Sleazy car salesman ‘Swiss Toni’ might have a special place in the hearts of Fast Show fans, but in recent years that comedy character’s dubious charms have been knocked into a cocked turban by Britain’s very own ‘Scots Punjabi Tony’.
Since this Tony teamed up with Cyrus Todiwala for ‘The Incredible Spicemen’, Mr. Singh has been quite the in thing. He might not describe filling a samosa as ‘like making love to a beautiful woman’ in the manner of his Swiss almost-namesake, but everything that comes out of his kitchen is as tasty as an especially lovely lady.
And indeed, ‘Tasty’ is the name of Tone’s new cookbook; a book that abounds with so much of this chef’s cracking character it’s almost like finding him pressed within its pages like a be-kilted butterfly. Except that would be impossible, because Mr. Singh is gloriously and absolutely irrepressible; and most definitely incapable of being described as ‘two dimensional’.
‘Tasty’ is to my taste. I gobbled it up in one great big binge, devouring the lot in a single sitting, then returned like a guilty unsated midnight fridge-raider to relish and savour once more. Tony is an all-too-rare example of a guy who’s anchored to his roots whilst straining at the leash to explore new territory. His feet are on the ground but the sky’s the limit when it comes to culinary creativity.
He wants to make you laugh, and he wants to make you think – about British produce, about food quality, and about using the ignored, the unloved, and the under-rated. You’d rate him as a mate – the kind who’d bring a big bottle of whisky and a pile of pear and ginger samosas to a party then revive you with a brilliant brunch when the hangover hit.
It might come as a surprise that a top chef like Tony keeps bought baked beans in his kitchen cupboard – but this is a chap who’s happy to loudly and proudly declare his love for plastic cheese slices and chippy sauce. In other words, he’s refreshingly, exceptionally normal. And that trait is none too common amongst the chefferati.
The surname ‘Singh’ means ‘lion’ not ‘tiger’, but you’d still be chuffed to find this Tony proffering his ‘God’s own bacon roll’ at breakfast in lieu of a bowl of sugared cereal flakes. Artichoke risotto cakes sound like a roaringly good lunch option; and anyone who doesn’t fancy peanut butter chicken thighs for their tea frankly just needs their head – or at least, tastebuds – testing.
Singh sings the praises of whatever he damn well wants. His kitchen is probably much like yours and mine – a slightly ludicrous hotpotch of esoteric edibles bought on a whim, storecupboard staples, and the foods we feel curry favour with any passing food snobs having a poke about. I don’t reckon for a minute Tony’s the sort who sorts his shelves to cleverly conceal his guilty pleasures.
Because he clearly doesn’t have any. It’s absolutely evident that to Tony, ‘tasty’ is a non-discriminating term; a label happily slapped onto anything and everything that tickles his tastebuds. Although ‘Tasty’ might have a heavy Scottish and Indian accent, the book will be understood with crystal clarity by anyone who has even the slightest enjoyment of eating.
‘Tasty’ is full of surprises – some evident, like the fish fingers with a layer of mushy peas beneath the breadcrumb coat; some more subtle, like the twang of tamarind in a treacle glaze for steaks. Tony’s pal Cyrus is cited as the inspiration for a fish marinade that elevates a humble haddock fillet to a spiced-up supper; served, bien sur, with chunky chips.
That bien Sir Singh loves unloved cuts of meat – like the lamb belly he braises with blonde ale; or the lamb ribs that always grace Turkish grill platters but don’t seem to matter much elsewhere. ‘Ecky thump’ black pud fritters are crispy on the outside, unctuous on the inside; owing to the inclusion of pulled pig trotters. There had to be haggis, and it’s indeed here in a hearty venison burger.
There’s plenty for veggies, too – a comprehensive collection of globetrotting (and trotter-less) recipes. And, lest there are those amongst you that still need the pill sugared, let’s discuss desserts from the ‘chef-tan o’ the pudding race’. The ‘Short & Sweet’ chapter is definitely the latter and not quite the former; filled with 23 recipes that will fill your dentist with dread.
Cocoa-shelled samosas with lime and ginger curd could not have been conceived by anyone but a boy who grew up sucking his way through a quarter of chocolate limes from the local sweetshop whilst waiting impatiently for his mum to make him some proper Punjabi khana for his tea. In inimitable style, Tony describes pumpkin empanadas as ‘exotic Cornish pasties’.
Tony is complex both as a character and as a chef. It’s a pleasure to pass time with him, even purely though the pages of his book. I’m inclined to liken him to a carefully-packed packet of pick’n’mix where each and every item’s a winner. He rocks like that Edinburgh confection – and, if you cut him open like a stick of the seaside stuff, you’d surely see the word ‘tasty’ running through his core.