The rain streaming down the windows may say Maharashtrian monsoon, but the motley diners trickling in to take their places around the nattily attired tables speak firmly of East London. The accent you catch snatches of from the kitchen, meanwhile, blends the both as perfectly as the masala in the steaming hot chai that’s the essential elixir for such foul weather.
Happily, there’s nothing foul about the Damn Good Curry to be served shortly, whether you’re from Bombay or Blighty. Tonight’s menu is a melange of the myriad influences that render the culinary culture of that Indian city so rich; a banquet which demands a pre-feast fast in order to savour every dish with due relish.
At the Damn Good Curry supperclub, you can always guarantee relish both figurative and literal. This time around, the latter is delivered as a triple-threat – in the form of a herbal, tangy green chutney; a deceptively virginal, snow-white coconut stuff that packs a killer chilli kick, and a nicely roasty-toasty number made with ground gram.
I’d be happy enough to play Little Jack Horner, hudged up in a kitchen corner with just a pot of each plus spoon for my own staff meal, but then I’d miss the chance to play Little Miss Muffet with the curds that will later come my way in the form of Nilanjani’s Gujarati-style kadhi – a treat from her extensive recipe repertoire I’m yet to eat.
In the meantime, I’m green with envy watching guests swooshing samosas through the verdant chutney and dolloping the besan and coconut condiments onto vada so light they threaten to float off my serving plate when I take round seconds, thirds, and finally fourths. This bunch know how to go forth and munch – and why not, when the food is this fine? Ragra pattice is a chaat that stops conversation as tongues are wrapped around its many textures and tastes.
With eating engines well oiled, it’s time to parade round the pav. The buttered bread rolls are a Bombay mainstay, used to sandwich potato fritters in the classic vada pav and, as these diners are discovering, sop up deeply flavoured keem peas and pav bhaji , the innocent vegetable mush that you can’t believe contains almost its own weight of butter in a single serving. The dish gives a whole new meaning to ‘well-lubricated guests’.
‘Riceless’ is not a happy state to be in when you’re lapping up diverse delicacies of the state of Maharashtra. And a carb excess is a price diners are obviously willing to pay. Along with those plenitudinous piles of pav already demolished, the mountains of fluffy white Basmati are soon molehills once the main course arrives.
Most people have dabbled with a dhansak, albeit of the ‘curryhouse’ kind. But the authentic Parsi preparation that lends its name to that menu mainstay bears little relation to the one you get delivered to your door. Tonight’s version cloaks chunks of mutton in a silky gravy made with slow-cooked lentils and veggies including aubergine – the inclusion of which betrays the dish’s Persian roots.
As you hope and expect, the meat falls from the bone. And, as you hope and expect, it’s served on said bone – the sucking of which is undoubtedly the best part of this particular Damn Good Curry. Sai bhaji is slurped with the same vigour by the vegetarians – the Sindhi dish’s sinful buttery taste derived from the dill added by the bunch to this hearty, wholesome hotchpotch.
If sai bhaji wasn’t soothing enough, the kadhi is enough to sweeten even the most sour of temperaments. The simple sour yogurt soup is tempered with spices and a good jigger of jaggery which imparts that subtle sweetness the Gujarati palate finds so pleasing. The East End one is similarly fond of the flavour, too, judging by the bottom-scraped bowls I carry back to the kitchen.
Time for Baath. Not because the guests are in a mess, but because the tables have been cleared to make way for the dessert Nilanjani can’t resist serving even though it’s slipped up from the more Southerly state of Goa. Good job it’s made the journey to tonight’s menu – because this irresistible rose-imbued semolina-and-coconut cake doesn’t even leave a telltale trail of crumbs in its wake.
No-one wants to wake from this brilliant Bombay dream and head back into the wet, wild Walthamstow night. But like all good things, sublime supperclubs must eventually come to an end – in spite of one overhead diner’s wish to the contrary as belts are loosened and coats are donned and buttoned up tight.
Just like the innumerable dishes of the vibrant city she’s celebrating tonight, Nilanjani’s own remit is pretty endless – as, it seems, is the appetite for Damn Good Curry. Be it a blinding Bombay banquet you can’t stop banging on about, or a Goa glut that gets gluttons going, this is one supperclub that delivers exactly what it says on the tin every single time.
- Damn Good Curry is held on the last Friday of every month in Walthamstow.
- The next supperclub date is Friday 28th February, with a Goa theme.
- To read about previous Goa Damn Good Curry supperclubs, click here.
- For menu details and to book, contact @NilanjaniP or @Damngoodcurry on Twitter.