Normal lagers please

Surya, New York, USA
(Review by the New York Curry Club)

Truly an All Saints Day for the books! If the Appleton sisters were alive today, they would surely be nodding their heads with pride at our wondrous celebration. After Malt House witnessed one of our more aggressive pre-games, Surya was definitely ill-prepared for its esteemed guests. Our waiter Leo (@pereiraleo308), blessed with chutzpah as large as his mullet, unwisely tried to force us into the Bira 91 promotional beer (disgusting). After berating him for a while, normal lagers magically appeared.

The food was remarkably good for an establishment offering a $12 lunch menu. A very tender mixed grill was followed by some perfectly acceptable curries, albeit lacking in spice for a more experienced palate.

As beer levels depleted (an all too common occurrence on the NYC Indian restaurant scene), excitement levels escalated. The banter was flowing, glasses were smashed, and an invasion of Oreo-selling rapscallions delivered a fitting end to a fine meal.

The Garrett was kind enough to host us post-dinner, and a selection of brave CC-ers found themselves at the Jane in the early hours. Better decisions have been made.

Surya score = 6 curry leaves

Food – 1.5/2 (Surprised on the upside)

Beers – 0.5/2 (The initial cheek to force us into their sponsors’ offering, and then a complete underestimation of the necessary volume for a CC sitting. Leo picks up half a point for going on a shopping mission for some extras.)

Décor/Ambience – 1.5/2 (Pleasant graffiti backdrop, and some seasoned curry veterans dotted throughout the restaurant)

Popadoms – 1.5/2 (Reasonable structure and prompt service. As ever in NYC, the accoutrements were very lacking in quality)

Je ne sais quoi – 1/2 (For some reason, I will probably consider a return visit).

Surya, 154 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012, USA. Tel: 212 875 1405.

Open: Monday to Thursday noon – 3pm and 5pm – 10:30pm, Friday noon – 3pm and 5pm – 11pm, Saturday to Sunday noon – 11pm.

Old Monk, New York

The Old Monk, New York, USA
(Review by the New York Curry Club)

A surprisingly quiet Mozambique Day of Peace and Reconciliation. We even managed to secure a large table for aperitifs on what is typically the most rambunctious celebration of the year.

Wheels suitably greased and blessed with a sprinkle of new faces, we ventured to Babu Ji’s old stomping ground. Now under new ownership, Old Monk aims for the same ‘contemporary Indian soul food’ vibe as its predecessor, but underwhelms. Using the Club’s traditional goalkeeper analogy, the tasting menu was a Petr Cech – solid, bland and probably used to be rated quite highly. You wouldn’t necessarily complain if the chairman secured him on a free in the January transfer window, but you’re not going to be thrilled when the ball’s at his feet.

For the price paid, you’d expect something a little sexier, a Jordan Pickford perhaps, offering an additional element of excitement to the build-up play and a more obvious passion for the game (curry). Indeed, many diners were unable to tell the difference between the chicken and salmon dishes and the only notable shift in flavours came with the dessert course. Nevertheless, the staff were welcoming, enthusiastic and nice enough that we will not curse them with a sub-5 leaves review.

Post-dinner drinks were somewhat scuppered by the heavy digestive requirements of the aforementioned cuisine.

Old Monk Score = 6 curry leaves

Food – 1/2 (disappointing for what was supposedly a ‘tasting menu’)

Beers – 2/2 (solid choice and service)

Décor/Ambience – 1/2 (lovely pachmina awnings, but could do with other diners for atmosphere)

Popadoms – 1.5/2 (reasonable structure but waiters again failed to understand the importance of a prompt race)

Je ne sais quoi – 0.5/2 (a hint of je ne sais quoi, needs work)

The Old Monk, 175 Avenue B, (Corner of 11th Street), New York, NY 10009, USA.
Tel: 646 559-2922. oldmonk175@gmail.com

Open: Sunday – Thursday: 5:30pm – 10pm, Friday & Saturday: 5:30pm – 11pm. Brunch: 11:30pm – 3pm

Ricardo’s Fast Food (Beau Bassin, Mauritius)

Ricardo’s Fast Food, Beau Bassin, Mauritius

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Ricardo’s Tandoori chef

Not much beats deeply marinated chicken that’s served up within seconds of leaving the tandoor oven. Especially if you’ve got a nan bread dripping in butter and it’s one in the morning.

Ricardo’s is hardly on the beaten track for tourists visiting Mauritius, but lucky for us we’ve got a couple of friends in the know. We’d been planning to visit the place for days so it’s fair to say I had Malai Tikka on the brain by time we’d arrived. The tandoor chef certainly knew his stuff and it was a delight to watch him work his magic as he slid an array of meats onto large skewers – Sheek Kebabs (Rs 125), Haryali Kebabs (Rs 100) and, of course, Malai Kebabs (Rs 100) – and then plunged them into the over furnace. The breads were next and it didn’t take long for one of the tastiest street food snacks to emerge.

The tandoor menu is short and to the point – kebabs, nans (Rs 25 to Rs 50) and nan rolls (Rs 150 to Rs 200). There are a few other things on the menu like chips and sausages but frankly why would you bother when there is a super skilled tandoor chef waiting for your order? Just find a perch in the bustle of this ramshackle takeaway joint and watch the locals come and go as they fill up with late-night snacks.

Ricardo’s, Beau Bassin, Mauritius. Tel: 5759 2043. Open: till late.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 9
Decor 2
Service and friendliness 9
Vibe 9 (late night Friday)
Value 10

 

 

 

 

 

Sitar (Dublin)

Sitar, Dublin

The Average White Band were one of my favourite groups in the ’70s and ’80s. They mixed it up musically with a bit of jazz, a bit of funk and a bit of soul. And they mixed it up racially when it came to the line-up of the band. And that mix all came together, like a perfect curry blends a mix of spices, in a track called Pick up the Pieces.

Sitar could do with picking up the pieces, because it certainly has some of the ingredients to be a cracking Indian restaurant – location in Temple Bar, decent food and reasonable prices – but it’s just, well, Average.

Let’s start with the positives. A Temple Bar location, the honey pot of Dublin, where tourists will accept anything at any price seemingly. Ok, Sitar’s not very Irish and there’s not a Guinness sign hanging outside, but it’s in Temple Bar for goodness sake, what can go wrong?

The food is ok (not all of it, but more of that later), the staff are very friendly and welcoming, as is the decor of the place, especially the cosy booth-like table at the window. And best of all there is no ‘live, local music’, which is a welcome relief to anyone who has been in the Irish capital for more than 48 hours.

But then came the popadoms, clearly from a packet – you know, the ones like crisps that are handy for dips when you fancy a snack at home. I’ve pretty much gone off popadoms, mostly because few restaurants cook them fresh anymore (I can only think it costs too much to keep the deep-fat fryer on) but packet popadoms in a restaurant? Well that’s a first. It didn’t matter too much because the amount of dips served up barely covered the bottom of those tiny pots. It’s lucky I’ve gone off pops really.

But I haven’t gone off Sheehk Kebabs and these were clearly cooked from frozen and not made fresh. The poor meat had been iced to death and had no texture, although the taste was just about hanging in there. It’s what you’d imagine astronauts would get if they opened a packet of Sheehk Kebabs as they whizzed around space.

You may wonder why I’m still sitting here at this point. Well, it’s my birthday, the Cobra is very cold and that booth I mentioned was great fun for people watching. It’s amazing what tourists will film if it looks remotely Irish.

Maybe it was at that moment they brought in a proper chef because the mains were rather good (pops, starter, main, plus rice or nan was €18.95 in the early bird special). The Chicken Madras, although cooked well below the spice level required was tasty and the chicken tender, while the Prawn Dhansak lovely and thick with its lentils and delivered with four or five proper-sized prawns. Well, well, the place can deliver, after all. Now just pick up the rest of the pieces guys…

Sitar, 16 Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel: +353 (01) 670 6863. Info@sitartemplebar.ie

Scores on the tandoors
Food 6
Decor 7.5
Service 8
Vibe 6 (early Tuesday night)
Value 6

Southern spice

Spice, Wexford, Ireland

Good. Indian. Restaurant. Wexford. These are not four words you’re likely to see in the same sentence too often. But here it is: Spice, a beautiful restaurant buzzing with diners enjoying excellent Indian dishes. Well, well, what a find this is.

Wexford, a small, pretty town with a population of just 20,000, sits on the east coast of Ireland, about 90 miles from Dublin. What would the Vikings, who founded the town in about 800AD make of this spicy food one wonders.

The decor in Spice is smart and classy with modern sharp lines and thoughtful lighting creating a relaxed and atmosphere. It belies the exterior, which doesn’t promise much.

The chefs are from South India (Kerala) and the menu reveals their regional influences. There is a section of traditional South Indian curries (Lamb €12.50, Vegetable €9.50), a Fish Curry from Goa, the neighbouring region to Kerala (€12.95), and interestingly Kolhapuri, a delicious dish you’d struggle to find on the menus of many restaurants in London, let alone Dublin. Kolhapuri originates from the town of Kolhapur, in Maharashtra to the north of Goa.

Following a generous portion of a delicious squid starter (€9), it was time for a Lamb Madras (€12.50). Madras is, of course, the colonial name for the town of Chennai in south India, but although this is a well-known and popular dish it certainly doesn’t originate from that part of India. In fact, Madras was a name coined in the restaurants of the UK for a curry of a certain heat level (think Curry to Madras to Vindaloo to Phaal). Nevertheless it is a delicious dish and cooked excellently in Spice.

Fresh cream was used to achieve a nice, thick consistency (other restaurants use yoghurt or coconut cream for the same effect) and there was not a trace of oiliness. Those curry lovers who don’t like that film of oil on the top of their dishes will be pleased to know the only thing floating on the top was black mustard seeds.

Finally, worth a mention, is the clever way the menu provides info for people with allergies. Every dish contains a few letters next to it and there is a key at the back (PN = peanuts, S = soya, G = gluten, etc). It’s clever, helpful, and unobtrusive.

* The exchange rate at the time of the visit was £1 = €1.15

Spice, Monck Street, Wexford, Ireland. Tel: +353 (0)53 912-2011. E-mail: info@spicerestaurant.net. Open: Sun–Thurs 5.30pm to 11pm, Fri–Sat 5pm to 11pm.

Scores on the Tandoors
Food 8.5
Decor 9
Service and friendliness 7
Vibe (Saturday night) 7.5
Value 7.5

Light up the BBQ

Dera, Dublin, Ireland

Lovers of the famed Lahore and Tayaabs restaurants in London should know there is a welcome bedfellow across the Irish Sea. The Dublin curry scene is generally not that good and over-priced but Dera is one that hits the mark.

Smarter and smaller than its London-Pakistan counterparts, Dera offers all the usual curries (Dhansak, Jalfrazi, Balti etc) and a good vegetarian selection (Shahi Paneer, Channa Masala, Mushroom Bhunna etc) but as when visiting its more famous friends there is only one way to go – the BBQ meats.

For anyone who has had a lamb chop or Sheehk Kebab (probably as a starter) in another restaurant, please wipe your memory. Most are just pale imitations of the Pakistani-run restaurants.

The Sheehk Kebabs (€9.99) are large and meaty, and are delicious with a bit of the creamy mint sauce smothered over them. The Lamb Chops (€9,99) are so beautifully marinated that they require little more than the odd mouthful of the crunchy salad and a tear of naan. And the Chicken Tikka (€9.99) will have you wondering exactly what it is that you’ve been eating up until now. All of these dishes are served with either pilau rice, naan or chips so are meals in themselves. Especially as the popadoms and pickles are complimentary.

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Lamb Chops and Chicken Tikka. Skip the curry with the usual sauce and get stuck in.

Frankly, you should look no further, at least on the first couple of visits. However, if you are one of those people who insists that “a night out for curry” is not a curry without that tomato/onion sauce over your food then there are are starter portions of these same dishes before you tuck into the old-school favourites. Better, would be to get a group of friends together, order a couple of the meaty platters to share and add in one or two curries or side dishes. I usually go for vegetable options like Paneer Karahi (€9.99) or Bindi Bhaji (€7.99) when I go down this route, to ensure there is plenty of room for the meat. If you are really in the communal spirit there is a raised area in Dera by the entrance where you can eat cross-legged or lounge against cushions while you swap dishes.

The restaurant does not serve alcohol but the Sweet or Salt Lassi (€2) or Afghani Green Tea (€2) makes a nice change until your drift back into the Dublin air and its 1001 pubs.

Dera, 138 Parnell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland. Tel: +353 (0)1 5388-800 or (0)1 5388-900. Open: daily 1pm till late.

Scores on the Tandoors
Food 9
Service and friendliness 7
Decor 8
Vibe 6 (Tuesday night)
Value 9

Spice panorama

 The Vista, Nairobi, Kenya

There are great views of the Kenyan capital from this seventh floor restaurant in the vibey area of Westlands. Large glass panels offer diners about 180 degree span of the city as they enjoy their curry.

As the Vista serves as the Hotel Emerald’s restaurant and bar there are different cuisines on the menu, but strictly speaking this is a curry restaurant and it welcomes a lot of locals and visitors who aren’t staying at the hotel.

Considering the chefs do have to cater for different tastes there is decent line up in the Indian section, with no less than 20 starters and 34 main dishes, not to mention naans and rice. Vegetarians are particularly well catered for, with a host of tasty sounding dishes, including the lively looking Dynamite Paneer Pops (Ksh600).

If in doubt keep it simple, so I opted for a Chicken Malai Kebab (Ksh800), a butter naan (Ksh100) and pickles. The chicken was tender and as the juice oozed out of delicately charing you you could taste the tandoor at work, while the coriander and crunchy salad provided the perfect fresh complement. Wrapped up in soft naan and topped off with some spicy pickle it makes for a great lunch.

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Chicken Malai Kebab with butter naan.

The Vista (at the Hotel Emerald), 7th Floor, Krishna Centre, Woodvale Grove, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: +254 (0)716 228 302. Open: daily noon–3pm and 6pm–10.30pm.

The exchange rate at the time of the visit was £1 = Ksh153, $1 = Ksh100.

The scores on the tandoors

Food 8

Decor 6

Vibe 3 (Saturday lunchtime)

Service and friendliness 8

Value 9