An Indian Summer wonderfully well spent

Indian collage

Summer time is a happy time for busy bees, and accordingly, saw me buzzing all over London; having a thoroughly capital time indulged and involved with all sorts of edible Indian excitement. There was street food, there were sweets, there were cocktails…

And there was, of course, a certain degree of curry. In fact, summer got off to a saucy start with a delicious duo of the spicy stews – one Yasmin Choudhury’s pioneering Lovedesh Woodfired Curry, the other a truly Damn Good Curry. The former was cooked one lazy, hazy afternoon in the unlikely environs of South Norwood.

We scraped, we chopped, we pounded, just like the women in rural Bangladeshi villages, as Yasmin trialled one of her innovative ideas designed to enlighten Westerners to the artisan skills of underexplored third world countries. It might have been the exertion, it might have been knowing the story of our supper, but it slipped down a treat.

And the Lovedesh Woodfired concept also curried favour with food bloggers at the Food Blogger Connect conference, enticed by the dancing flames caressing the pot, and the burning passion for the cause that gets Yasmin so hot under the collar. Scorchio! And the heat stayed on for me, getting to grips with serving Nilanjani Pai’s Damn Good Curry to a whole hot mess of spice-lovers.

Meen pappas at Cinnamon Culture

Meen pappas at Cinnamon Culture

Luckily, they loved it – and continue to lap it up at each and every event. Lately, Nilanjani’s cajoling her guests to go and try Goan. Having scoffed my fair share of kitchen scraps, I would very much suggest the same… As would my dear old Dad, who Nilanjani treated to a feast as a birthday gift. He had a pretty spicy summer, in fact – we’d shared a delectable dinner at Cinnamon Culture just days before.

Taking a beloved birthday bloke out for a meal is always risky business, and so I travelled with trepidation. But as Dad dolloped the last morsels of Syrian Christian buffalo curry onto his plate and declared it his best experience of Indian fine dining to date, I knew I’d picked a winner. Actually, I knew as soon as I bit into the tender, mixed-nut-packed Peshwari naan, but I needed to hear it from the horse’s mouth too.

Speaking of horses, Camden Stables market saw some new Indian additions over the summer. Stumbling over the cobbles, I stumbled upon a tiny Nepali cafe, dwarfed in decor by the splendiferous Gilgamesh but far more bewitching when it came to the menu. Up towards the roundhouse, I sniffed out pretty kickin’ kachoris at the Radhe stall. My friend Poornima relished more Radhe as she roved around the neighbourhood on her unending Biryani Quest.

I love setting more Indian food lovers off on their own quests, so I was thrilled to be involved with drafting in charity champions for Find Your Feet’s Curry for Change launch at Cinnamon Kitchen – and extra-specially thrilled to have Vivek Singh, Dhruv Baker and Anjum Anand cook me dinner. I co-ordinated a pretty tasty fieldtrip to the wilds of West London, too, where Potli opened its Indian market kitchen to serve us up a selection of esoteric regional street eats.

Indie Ices tuktuk Asha

Some Indian foodies spent summer on the streets. That’s not to say they’re on their uppers; rather, on the up and up! Street food purveyors Rola Wala and Manjit’s Kitchen were shortlisted for the Young British Foodie awards along with brilliant Brindian baker Pistachio Rose. Indie Ices’  Mike Tattershall was simply on fire, with his custom tuk tuk Asha up for the British Street Food Best Looking Mobiler award and a flurry of media coverage. Lucky, then, he has his kulfi to help him keep his cool.

Ivor Peters, Indunil Sanchi and I could all have done with some of that kulfi as we sweated it out in the kitchen at Ivor’s launch party for ‘The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs‘. Indi was undoubtedly the coolest customer, showing us why he’s achieved the accolade of Pub Curry Chef of the Year for three years on the trot as he banged out bhajis to hold back the hungry hoards.

They say if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But at Dishoom, it was more a case of ‘get out of the restaurant’. So on a super-sultry Sunday, we obeyed the adage, decamping to the wonderfully rickety, shabby and oh-so-chic verandah for bottomless chai, cocktails and spicy chat both on the plate and in the air.

A couple of weeks later, it was celebration that was in the air at that old Bombay cafe. The promise of Eid festivities lured folks from all walks of life, united in their love for terrific tales, juicy fresh paan, some rather marvellous mendhi, mithai galor. Eid at Dishoom was no washout – all the action washed down with enough chai to sink a tea clipper.

Janmashtami

At the tail end of summer I clip-clopped right out of town, making my first pilgrimage to the legendary Bhaktivedanta Manor, near Watford, for the legendary Janmashtami celebrations. This annual Hindu festival marks Krishna’s earthy arrival – and Bhaktivedanta Manor’s festivities marked the arrival of a mind-boggling 70,000 revellers. With singing, dancing, the chance to view ones’ icons, and quite literally divine food, it was rather like attending a music festival; only far more enjoyable.

Know what else was enjoyable, and continues to make the seasonal transition not-so-sour? The Incredible Spicemen, that’s what. After widespread disillusionment with recent Indian food programming, Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh burst onto the BBC in a breath of fresh air scented liberally with spice. Their unique brand of Brindian fusion means this is one dynamic duo I’m always happy to make a date with.

Keep it under your dhoti, but I’m also dotty about another dynamic duo, and planning to two-time those first two in October. But when you clock the Great Indian Food Feast my old comrades Ivor Peters and Indiunil Sanchi are planning to cook up at the Bermondsey Square Hotel, I know you’ll forgive me my infidelity.  Who could resist?

So that was my summer. And I couldn’t resist immortalising it in the crazy collage that captures the cracking edible Indian adventures that crammed the season and crowns this blogpost. Happily, the fun doesn’t stop – I’m currently salivating over Duke of Delhi’s divine Delhi-mix-dotted chocolate and anticipating Devnaa’s new book of Gujarati vegetarian family recipes. Then there’s the Halal Food Festival…  Heck, I’m already hungry for harvest-time.

The Incredible Spicemen

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