It was not a good start - the hotel is just a scarred black door on the main street with a well matched unassuming sign board. You enter straight onto steep and narrow stairs and climb to the second floor (passing a small hotel reception painted in fluorescent blue and lit dimly with a tube light on the first) all the while wondering if you have reached some other century via a time tunnel. On the second floor is the restaurant (my head hurts every time I have to call it that - it is so unworthy of the name!). Enter and its as if you have been transported to an oldy wordly sarkari office - pale yellow walls adorned with dusty framed prints by MF Hussain & a portrait of Rabindranath Tagore complemented in no way by a well scratched linoleum floor. The tatty tables and chairs look like they have been stolen from a shaadi pandal and are so worn out that it would not be incorrect to imagine they were transported to England oh about 100 years ago and subsequently forgotten.
I'm not fickle. Decor is not everything (although this is worse than any I have ever seen in a self-respecting eatery). We have eaten in humble places and almost every dhaba between Delhi and the outskirts, so we decided to be open minded and receptive to the experience. In we went and chose a table by the window in an absolutely empty restaurant. The lone (& very) surly waiter approached us and quickly shooed us to a corner table where the only view out of the very drafty window was of the scaffolding holding the building upright. The menu was short and uninteresting. As for service, what service? We ordered what we thought could not be stale - a masala dosa each. Limp, soggy and completely bland pretenders arrived soon after accompanied by a unclean jug of tap water and similarly stained beer glasses. While we ate in silence and contemplated our next move a stately old Englishman all suited and booted came in and sat down at the table next to ours. The waiter seemed familiar with him and not needing to take any fresh orders quickly brought him his meal. Other entrants included a table of 8 and a desi tourist with his elderly father. The table of 8 seemed to be familiar with the place as 2 of them quickly went out and procured some beers to have with their meal. The desi tourist wandered up to our table to enquire whether he had to order at the counter or if he someone would come and take his order. About 20 minutes after we had finished eating the waiter announced that his bill book had finished so he would mentally calculate our bill!
Never again! All hope that the quality of the food and service would belie the surrounds was dashed.The overall experience was exceedingly dissappointing and although the price was not unreasonable, it was still grossly overvalued. What can I say about the old man and the table of 8 except that I feel desperately sorry for them if they think this is the 'real' thing. I hope the desi tourist found someone to serve him. The India Club is apparently a relic of the raj, claiming to be the oldest Indian restaurant in London. All I can say is that I am shocked by it and all the people who think it's auhentic. Open your eyes! And definitely DO NOT GO THERE!
Shocked by the experience we indulged in some retail therapy before completing planned chores. All chores completed we ambled into wonderful Covent Garden where like moths to a flame we ended up at Paul. For the uninitiated Paul is a small French bakery (of which V claims there are many all over Paris) with a board hanging outside claiming 'Maison de Qualite'. Of this I can vouch. We were introduced to Paul by some friends soon after we came to London and have been hooked by the freshness and sumptuousness of its many products ever since. It's a small, unassuming bakery with a cafe behind. There is always a line for both bakery & cafe and its not surprising considering how delicious all its breads and pastries look & taste. V & I bought some fresh wholemeal bread, a slice of (sinful) chocolate cake, a salmon and spinach quiche and a strawberry tart. Charged home with our re-enforcements and proceeded to enjoy a wonderful tea, each bite lessening the horrors of lunchtime.
In the evening we hooked up with friends and ventured to central London once more. This time to eat a meal at Busaba Eathai. Busaba is fast becoming a favorite of mine -even the half hour queue was not daunting enough to put us of. Read the menu under the street lamps while we waited. Once inside the atmosphere was great with big square dark wood tables (shared by 10 people) and low lamps. The menu is basic but very interesting, the staff polite and efficient. V chose a prawn & crabmeat noodle stirfry and I chose a chicken jungle curry & jasmine rice - both meals were wholesome, tasty and excellant value for money. Thankfully there was no music, just voices and laughter. V recommends the Chang beer! Busaba is certainly on our visit again list...
As you can see it was a busy Saturday in our foodie wonderland with one extremely disappointing meal losing out to two London gems. It's no wonder we only ended up having one meal and a very long walk on Sunday!
Paul: 29 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 Tel: 020 7836 5324
Busaba Eathai: 106-110 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1F 0TR
Sarkari: of the Goverment
Shaadi pandal: marriage marquee
masala dosa: a south indian crepe of fermented batter served hot & crisp and filled with cooked mashed delicately spiced potatoes and onions