Archive for the ‘Indian’ Category

Friday Food Friends

I have to admit that we don’t often go out on Fridays nights. I guess that comes down to the fact I write about Friday Food in the first place – the end of the week is all about chilling out, relaxing after a hard week with serious comfort food. But an exception to this will always be an invitation to enjoy Friday Food that someone else has cooked !

Last night we found ourselves round at our neighbours for that great British Friday classic, curry night. I am an absolute sucker for a good curry and have had my fair share over the years, including ones in India. That doesn’t necessarily make me overly critical but I do tend to shy away from the formulaic restaurants that dish up Lamb Bhuna and Chicken Tikka Masala. We have, for example, an outstanding Nepalese curry house in Weybridge which beats your bog-standard offerings hands down. It was, therefore, an absolute delight to have on offer a rarity in British curry cooking, the fish curry. I think fish in a curry is much underrated and actually offsets some of the more delicate spices perfectly, when done well. And last night’s fish curry was done well, very well. Great combination of flavours, not overpowering chilli and set perfectly against a chicken curry which was also excellent. No formulaic cooking going on in this house I can tell you. Oh, and the Gordon Ramsey cheesecake for pudding is something I shall be stealing for myself in due course too. Absolutely beautiful.

But it wasn’t the food alone that made last night’s evening the great evening it turned out to be. It was also that other vital ingredient in enjoying food – great company. Whether it’s an intimate dinner for two or, like last night, six like-minded individuals thoroughly enjoying some excellent food, with wine and conversation flowing in equal quantities, who you dine with has just as much bearing on a great meal as the food itself. I guess it goes back to the dawn of time, the idea of people sharing food together. And last night really was one of those great examples when it works to perfection – great food, great company, great conversation, all very relaxed. Sure, I like the theatre of fine dining but, you know what ? This is a perfect way to end the week – Friday Food with Friends.

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A sign of the times ?

I read with interest this week that Chinese food has overtaken Indian as the nation’s favourite food. The tikka massala has been overtaken by sweet and sour pork. I did think it a slightly odd story at first, other than for the fairly obvious reason that it gives the press another opportunity to beat up our traditional English dishes (more’s the pity). But I thought a little more about why this may be the case and concluded that it’s actually a very good reflection of trends in British society.

We are eating out more than we ever have and we are getting take-aways and home delivery more than ever. Despite the growth in bistro-style restaurants – and those awful Slug-and-Piano fry-fests – it is no surprise that people prefer to eat Chinese (or indeed Indian) when they go out for something to eat. As the article I read states, they are still viewed as “exotic” despite being also classed as English. Never thought of the English as particularly exotic, but there you go. Then you consider take-aways and the point gets real focus. No matter where you live, think about the take-away menus sat in your end draw of the kitchen. Let me guess – chances are you’ll have at least three pizza menus, a couple of Indian maybe and almost certainly one or two Chinese menus. Traditional English ? Bistro ? Unlikely.

I think it’s a real shame that you can’t get great quality “non-exotic” food delivered to your door, not because it skews the stats for spurious articles such as those quoted above, but simply because I would love to showcase good quality, simple English fayre right in people’s homes. May even encourage them to have a go themselves…

Who says Americans don’t do Indian food ?

I’ve often been told by ex-pats living in the US that there are some things that Americans just don’t do. Back bacon, Marmite, small portions – that sort of thing. But the one I hear more often than any other is that Americans don’t do (Indian) curry. That’s not to say that Indian restaurants don’t exist in the US, but that the skill at cooking this particular style of cuisine somehow can’t find its way through Homeland Security. I always found that hard to believe since it’s successfully migrated to many other countries and, after all, it’s not exactly rocket science.

I met an old friend of mine from my Citigroup days in the bar of Le Meridien on 56th with a view that we’d go and grab something to eat nearby. I had intended to go to Tao (http://www.taorestaurant.com) on 58th and Park since it does some of the best Kobe beef in New York. Their Kobe Rib-eye with Yuzu butter is absolutely amazing and something that I would struggle to find anywhere in Britain. But, as it was, we found ourselves in the Bay Leaf Indian Brasserie on 56th and 5th (http://bayleafnyc.com/). Now, both of us said as we walked into the restaurant that “you can’t get a good curry in America”. Clearly it’s not just me then.

The owner of the Bay Leaf has clearly not done his interior design research by visiting British curry houses as there were none of the usual faux Indian elephants or tacky “days of the Raj” prints on the walls. Instead you are subsumed by a sort of modern-day Bohemia : low, red lights, plush carpets, plenty of candles. I almost felt like I should be arriving in a smoking jacket rather than a business suit.

After some rather disappointing poppadums (undercooked and very dry) which were complemented with the hottest lime pickle I’ve ever tasted, I decided to settle for something a little safe, but also so that I could be confident I was comparing apples with apples. Or curry with curry – you get what I mean. So it was that I ordered the lamb vindaloo with naan and “saffron rice” (no mention of the sometimes dreaded pilau word). It arrived in the standard Balti dish but, I have to say, it was a complete surprise upon tasting. Succulent lamb coated in a thick gravy, hints of vinegar and onion working in perfect balance with one another. In other words a proper vindaloo. Clearly lots of fresh chilli too which was a nice touch as I was fully expecting this to be a Barts Spice Special. The naan bread too was exceptionally good, as good as anything you’d get in even the best British curry house. Oh, and they do Kingfisher beer too – superb.

I left the restaurant rather happy that I’d found somewhere in America that can actually match up to British curry. I’ve still no idea really where this urban myth came from but I can honestly say that, unless the Bay Leaf is a one-of-a-kind, Indian cuisine really is well represented on the land of Uncle Sam. Oh, and there was absolutely no sign of lager louts ordering 15 pints of Skol and a lamb bhuna either.