and creamy with an abundance of caramelised onion. My vegetable side dish, baked and mashed aubergine, light, lemony and leafy with coriander.

Considering all 4 of our party were more than satisfied with their food – Simon (Duck in a dry tamarind sauce spiked with resinous chilli), Emma (gooey Lamb Pasanda), Mum (Navratan Korma; mixed veg, nuts and dried fruit topped with grated cheese) - a bill of 33 quid (including 3 starters and a pleasant bottle of Sauvignon Blanc tasting of dry limes) was very reasonable.

I named the place in a recent Top 10 of Hampshire Curry Houses, it deserves it’s place!

VALUE: 4.5

Willp2328 rating: 7.5/10

Thursday 8 May 2008

Blue Cobra - North End, Portsmouth, 6/5/08

Compared with high standard I have come to expect from Blue Cobra I had a slightly average meal on post bank holiday blow out with Swansea mate Dave. I won’t entertain the idea standards are slipping or rush to any hasty conclusions but the menu is getting bigger and bigger – unless the chef has as many arms as Ganesha he’ll find it difficult to do himself justice, well he would had they a regular clientele. Doubt the kitchen ever has to respond to 100 plus covers even at weekends, a shame, the restaurant deserves to be patronised.

Perhaps the abundance of new dishes is designed to attract customers, they sound tempting. E.g. Bombay Buffalo Bhuna - slow cooked lean Indian Buffalo in a medium strength thick sauce with black cardamon and Chicken Mooli. Beef Malabar, another new addition, was my main course. I’d hoped for the classic version, thick, pasty with roasted coconut. Turned out tart and mustardy with an underlying bittersweet liquorish taste from cloves and star anise. Salty but the flavours just about balanced.

A new starter, Dim Aloo (stupid potatoes) – two breadcrumbed patties, mostly egg and a little masala mash were fine but a bit dull. The pilau rice was as per usual perfectly audente and plentious. Apropos portions have got even larger, why waste good ingredients? This doesn’t neccesarily mean better value of course. A massive Aubergine side dish, drenched in ghee disappointed though it disappeared all the same (and not under the table). Cooking egglpant well is definitely a benchmark of a good indian, that said I’ve had too many good things* in the past to judge Blue Cobra on this alone.

* rich and delectable Gosht Kata Masala, chilli hot Naga Chicken, aromatic Tava Lamb, savoury Murgh Masala and Garlic Aloo Paneer

FOOD (& DRINK): 3.5
VALUE: 3.5

Willp2328 rating: 7/10

Sunday 4 May 2008

May meeting - Chilli Night, Haslemere

As usual, we had a fine evening at Chilli Night. Attendance was a little lower than expected, but the food was well varied: chicken jalfrezi, garlic chilli chicken, lamb rogan, Ayre karai, achari lamb and prawn madras. These were accompanied by a good selection of rice, lentil, vegetables, and naans.

Fine food, very well presented, and all it lacked was the appetite of Will to hoover up the excess. He missed his first meeting in over a year - I hope the family holiday made up for it.

Friday 2 May 2008

The Top 10

'Where are the best places for curry near here?' - a question I am often asked. Last Saturday in the Gurkha Chautari it was Chris' turn.

After lovely herby fat little Momo, an excellent Bhutuwa curry (Lamb in a thick, rich paste with red peppers) and smoky, piquant Aubergine (Bhenta Tarkari), I felt I'd eaten in one of the best restaurants around.

So, below is the near definitive list, the TOP 10 south of Guildford, east of Chichester and west of Salisbury:

10 Jaipur - Albert Rd, Southsea
09 Dhanmondi - Whitehill
08 Mirchi - Albert Rd, Southsea
07 Madhuban Tandoori - Station Rd, Liss
06 Tiffin Club - Oxford Street, Southampton
05 Aubergine - Albert Rd, Southsea
04 Poppadom Express - Oxford Street, Southampton
03 Kuti's Brasserie - Southampton, Wickham, Fair Oak & Portswood
02 Gurkha Durbar & Chautari - Grayshott, Liphook
01 Shapla - West Street, Alresford

(any comments welcome)