When I walked through the door of a quaint little café in Greenwich to meet Rani, the self-titled Spice Angel, before her inaugural supperclub, I was greeted by her wide grin and immediately bowled over by her enthusiasm. She was chatty and friendly, and I warmed to her instantly. Which should have comforted me but being the weird person that I am, it actually made me a touch anxious about the evening ahead. I like passionate chefs, which also makes me want to really like their food. The menu also consisted of some of Rani’s favourite family dishes which just made me salivate with further excitement.
All this culminated to create quite high expectations, and the relief I felt when one of her beautifully put together Chowpatty dahi batata puri exploded with bursts of flavour and texture was immense. Just like her sunny personality, this combination of potato, chutneys and pomegranates inspired by her upbringing in Mumbai’s Giragon Chowpatty was an uplifting mouthful. How Indian chefs manage to jam pack the delicate cases and not have them disintegrate into a crumbly mess, I’ll never know!
The second starter of poha pakora didn’t quite meet my expectations as well. I found these small patties of puffed rice dry and chalky, even after a generous smothering from the spicy dipping sauce. This hasn’t been the first time I’ve encountered a pakora I didn’t like, so the moral of the story is that they’re either not for me, or I’ve never yet had a decent one… If that’s the case, I’ll use it as grounds for convincing a certain someone that we must visit India for the real deal very soon.
My spirits we once again lifted however, when the curries appeared. The fact that I went back for a second helping of the Khandesi vangi bharit really surprised me; I rarely go near aubergine for fear of being inflicted with a slimy, bitter mess but this had a creaminess to it which I liked. It was especially fantastic spread on top of some warm naan. In contrast, the Old Delhi butter chicken had me going back for thirds and then some, when the rest of our table wasn’t looking.
I thought ‘butter chicken’ was almost a bit of a British fiction, but this one was apparently inspired by the best butter chicken Rani had ever eaten in Mumbai. It’s never been my first choice of curry but I was seriously impressed by the balance in this version; enough spice to warm your cockles but with a hint of sweetness to calm things down. The chicken is painstakingly marinated, pan-cooked then shredded before being added to the curry itself, ensuring the meat is jam packed full of flavour and is left extremely moist and juicy.
As good as these were, they were still effectively sides to the star of the supperclub, The Spice Angel’s signature lamb dum biryani. This dish which originates from the Mughlai cuisine of Delhi is all about the clever layering of rice, lamb and spices to ensure every element is cooked to perfection and the flavours are permeated throughout. The lamb was half-cooked separately before being layered in the pot with partially-cooked rice, saffron infused milk, and fried onions. This is then sealed and steamed until completely cooked in true ‘dum’ fashion.
The lamb biryani was definitely the firm favourite of the night. I could see the other diners nodding and raising eyebrows in approval, as well as letting out little squeals of delight as they discovered more tender bits of lambs hidden amongst the mounds of golden rice. I am an utter rice fiend and could have eaten mountains of this dish all on its own, but it was an equally good base for the curries. Rani also served a great little tomato raita, a fresh and tangy condiment which did well to cut through the richness of all the other dishes.
We ended the supperclub on a sweet note, but unfortunately it was not really one which got my tastebuds singing. It was the first time I’d ever tried gajar halwa; an Indian dessert made from carrots, milk, dried pistachios, and in this instance also served with clotted cream. The flavours, though very sweet when thrown together, I didn’t mind. What I found challenging was the soft, yet slightly grainy texture of the halwa. It’s often served during festivals such Diwali, and was certainly an interesting dish which got everyone talking and judging by the clear plates, there were other fans in the room!
The quality of Rani’s food more than lived up to the expectations set by her passion for it, and any fears I had quickly dissipated after my first delicious puri. I thought her moniker as ‘The Spice Angel’ was also very apt; she wasn’t shy about inundating us with a punchy blend of spices, yet she was restrained enough to ensure it wasn’t too overwhelming. I have no doubt that Rani has always been an accomplished home cook, but it was probably her stint on Masterchef which gave her the confidence to give herself a more professional approach to cooking. Her supperclubs are comforting, homely affairs, and if you’re after dishes which warm you from the inside out then this is the one for you!
What’s your favourite Indian curry?
Thanks to Rani, The Spice Angel for treating us to some of her family favourites, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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