I used this Indian restaurant a lot a few years ago, so I was delighted to see it going strong on a recent visit.
This is a classic small-town curry place: it serves more or less all the old-school dishes in its attempt to satisfy everyone: from young couples getting ready for a night out to oldies making their visit a night out, to groups celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and all those people in-between (like our jolly table down from London for the night).
And a classic place deserves some classic ordering. So where to start? Ah, the joys of an Indian. No faffing around like in other places; it’s not what to order, it’s simply how many to order.
“That’ll be six popadoms please.” See mum, I can order with no hands (on the menu) now.
Then it’s the pickle tray ritual as people make a grab for their favourites.
“Oh, that’s hot! Try that one.”
“Oh I love that one.”
“Is that the mango? Mmmm.”
“What’s that one? I don’t think I’ve had that one before.”
“Yes you bloody have,” I want to cry. “This is a classic curry house. They’ve been dishing up the same stuff for years when it comes to this bit of the meal.”
In case you haven’t been out since 1978 it goes like this…
The popadoms arrive 18 seconds after they have been ordered. Some people in your group are still removing their coats and before long another member of the group will return from the loo and exclaim: “oh you’ve ordered popadoms,” as if it is unusual.
The amount of popadoms you get will be the highest number that a member of you party asked for. So if everyone asked for six but one person said ten then the waiter will have only have heard him and you will get ten. Nobody argues because it’s not the done thing.
The popadoms will be moderately warm as they were cooked earlier and have been sitting under a warmer tray. Nobody argues because it’s not the done thing.
The pickle tray will include, a) some chopped onion with mint and a bit of vinegar. b) mango pickle. c) lime pickle. d) yoghurt/mint sauce. There is never a variation of the pickle tray in a classic curry house, although occasionally the yoghurt/mint sauce can be bright green thanks to colouring, which is rather exciting, even though it tastes no different.
Everyone tucks in. There are two ways to eat popadoms and pickles. One is to break off small bits of popadom and put on the pickles one at a time so you can actually taste them. The second is to pile a mixture of all the pickles on your plate and mix them up into a complete mess in a complete disregard for the individual taste of each one. You can then scoop up the mess on to your popadom and wonder why it is dripping all over the place.
After five minutes someone at the table asks for another tray of pickles because they have already been devoured. This is the equivalent of a large bottle of ketchup and mustard being used on a couple of hotdogs but no worry, the waiter will assist us.
The waiter mutters something in Hindi to his colleague. This can roughly translated as “that greedy bunch have eaten a whole pickle tray in five minutes. Thank goodness we charge £1.10 per popadom these days.”
After another five minutes the waiter returns to collect the empty tray but as he touches it someone exclaims, “we haven’t finished yet,” before picking up the last miniscule shards of popadoms and popping them into his mouth.
The waiter says something else in Hindi.
And so begins a classic meal in a classic Indian restaurant, which on this occasion served up an excellent Chicken Tikka Sag (£8.95), Keema Bhuna (£7.95) and Sag Aloo (£3.20), as well as the largest King Prawn Butterfly starter (£5.95) I have ever seen.
Crayford Tandoori, 4 Empire Building Waterside, Crayford, Kent, DA1 4JJ. Tel: 01322 529 907. Open: Sunday to Thursday 5.30pm – 11pm, Friday to Saturday 5.30pm – midnight.
Scores on the tandoors Food 7 Decor 6 Service and friendliness 7.5 Vibe (Saturday night) 8 Value 8