A few weeks ago, I found myself embroiled in a discussion about the office tea club, rummaging through my bag for an umbrella, and harbouring a deep hankering for a curry. This seemingly innocent combination made me stop mid-rummage in a state of shock; after almost three and a half years of living in London, was I turning just that little bit British? Back in Wellington, I never had lengthy debates about the tea round (we just made our own), umbrellas were destined to be discarded in a bin partway down Lambton Quay, and the only curries I had a stomach for were Malaysian curries… But look how London’s changed me. By about 3pm that day, I was actually looking forward to, craving even, our dinner at Mango Indian because I hadn’t had my dose of curry and roti in quite some time.
The restaurant is at one end of a less than enticing street and round the corner from Borough Market; as a result, we both instinctively pitied it for its seemingly unfortunate location… I honestly couldn’t imagine many people bypassing Borough Market and then finding their way down to this derelict looking lane. But I would be wrong. From our window table, we got a front row view of couples and groups making a beeline for this cosy little curry house… as we sated ourselves on the poppadoms and chutneys, we mused that this was not such an unfortunate location after all, and definitely not the undiscovered gem we had chalked it down as.
I didn’t realise how deeply the Brits loved their curry until I moved here and witnessed their devotion to the curry house with my own eyes. Each neighbourhood in London has a bit of a food niche, but every one of them also has a curry house or three so it’s safe to say, the love is real. Which makes calling your restaurant ‘Pure Indian Cooking’ a rather bold statement. Whether that was all part of the master plan or the creative juices weren’t quite running when it came time to settle on a name; I like the promise it makes. Unlike many other weird and wonderful restaurant names, this leaves nothing cryptic to ponder, only a hope that it lives up to the claim.
We immediately had a good feeling about its purity when we ran our eyes over the surprisingly succinct list of offerings. I’m usually overwhelmed by the tome-like menus I get presented with at Indian restaurants but there was no such trauma here, just a tidy list split into starters, meats, fish, and vegetarian dishes, and a knowledgeable manager to explain any dishes we weren’t sure about. Though we needed no help in deciding on the chilli fried squid or the pepper shrimp. I have no idea how traditional the delicately spiced and battered squid rings are but I liked them; almost as much as the succulent shrimp enveloped in that peppercorn sauce. It was a touch on the salty side for me, but I still couldn’t resist the richness and generous spicing of the sauce.
One of my most frequented areas in London is that grid of streets surrounding Carnaby Street; not really an original choice I know, but I’m content with joining the masses who adore this part of town. It’s famed for being a great shopping destination – slightly less crowded than Oxford Street and a lot more interesting in its offerings – but I actually love it for the plethora of restaurants dotted in between the shops. No matter what I find myself hungry for, these streets never fail to deliver me something scrumptious.
I have my go-to senõr for ceviche, that slick American for barbeque, and even the trendy Korean for a bibimbap and a cocktail… oh, and I can’t forget the belly-warming ramen bar or the place where I finally found a kebab that I liked. That’s more than enough to keep me going back again and again, but it just had to go and outdo itself and give me another reason – a gem for those times I’m craving an Indian curry.
Dining plans at Thai restaurants fill me with hope and dread. My meticulous scanning of the menus beforehand leaves me to hope that this time, thiswill be the one which converts me into a fan. The dread creeps in after the first few bites when I am inevitably disappointed, and I have no idea why. I should love everything about Thai food – the dishes, the flavours, the spice… but for some reason, we never completely see eye to eye.
I wasn’t as wowed as I should’ve been at what is supposedly one of America’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I ordered? Nor was I joining the masses in falling head over heels for what’s often described as one of London’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I didn’t order? I should just give up on them but ever the optimist (or greedy sucker for punishment) I keep turning up at Thai restaurants…
Many scoffed at our chances, many laughed in our faces, many simply just did not take us seriously, but we did it. We managed to go two whole weeks without eating out! Really. First world problems, I know, but we all have our vices.