If 2014 was an Indian dish, I’d be inclined to liken it to a Parsi patia – simultaneously sweet and sour, and pretty darn spicy. And, like a brimming bowlful of that gravy, it’s left me with many delicious memories.
Nepalese food eased me into the year, as I worked alongside Rajiv Kc at his East London supperclub, Rajiv’s Kitchen. Checking out the (friendly) competition, we finally made it to South London’s Babur – where the first festival in the restaurant’s ‘Save the Indian Tiger’ campaign was Nepali-themed and got the thumbs up from us both (as did the killer cocktails.)
Still a little shaken from venturing south of the river, I rushed back up north to Nikita Gulhane’s Spice Monkey cookery school, where a day was whiled away making and munching Marathi food with Nik and his mum, who, much to my relief, approved of my chappati dough. Spending time blending spices and cooking in a family home should be on everyone’s agenda – as should a class by Jamie Oliver-approved Nik.
As front of house for the eponymous supperclub, it’s understandable that I’m not too often in need of a Damn Good Curry – but dosa cravings do need seeing to. In February, team DGC headed to the very exotic neighbourhood of Gants Hill and did our very best to conquer Dosa & Dosa’s 100-strong dosa menu. Of course, dear reader, we failed – but it’s good to know one can indulge in Andhra specialities like the moong dal batter peserattu or the upma-filled MLA without leaving London.
If you relish regional Indian food, news of a new place where the hungry can explore elusive edibles is always welcome. In March, Cyrus Todiwala made going for Goan that bit easier, with the opening of Assado in Waterloo. Fast, funky and fresh, the all-day canteen’s theme is the Portuguese-influenced food of India’s smallest state. To ward off anything untoward occurring, I offered up that classic evil-eye evader: a nimbu mirchi mobile. And, as Assado goes from strength to strength, it surely seems to be working.
Then March moved from superstition to science – of the curry kind, to be precise. As part of the Feed Your Mind series, Kings College tasked a trio of pretty entertaining eggheads with enlightening the audience about how chopping onions moves us to tears; whether beer can cool searing spice; why one can power through so many papads; and strongly advising against the Cinnamon Challenge.
Perhaps harder than holding a spoonful of dry cinnamon in one’s mouth was the challenge of cramming the many and varied achievements of wonder woman Pervin Todiwala in a single blogpost. Rather easier was me and The Spice Dad making complete (non-)Parsi pigs of ourselves at Cafe Spice Namaste’s monthly Khaadraas Club, where we ate widely and well of saas ni macchi, farcha (aka the best fried chicken in the world), mutton jardaloo, and the mawa cakes made legendary by Bombay’s iconic Irani cafes.
To spread my farcha fanaticism further, I included it in this article on the best South Asian chicken preparations for DESIblitz; where I also explored Indian-influenced chocolate and developed a recipe for divine Bombay Mix truffles. So compelling did I find the combination that I entered my Bombay Bad Boy chocolate cheesecake recipe into my favourite charity Find Your Feet’s Curry For Change contest. Judge Vivek Singh declared it ‘attractive and a bit bonkers’, and, on my birthday, off I went to film this video of me making it.
The Southbank’s annual South Asian Alchemy festival is always enjoyable, and this year provided the setting for a very merry birthday outing, fuelled by kati rolls from Sandhya and Gaurav at Horn Please’s HOP-up, many, many mithai from Gupta’s, cocktails from Roti Chai’s Chaat Shack and some cracking chocolate from The Chocolatier Aneesh Popat. It was an evening to remember, except I barely do. Suffice to say it was a good one!
More crystal-clear in my mind are the terrific tastes of Greenhill Kitchen’s Rajasthani thali at the Rasovara pop-up which the Mumbai-based duo of Flora Hilleary and Aditi Dugar brought to London. From pickles packed with pods and berries from the desert, to a multi-textured palak papri chaat, to a brimming bread basket, to a silver leaf-lavished safed maas, it was a fine feast fit for Rasthani kings and London proles alike.
Another Good Thing in 2014 was writing for (and now editing) luxury food and culture title Good Things magazine; giving me the chance to champion chefs and talented foodies I’ve always wanted to provide a platform for – like Ashish Bhatia at Harrow’s Turban Street Cafe. Completely committed to his craft and to opening eyes to authentic Indian food, Ash rustled up recipes (and many staff meals!) to fit all kinds of briefs – like this Indo-French fish dish designed to pair with rose wine.
June is the major month in Curry For Change‘s calendar, and I found my feet stepping over the threshold of the esteemed Cinnamon Club for Find Your Feet, as the charity asked its champions to champion one of its partnered venues by sampling a special dish. So successful was Vivek’s spiced scallops on cauliflower ‘cous cous’ that the restaurant had run out – but the extra cash raised for the good cause caused me to be quite happy about missing out.
Father’s Day calls for a feast, and so I checked The Spice Dad into Kehab Rehab. Roti Chai is always a solid option where a spot of edible therapy is in order, and an Indo-Turk mashup meal co-coordinated by Rohit Chugh and Turkish chef and expert Hulya Erdal proved just too tempting. Duck haleem squared up against quail egg-stuffed icli kofte; seekh and adana kebabs shared plate and stomach space; and the whole shebang proved that cross-cultural mixed marriages can be exceptionally successfully.
As the weather got hotter, my friend the Food Urchin forced me into the kitchen to cook him supper. No, actually that’s a lie. In July, Danny decided to resurrect his ‘Where’s My Pork Chop?‘ blog, tasting’n’rating meals made by his mates as they gift him last night’s leftovers. My spicy supper had included poha and Nepali chicken choila cooked to Rajiv’s recipe, so that’s just what Dan devoured during his late-night office stint – and it prompted him to pen this.
Summers should be filled with friends and food. Along with
taking pity on treating Danny, July involved an excellent East London evening of communal cooking with Angus Denoon, making repeated runs to the Jhalmuri Express wonder-van for spices to sling into a vast vat of bone-in mutton biryani,which we followed with mishti doi and fresh garden-grown strawberries macerated with jaggery and toasted, crushed fennel and coriander seeds.
Less chilled was a hot and sticky schlep up the Thames, when I decided that the distance from Somerset House to Cafe Spice Namaste would be a simple stroll in half-an-hour. By the time Pervin Todiwala was lured into the room to the surprise shindig celebrating her award from The International Alliance For Women, I had caught my breath enough to cheer along with fellow friends and family members; all of us over the moon at her achievement.
No matter how hot summer got, the East London appetite for Damn Good Curry never waned. On the final Friday of each month, our little dream team continued serving up Nilanjani’s lovely Bombayite-Goan-Punjabi-South Indian grub; refilling endlessly-emptying bowls; keeping the bowls club kitchen spick and span; and, of course, enjoying every moment of it.
Any chance to work with Angus Denoon is eagerly seized, and July ended with an evening spent serving cones of jhalmuri to over 300 at a film screening. Never has the sentiment ‘Everybody Love Love Jhalmuri Express’ rung truer. After a top-speed two hours of Angus and Dipu mixing and tipping, and Mary and I rolling and serving, nary a piece of puri or a sprinkle of sev remained. Time for beer and good cheer.
August arrived and so did The Spice Dad’s birthday – high summer and high time to finally meet Palash Mitra, head chef at Scarfes Bar. The Bengali-born chef offered to make us a menu of his own choosing, and we happily put our appetites in his hands. Both classics like a velvety white korma and butter chicken and more modern fusions like a chaat-style Caesar-ish salad showed Palash’s proficiency to a tee.
Having just read and loved The Hundred Foot Journey, I couldn’t help but compare Palash’s mastery of both Eastern and Western culinary techniques to that of Hassan – the novel’s protagonist. In a timely fashion, an invite to the new film adaptation landed in my inbox. After creating the characters and building the sets in my own mind’s eye, I was in two minds about seeing someone else’s interpretation – until I laid my eyes on Manish Dayal.
Beyond the eye candy, the film was fabulous. I watched it twice in quick succession, and if you’re still to see it I urge you to discover it on DVD immediately. Of course, such a foodie film demanded delicious promotional activities – one of which was aptly held at La Porte des Indes, where Mehernosh Mody treated a group of gourmets to an Indo-French masterclass and a classy meal made yet more tasty when Pat Chapman ordered a rare-breed pork vindalho.
‘Restaurant of the Year’ Gymkhana might have been the place to be for most of 2014, but I was fashionably late to the party, enjoying my first muntjac dum biryani only in September. Not only was the rice nice – Amira’s finest Basmati – but the company was cracking. After some time interacting on social media, I finally met my ‘food sister’, broadcaster Ashanti Omkar; and relishing rice together forged as solid a bond betwixt us as breaking bread.
Our next food foray a fortnight later was also at the invitation of Amira; this time to The Sparkle Ball gala held by the Akshaya Patra foundation as a fundraiser for the charity’s work ending hunger amongst Indian schoolchildren. As a banquet, an auction, and a full evening of entertainment ensued, money and glasses alike were raised for a very fine cause. As an added bonus, the date coincided with a London visit from India’s celebrity chef Saransh Goila.
Saransh and I didn’t just click selfies – we also got our faces on a bespoke beer bottle label a few nights later at the launch of Vedett’s new IPA at Cinnamon Kitchen. Chef Abdul Yaseen served a supper of four fine courses, each accompanied by a large enough glassful of a well-matched beer to make us all pleasantly tulli by the evening’s end. Then it was time for Indian wine at Find Your Feet’s ‘Evening of Flavour’ fundraiser, along with food by Anjum Anand, Dhruv Baker and Hari Ghotra.
Diwali decadence commenced with a Keralite feast at East Ham’s Thiru Anathapuram at Ashanti’s recommendation, followed shortly by the launch of her new South Indian Sunday show on BBC Asian Network. My pataka-popped eardrums were soothed by the sounds of South Indian music; my stomach sated by gorging on homemade Gujarati sweets and snacks – a Diwali delivery from Mistry & Co.’s Parisha’n’Dips.
I find the buzz of live theatre gives me as much of a rush as mithai, so it was aplomb that I accepted Ashanti’s invite to the stage show of East Is East at the Trafalgar Theatre. When the Khan clan took to the stage, both of us were surprised to see Amit Shah – the actor we’d last spied in The Hundred Foot Journey, playing the eldest son Abdul. The show was smashing – I laughed, I cried, I returned again with The Spice Dad.
But the late evening end time of East Is East robbed me and Ashanti of a post-play dinner a deux – a missed meal we more than made up for at the November launch of Dishoom’s new Kings Cross Godown. As we stepped into the so-new-it-feels-like-it’s-always-been-there space, founder-walla Shamil greeted me with the warm words ‘welcome home’. Well, quite. For that’s just how it feels, sprawling across three floors and serving stuff like nalli gosht with the (non-)optional addition of bheja alongside a collection of in-house barrel-aged cocktails which we studiously sampled.
And then Advent arrived, and aptly December finished where January began, enjoying Nepalese food from Rajiv’s Kitchen, albeit seated rather than serving. Christmas came, and Spice Kitchen’s Sanjay sent the perfect present my way: a glass-fronted, multi-compartmented spice box containing an octet of jars filled with home-blended masalas and sachets of his signature mulled wine mixture…
…Enabling me to raise a glass of something suitably spiced and toast to all those who made 2014 what it was.