Saturday, October 20, 2007

Seeds of fine dining

Now that it’s getting colder and darker ever earlier in the evening the only way to cheer this old chick is with good wholesome temperature and chili hot food. I have a restaurant review (of previously mentioned post - Monday) for all you London foodies to go and try out. For those not in London envy is not a good colour. For those in India, go eat a chicken kathi roll and then a plate of momo’s on my behalf please!

I’m usually suspicious of anything that calls itself Indian food in London. From all my food travels in London I have found the standard operating practice for so-called Indian food is manifold:
1. If the signage reads ‘Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine’ it usually means there are Bangladeshi cooks and the menu will say ‘Ponir’ and serve everything coated in bilious red. Not to my taste.
2. If the signage says ‘Indian and Pakistani specialities’ it usually means Pakistani food but we aren’t sure anyone will come and eat it if we don’t use the word Indian. It can mean awesome kebabs like Tayyabs or merely mediocre fare. I'll more than manage.
3. If the signage reads ‘Indian’ it can mean we are Bangladeshi or Pakistani but we won’t tell you that, we’ll just sell what we think best under this generic label. This usually includes the British variants of Balti, a cuisine made up entirely by migrants feeding a population reeling from having given up the Raj. You’ll most likely find Korma, Jalfreizi, Madras and Vindaloo as the given categories, and be able to order any ingredient (chicken, various meats or vegetables) covered in the above mentioned sauces. The only difference in is the degree of hot moving steadily up from category to category and the odd addition of chunks of onions or coconut or yet more red food colouring. Served with ‘Poppadoms’ and ‘chutney’ (which my firangi friends think is a starter we serve at home). Who invented this stuff?

Whichever way the cookie crumbles I avoid Indian restaurants because I usually come away disappointed and literally with a bad taste in my mouth. Alternately we go to overpriced but genuine Indian restaurants run by Michelin stars and their wannabe’s and come away with huge bills for inordinately simple meals in tiny well styled portions. A better yet bitter taste.

So it was with some trepidation that I took the Central Line to Caraway on a cold Monday evening with two colleagues in tow, having been invited to dine there by an ex-colleague. The husband of the ex-colleague has a business interest in the restaurant and she was being kind and spreading the word simultaneously. I am always suspicious of free meals. Or of free anything for that matter. I’m cynical like that.

Cynicism gave way under the weight of a delicious meal. Caraway was heavenly. A large Indian carved wood door took us into a simple yet elegant interior. The staff was almost entirely imported from India and the menu was too long, mainly north Indian with some random things that did not fit thrown in for good measure. I was told that the menu was never ending because they were testing out what worked and what didn’t before honing it down to a more manageable list. Thankfully there was not a Balti or Vindaloo or Madras in sight.

We shared starters and main meal between 4 of us so that everyone could try everything. I’m not going to go over our entire meal, just point out the dishes that caught my fancy and that I would go back for. Among other starters we had dilli ki aloo tikki (which was not quite Delhi’s but really really really good nevertheless with some awesome channa served on the side of it) and some bhelpuri (which was fresh and with every chutney like it had just been made rather than out of a supermarket bottle). Among our main dishes the most mentionable were the dal (which was not gummy or chunky in consistency but instead perfectly piping hot and freshly tempered), galouti kebabs (not a patch on Lucknow’s but still soft melt-in-the-mouth and delicious) and baingan ka bharta (which I LOVE if it is made well and I have to say this was one of the best, again consistency and flavour won me over). The highlight however was the freshly made rumali roti’s - one of my all-time favourite’s which is unbelievably unavailable in London. Watched the chef throw it in the air and lay it delicately on its upturned cooking structure. Beauty in motion. The rumali itself was light and thin and oh-so tasty. I defy you to eat one and quibble.

There was way more food than I can readily describe without drooling all over my keyboard. I came away thrilled at having found a reasonable north Indian food place that is not pretending to be Indian but is instead really INDIAN. The quality and taste of the food was a big pro in my book – just the right level and temper of spices, no artificial red coloured everything, not overpowered by chillies and genuinely Indian recipes. Good sized quantities in little clay pots for a price not too high. I liked the ambience as it were, not cheap-ass plastic furniture and yet not ostentatious over-the-top chandeliers and overdone Indian-ness. The lighting could have done with a bit of boost but it was not dark or depressing in the least. I liked the glass partition between kitchen and restaurant floor – it usually means they can’t get away with mucking up and slipping on the housekeeping. Rumali throwing is also a good spectator sport.

There were some small cons that I thought could do with some work. Like too many salad leaves with my aloo ki tikki (who does that?) and some not so great paneer dishes. On balance however it is a little gem. And I am thrilled to have been introduced to it. As with any new place the test is in how long they can keep it up without slipping into quality. I’ll be back to find out.

Caraway Brasserie: 513-519 Cranbrook Road, Gants Hill, London IG2 6HA. Tel: 020 8518 4111

14 comments:

  1. Ah! I can now rest in peace. :) Although Caraway is too Faraway.

    I have suitably trained The Girl to throw away ANY menu that comes home which is for:
    a) Restaurants with a "Tandoori" prefix or suffix
    b) Restaurants with a "Balti" prefix or suffix
    c) Where Paneer is spelled as "Ponir".

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  2. I AM green with envy but I'll make a note to visit this restaurant next time I'm in London! :)

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  3. Sounds like you had a good time. I am going to visit your blog for all your previous write-ups for any London trips. This is a treasure mine.

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  4. chakli12:26 AM

    Nice review! This place sounds really good.

    When we lived in Brussels, I used to look forward to trips to London so that I could eat 'authentic' desi khana. That tells you something about the quality of indian food in Brussels.

    Life is blissful in this department now that we are back in the US. We even have a Dilli-style chaat place now in town. What more can you ask for!

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  5. Broom: Nothing this good should be too far away. And good training instruction for Girl....

    Shyam: Cheaper version of the Ocford Circus Gaylord and a bit better. Worth the visit I would say.

    Parth: Lately I seem to always be having a good time. Always happy to be a London guide book.

    Chakli: Dilli chaat - lucky you. We have only had awful masala zone knock-offs for chaat cravings.

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  6. I may even ave to trek all the way over the Gants Hill to visit this one!

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  7. Hi
    If it's not too much trouble, could you please email me a list of few affordable Indian restaurants in the London area? It is for a friend who just arrived in London and is dying for some good Indian food.
    Thanks

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  8. Anonymous10:18 PM

    i always go there, the paneer is rubbish!!, there used to be an italian restaurant there but it's been replaced by caraway

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  9. Piyu.R3:13 PM

    Went to Caraway last night. Food is really really good. The whole atmosphere gives you a sense of authenticness and professionalism. The portions of the starters seemed slightly small; well for me atleast :D .But they were gooood. I would recommomend 'Lamb Ghost' (I think that's how it's spelt), 'Rasiley Kofte' (this was the best one--it's lamb) and 'Chicken Tikka'.

    For the main course go for either 'Methi Murg', 'Butter Chicken' or any of the lamb dishes. Even though the portions seem small at first, they are actually quite big because they're served in "matka's". By the way, 'Palak Paneer' was nice :D ! Apologies to all the Veggie's--Can't comment on the Veg-Dishes as I didn't have any -apart from the PANEEEEERRRR :D

    Don't know about you guys but I would have their 'Chilli Kulcha' (not hot at all) instead of their 'Roti'.

    But make sureeeee....that you tell them how spicy you want your meals to be...the food does tend to be really spicy if you don't tell them.
    ---

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  10. Anonymous2:59 AM

    I eat at Caraway at least twice a month. Its affordable good food that is distinctly different. Its not typical oily food put together by a wannabe chef. Its food that is made with pride and passion. The atmospehere is great even if you have young kids like me. I'm suprised that no one has yet mentioned their non-alcohilc cocktails, MIND BLOWING! (they do serve alcholic cocktails too, but I don't drink so can't comment on them)

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  11. Great review, great blog.
    Im taking the hubs to Caraway for his bday - he's a stickler for GOOD Indian food. Here's hoping for the best!

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  12. Hi there,

    I have been eating at carraways for the last 6 months - I am a complete addict. It is in my opinion the best curry house in London (though not in England - even though it comes a close second). The quality is better than Tayyabs - which is more for punjabis I would say.

    Trust me - I am very hard to please when it comes to currys - and have travelled far and wide in search of the ultimate one!

    While I'm here, just a question to put out there - does anyone know of a similar restaurant in Bristol city centre? I know its a bit of a long ask - but our company is having a team meeting in bristol - and we thought a curry place would be ideal. All the website I cant trust - because the reviews are usually written by the chef!!!

    Any help apprecaited.

    Yaz

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  13. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Hi there,

    I have been eating at carraways for the last 6 months - I am a complete addict. It is in my opinion the best curry house in London (though not in England - even though it comes a close second). The quality is better than Tayyabs - which is more for punjabis I would say.

    Trust me - I am very hard to please when it comes to currys - and have travelled far and wide in search of the ultimate one!

    While I'm here, just a question to put out there - does anyone know of a similar restaurant in Bristol city centre? I know its a bit of a long ask - but our company is having a team meeting in bristol - and we thought a curry place would be ideal. All the website I cant trust - because the reviews are usually written by the chef!!!

    Any help apprecaited.

    Yaz

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous7:24 PM

    one of the best dining experiences i ever had, im not much for the restaurant experience but i get a take away from there at least once a week

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