Friday, 24 February 2012

The Ice-cream Treats of My Childhood

For most of my schoolgirl life, my family lived in a small multi-storeyed apartment in Central Delhi; one of the many "government quarters" in the city, meant to house the families of government servants. The "government quarter" was one of the perks of working with the central government, as they were invariably located in some of Delhi's most coveted residential neighbourhoods (it was a different matter that many of the apartments were tiny, as was the one that I grew up in, but I will leave all that angst for another post).

We lived in Lutyen's Delhi, just a short walk from India Gate, and not much further from Connaught Place and Khan Market, both of which were among Delhi's most favoured shopping areas when I was growing up. Now of course, they have been overtaken by Gurgaon and Noida's steel-and-glass malls, although from all accounts, the city's elite still have a soft spot for Khan Market.

Back in the 1990s, India's government servants weren't paid very much. Life was far from flashy, if you weren't a corrupt servant of the public that is. And so the apartment block that I grew up in was a microcosm of middle class Indian life.

One of the things I remember from my childhood is a little ice-cream cart parked outside our apartment block all day and for most of the night. He sold "Kwality Wall's" ice-cream which, in our minds, was infinitely more upmarket than homespun Mother Dairy and Amul ice-cream. Mother Dairy and Amul restricted themselves largely to family size ice-cream bricks in a few predictable flavours - vanilla, strawberry, butterscotch and chocolate. They also did a couple of desi flavours for those with more Indian palates: kaju-kishmish and kesar-pista, if I recall correctly. Kwality-Walls, on the other hand, offered a much wider variety of flavours. They even did ice-cream sundaes in family packs, which was such a novelty back then. 

As an after dinner treat, my brother and I were treated to ice-cream fresh from the ice-cream man's cart. My father was always the more obliging parent on that count. My mother is as a schoolteacher, and so was back at home at lunch time just when we escaped school, leaving her free to spend the rest of the day with us tyrants. She saw too much of us to be an indulgent parent. My father was more vulnerable to ice-cream requests, having spent all day at work away from us, and having returned in the evening when we were on our best behaviour, too tired out to wreak further havoc.

The ice-cream man wasn't visible from our balcony, but my brother and I could spot his cart in the far distance if we hung out at a strategic angle from our kitchen window. On some evenings, when the idea of requesting an ice-cream treat occured to us a little later than it ideally should have, my parents (usually my mother) would say "Too late, ice-cream man must have packed up and left", with a badly disguised tinge of hope. This was the cue for us to rush to the kitchen and hang out of the kitchen window to check if our beloved ice-cream man had indeed shut shop for the day, before we could be stopped in our tracks by parental health and safety warnings on the risks of this daredevilry. On some days, we were in fact too late, and we'd head back sulkily to our half-finished meals. On other days, we had better luck, and we'd excitedly announce our sighting of the little red cart to our parents and ask them to hurry up with the cash before the ice-cream left on four wheels.

Things have changed so much since then. Kwality-Walls isn't quite the "cool" brand of ice-cream anymore. We have all the big international ice-cream brands in India. There don't seem to be as many ice-cream carts dotted across the city. I'm no longer a little schoolgirl, my mother is too far away to dictate how often I indulge my weakness for ice cream, and the neighbourhood supermarket next to my London flat has a fairly respectable variety of ice-cream flavours. Still, I don't think any ice-cream can ever match the joy that I got from the hard earned Kwality-Walls ice-cream treats of my childhood.   

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Fasting, Feasting*

When I was a little girl, it was customary in my home to observe Lent, which is a period of prayer and penitence over a 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter in the Christian calendar. With two children separated by just over a year, each intent on causing grievous bodily hurt to the other at the mildest provocation, I don't think my parents had the mental space to actually ponder the spiritual significance of Lent. What we did do, though, was to give up meat during Lent. For a very long time, I thought that this is what all Christians do for Lent - give up meat. It was only much later that I realised that the idea was to give up something that you really, really like. And of course, in a Syrian Christian Mallu family, that one thing just had to be meat!

I must admit that in our family of four, I struggled the most with Lent. My brother is a dal-roti person. By that I mean that he'll eat pretty much anything without any grumbling whatsoever so long as it is edible. My taste buds just happen to be, well, more discerning. Which explains both why he was the favourite with my mother on the food/cooking count, and also why he is not the one trying to get a food blog going.
Whilst Lent was a breeze for my brother, for me, on the other hand, by the end of the first week, the sight of just dal and a vegetable dish on the table was enough to move me to tears. In order to accommodate my carnivorous tendencies, exceptions were sneaked into our Lenten abstinence. On a few occasions, although we gave up meat, fish was allowed. The sneaky exceptions aren't unique to my family. I know people who give up sweets during Lent, but not chocolates. Those who give up liquor, except on the weekends. And so on.

The idea of abstinence is not unique to Christianity. Fasts are not uncommon in Hinduism, which is the majority religion in India. In Islam, Ramadan (or Ramzan, as we call it in India), is traditionally observed as a period of fasting and abstinence.

The purpose of abstinence in all religions, I suppose, is linked to the idea of self-denial, and is intended to promote self-discipline and spiritual thinking in the individual. For the average person, though, I'm not sure a fast always works that way. To begin with, it only refocuses the mind even more strongly on that which is being given up. As a child, meat-free Lents only induced me to dream about all the meat I would stuff down my throat on Easter. This also explains all the sneaky exceptions that people often introduce into their fasts. On the other hand, if one is able to transcend that initial phase, I think fasting can teach you how little you really need to get by. That is an important lesson in a world driven by consumerism and mindless self-indulgence. When I gave up all sweets (including chocolate, yes) a few Lents ago, for the first couple of weeks, all I could think of was sugar. But that changed as the weeks wore on, and I realised that I really could do without sugar quite happily. After a point, the cakes drenched in chocolate buttercream in the windows of my neighbourhood patisserie that I would ordinarily lust after, just seemed a picture of excess (it is another matter that as soon as Lent was over, I was back to lusting after chocolate cake). Once you are over your initial phase of struggling with the idea of depriving the self, there is a another important lesson that abstinence can teach you. It is to be grateful for blessings, big and small, and to spare a thought for the less fortunate. I don't think I can project this more effectively than Harsh Mander has in his recent piece in The Hindu which documents the inspiring story of two young Indian men who decided to abstain not just from food, but from their highly privileged lives for a little while.

I don't think you need a religious reason to abstain or to reflect. But I do happen to have a religious prompt - today is Ash Wednesday and I've decided to give up sweets until Easter (which is on April 8 this year). As I type, the sheer madness of this idea is hitting me with some force. Sweet dreams to me.

At the end of this long, rambling post, I am happy to report that I have been up to some good in the kitchen. I tried baking some focaccia using this easy recipe from  the lovely ladies at "Show Me the Curry". I substituted half the all purpose flour in the recipe with wholewheat flour in an attempt to make the final product just a little healthy. Bad idea. All purpose flour or maida as we call it in India yields much softer baked products, whereas wholewheat makes for denser results. I think one needs to tweak the quantities of yeast/moisture in the recipe to successfully substitute wholewheat for all purpose flour.

En route to the oven

My focaccia was definitely tasty and fairly easy to put together, but it wasn't as soft as I'd hoped it would be. I brushed the dough with a mixture of dried oregano and olive oil before I slipped it into the oven, which proved to be a good combination of flavours. As the recipe says, you can substitute with anything else from sun dried tomatoes to jalapenos. Just make sure you use all purpose flour all the way!
Home made focaccia

PS: The title of this post is "inspired" (Annu Malik style) by an Anita Desai book of the same name. By the way, strongly recommend that you read it if you get the chance.   

Sunday, 19 February 2012

An Ode to Chukku Kaapi

This past week, I was introduced, against my wishes, for the second time this winter, to the life cycle of the common cold. Last Sunday, I knew that I was coming down with something when I woke up with a scratchy throat. That didn't stop the braveheart (or the idiot) that I am from sampling some of the Haagen Dazs Pralines and Cream ice-cream that I had bought from the neighbourhood Tesco's and tucked away in my freezer for a rare treat.

That was all the encouragement that the cold virus nesting somewhere in the depths of my respiratory system needed. Sniffles on Monday, a blocked nose on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a full blown chesty cough for the rest of the week.

I find that Londoners can make a pariah out of you, if you happen to be nursing a bad cough. They're a fairly tolerant bunch when it comes to most things. But a cougher. No way. Getting into work involves a nine minute train ride for me. In that short space of time, try as I did, I couldn't stop a couple of raspy coughs from escaping my throat. I could feel my co-passengers' eyes on me, as they looked up from their newspapers and books to give me a cold, hard stare as censure for all the germs that I had managed to spread in the crowded compartment.

Ah, but my skin is getting thicker as I grow older. All that social ensure hasn't made me stray from my family's policy of staying away from over the counter medicines as much as possible. When we were little kids with permanently sniffly noses, my mother would force a concoction of honey with ground ginger and pepper upon my brother and me. My childish tastes did not take to the heat of the ginger and pepper, but as an adult, I would count a teaspoonful of the mixture as a tasty little treat rather than as a nasty medicine.

Most Indian households tend to have their own magic home remedy for the common cold. In north India, I believe that a mixture of hot milk and turmeric is a common cure. In Kerala, chukku kaapi (which roughly translates into dry ginger coffee; chukku = dry ginger, and kaapi = coffee) whilst consumed more widely than just as a remedy for a bad cold (it is so tasty that it would be shame to wait for a cold to strike!) is also known to be be a good cure for a bad throat.

Growing up in Delhi, I don't recollect consuming very much chukku kaapi. I have a distant memory of being introduced to the spicy drink on one of our annual visits home to Kerala. Unfortunately, I can't seem to remember when I first had my first cup of chukku kaapi. There are far too many food memories linked to my Kerala vacations stacked up on top off each other, jostling for space inside my head, for me to be able to dig out the one of my first chukku kaapi without some serious mental digging around.

The star ingredient in a cup of chukku kaapi other than the chukku of course, is pepper, which is known to be good for all ailments of the throat. The drink is made palatably sweet by the addition of jaggery, or sharkara, as we call it in Malayalam, which has a distinct flavour that brings a new dimension to the drink.

On my last trip home, my mother managed to track down some instant chukku kaapi powder in Delhi and packed it away in my suitcase so that I can enjoy some chukku kaapi in London. I have managed to consume most of my chukku kaapi supplies, which reminds me that I need to ask her to despatch some more through a friend who is visiting me next month. I've never attempted to concoct a cup of chukku kaapi by myself but was delighted to see that a recipe is available online on a lovely blog that presents a number of traditional Malayali recipes.

Other than the holy basil/tulsi, the ingredients should all be readily available. I'd suggest you make yourself a cup of the warm brew. If you have a cold, now's the time to say goodbye. If not, you can enjoy a cup anyway and feel thankful that you have been spared for the time being.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Art of Deduction and a Moist Butter Cake

I am not much of a TV person. The flat that I currently live in has an imposing black wide screen TV, but I rarely switch it on. I like to have some peace and quiet when I come home, which means that I have ended up leaving my TV in a permanent state of coma.

But there is one series (if you can call it that, given the painfully small number of episodes that appear in a season) on BBC iPlayer that I have fallen head over heels in love with: Sherlock. The series is a modern take on the old classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The casting is simply superb. Stony faced Benedict Cumberbatch plays the socially inept master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes. Although not good looking in any conventional sense of the term, Cumberbatch is oddly attractive on screen as Sherlock Holmes despite his astonishing arrogance (the brunt of which is borne equally by the bumbling police officer on the case, and by his unfortunate companion, Watson) and an awful hairstyle. I didn't bother finding out the name of the actor who plays his sidekick, Dr Watson. But with his amiable but permanently worried face, he fits the character to a T. Together, the two make a delightful pair to watch on screen.

The best part of each episode is how they spell out Sherlock's deductive reasoning. Sometimes, it is just Sherlock spewing brillance in a quick rush of words and exasperatedly explaining how plainly obvious the solution to a convulated case is, leaving everybody on screen (and certainly, everyone off it as well) visibly astounded. At other times, the viewer sees words, figures and images popping up just next to Sherlock's curly locks as he stares deep into space, representing the thoughts zipping past each other inside his head.

Very recently, I managed to lay my hands on a DVD of Season 1 of Sherlock. If I could have, I would have probably watched the entire season in a single sitting. Practical constraints, including the fact that I needed to turn up at least half awake at work the next day, meant that I eventually decided to drop that idea, and staggered my viewing pleasure over a few days. In all honesty, I looked forward to coming home on those evenings so I could watch more of the season (and Benedict Cumberbatch in particular). I am done with the DVD now. I do wish the folks at the BBC would hurry up and come up with season 3.

There have been so many adapatations of Sir Conan Doyle's original work over the years. In fact, we did have an Indian version of Sherlock Holmes back when I was growing up: Byomkesh Bakshi. Those of you who grew up in India in the late 80s and early 90s may remember the dapper Rajat Kapoor in a crisp Bengali dhoti bravely taking on the criminals of Calcutta, accompanied by his Dr Watson-style friend, Ajit. I was probably no more than 7 or 8 years old when the series played on Indian TV. But I was a loyal fan of the series, and of the impressive Rajat Kapoor in particular. I was delighted to discover recently that the entire series is available on youtube. For those of you who grew up watching the series and would like to listen once again to the haunting tune that played in the background at particularly tense moments in the series, or see Rajat Kapoor in action as Mr Bakshi or just reconnect with Indian television of their childhood, I would definitely recommend a watch.

Other than Sherlock Holmes, I have been kept busy and out of trouble by my trusty oven. On special request from a colleague at work, I baked a butter cake using this recipe at this wonderful blog: Maria's Menu. Maria's Menu has an excellent collection of traditional Malayali recipes as well as a great range of recipes for cakes and other baked delights. I have never really ventured to make a plain simple vanilla cake, but the "requester" was fairly specific in his demands. Apparently, he hates chocolate with a vengeance, dislikes bites of cake being rudely interrupted by meddlesom bits of fruit or nut and likes his cakes plain with just a hint of vanilla. And so when I saw the recipe for a "moist butter cake" on Maria's website, I decided this was the recipe I was going to use.

I made a few very minor tweaks to the recipe: I added in 1/4 tsp salt to the recipe, because I feel a teensy bit of salt makes the cake rise better. Don't ask me what the alchemy behind it is, I just know it works. Just like I know 4 is my lucky number! I also used just self rising flour for the recipe, instead of using part plain flour and part self rising flour, as called for in the recipe, simply because I didn't have any self rising flour to hand! I can assure you the results were good, regardless.

As usual, my pictures of the final outcome do no justice at all to what it actually tasted of looked like. I know a picture is worth a thousand words and all that, but please do yourself a favour and ignore the cliche on this ocassion. In the meantime, I promise to work on my photography skills. Something tells me it will be a long and arduous climb.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Almond Pound Cake

Almond Pound Cake (photo credit: Aditi Srivastava)

I happened to have a packet of ground almonds in my kitchen leftover from a lemon cake baking expedition a few weeks ago. So when the baking bug bit this weekend, I sought Google in search of a good recipe for an almond cake. I didn't have the time or inclination to go shopping for extra ingredients, so it had to be something that could be put together with the stock that I currently had stashed away. That rigid constraint meant that I tossed aside many recipes, although the end results in each case looked delectable. Finally, I decided to be a little experimental and play with a Paula Deen recipe evocatively called Mama's Pound Cake recipe.

When I go hunting online in search of a good recipe, I always reject those that come with just a review or two. I try to go with those that have several positive reviews. This recipe certainly passed that litmus test, coming as it does with an impressive 258 reviews.

Did you know that the reason why a pound cake is called a pound cake is because traditionally, it uses a pound each (for Indian readers, roughly half a kilo) of each of the main ingredients - i.e. flour, eggs, butter and sugar. Because that original recipe would yield a gargantuan cake, modern day pound cake recipes such as the one I relied on, are somewhat more sophisticated.

The recipe is a fairly easy one. I relied on it to the T except that I substituted one of the three cups of all purpose flour that the recipe asks for with a cup of ground almonds and reduced the sugar to 2.5 cups based on comments from other reviewers. I also added in a wee bit of yellow food colouring to enhance the visual appeal. This cake calls for lots of eggs - 5 to be precise. And so I ended up using most of the eggs that I had in my fridge. It also made a dent in my butter reserves (which I keep stocked in anticipation of being hit by the baking bug on a cold wintry day when I am not in the mood to step out for basic baking ingredients). Definitely not a recipe for those trying to steer clear of cholestrol.

The finished product was a good cake that rose evenly and had a fine crumb. But the almond flavour wasn't as strong as I had hoped. If I do make this cake without the almonds, I would definitely add a little more vanilla/other flavouring as I felt that the 1 tsp vanilla that the recipe calls for wasn't quite enough. I had to pack it up in a hurry, as I was rushing out to meet friends and meant to carry some of it along for them. So the poor cake didn't get the chance to cool and come into its own after its torrid time in the oven.

If I had more time on my hands, I would have definitely dressed this cake up a little more before serving. In fact, I did buy some almond flakes thinking that I could use it to do up the cake. But because I was in such a rush, I didn't end up using them after all. To be fair though, it is the sort of cake that can carry off a solo performance on its own. Pair it with steaming tea or coffee for a happy feeling.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Banana Tree - Review

London is hosting a Flamenco show this week at Sadler's Wells in Angel. A couple of friends (both ardent devotees of Seville in Spain) and I trotted across to Angel after work on Friday to watch one of the shows. It was the first time ever that I was watching a live Flamenco performance. I loved the music the most. The singers' voices held such depth and power. The Flamenco itself was good, but I can't say that I fell in love with it. Nevertheless, it was an energetic performance and one that we all enjoyed. 

We were starving post the Flamenco and decided to go out in search of some good grub in Angel. Our first stop was Jamie's Italian, which ended up being just that - a stop - as there was a 45 minute wait for a table for three. That's when we spotted the Banana Tree restaurant across the road, which is part of a chain that covers pan Asian cuisine. I had been to the West Hampstead outlet and had fond memories of the food, so I was definitely game.

After a brief wait, we managed to get a table on what was clearly a busy Friday evening for the restaurant. We started with Lychee and Lemongrass coolers. An excellent combination of flavours, except that our drinks were cloyingly sweet. Made with just the right quantity of sugar, this could have been such a nice drink. The flavour combination was a winner because of the contrast between the sweetness of the lychee and the fresh sharpness of the lemongrass.

Lychee and lemongrass cooler
We then moved on to the starters. We had the sauteed lamb with kari patta and cashews, which was an absolute gem. In my experience, the problem with most lamb dishes (other than those that use minced lamb) is that the lamb tends to get rather though when grilled. This though, was a fantastic dish with excellent flavours and we managed to wipe the plate clean in a shamefully small number of minutes. For me, this was definitely the highlight of our meal at Banana Tree.

Sateed lamb - the star of the show

We also tried the Vietnamese Monk's springrolls for the benefit of our vegetarian friend at the table. I thought this one was very disappointing. When I took a bite of the springroll, all I could taste was lots of oil. This is a must-avoid dish if you ask me.

Disastrously oily Vietnamese spring rolls

For mains, I ordered the char grilled blackened pork with nasi goreng. The pork was nice enough but was overshadowed by the sauteed lamb which managed to occupy my thoughts right till the end of the meal. I really liked the nasi goreng though - much heavier than just steamed rice but much taster too!

Grilled pork with nasi goreng

The other non-vegetarian at the table went for beef rendang with steamed rice. Because I cannot keep my hands off good food, I did try the rendang, which was very good. Rendang occupies a very special place in my food memories. When I was a student in Bangalore (seems like such a long time ago - the images pop up in my head in sepia now!), one of my favourite dinner haunts was a lovely little restaurant called ASEAN on Castle Street which served excellent pan Asian food. My favourite on ASEAN's menu was the chicken rendang. I understand that chicken rendang is a bastardised version of the real thing, beef rendang. ASEAN's adaptation of the original recipe is understandable given that there is a fair bit of queasiness surrounding beef in India (for those unfamiliar with India, the cow is sacred for the Hindus, who form 80 odd per cent. of India's population). The waiters at ASEAN were a particularly happy lot which added to the lovely vibe of this quiet restaurant tucked away in a little street in Bangalore.

Beef rendang

 Enough of a flashback into my salad days in Bangalore. So yes, the beef rendang was very good. My vegetarian friend looked quite content with the food that he had ordered, but by this time, I was so thrilled with all the lovely meat dishes on the table, that I didn't pay much attention to the little veggie festival that he had going on at his end of the table other than to click this photograph. Now that I look at it, that solitary coriander leaf looks like such an afterthought of a garnish!

Veggie dish that I paid scant attention to

In the company of two health conscious people, I felt tremendous social pressure not to indulge my weakness for dessert. I am sorry to report that I succumbed. We ended up spending roughly 20 pounds a head for the meal, including service tax.

I would give Banana Tree 4.5 stars out of five. The service was good and the food was excellent. That half a star deduction is for the sugar overload in our drinks and the oil overload in our spring rolls. Don't let these minor flaws stop you from visiting Banana Tree - you will leave a happy bunny, as I did.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Soju - Restaurant Review

Call it laziness or the fact that I am a creature of habit (for the most part anyway). Once I come across a good restaurant, I find it really tough to let go and explore other options. Unless of course it comes with a personal recommendation from a friend or colleague, in which case I will happily take the plunge given that there is someone to pin the blame on for a bad meal! So when it comes to Thai food in London, I look no further than Busaba, for Chinese food, I swear by Royal China and I have a veritable list of good Indian restaurants if one is pondering Indian options in the city. If you had asked me about Korean food in London though, until a few months ago, I would have gulped and admitted my utter lack of specialist knowledge. I still can’t stake a claim to being an expert on Korean food, but do know of a couple of nice restaurants which are definitely worth a visit.

The first of these – Soju – forms the subject of this post. Soju is a tiny (has under ten tables, I think) but charming Korean restaurant tucked away in one of the many bylanes in Soho. I was introduced to Soju by S, a good friend from my Uni days. We go back a long way – nine years to be exact, which makes me feel like an elderly matron.

On my first visit to Soju, each of us went for the bibimbap. Soju serves a delicious chilli sauce with their bibimbap. I scooped several teaspoonfuls into my bowl with excellent results. We also went for a number of vegetarian sides. Unfortunately, this first visit was several months ago and my recollection of it is somewhat hazy in parts. And I have no pictures of the food to refresh my memory. Since then, I have been to Soju a couple of times. Once, we walked in just for their plum wine, which comes in a pretty green bottle with a couple of plums thrown in, which I fell in love with on my first visit.

Plum wine

On my latest visit to Soju, I decided not to repeat old mistakes. Armed with my blackberry, I made sure that I clicked a few photos of the food. As you can see, the quality is pretty dismal, thanks to a combination of a poor blackberry camera, bad lighting, and to top it all, terrible photography skills.

As on previous visits, the bibimbap and the delicious chilli sauce that comes with it, were top notch. The miso soup that comes with the dish was of an equally high standard. For the uninitated, bibimbap is a popular Korean dish that comes in a hot stone pot. It consists of rice, assorted veggies with meat/a fried egg thrown in depending on individual preference. I understand that it can be served hot or cold. Having grown up in India, where meals tend to be served hot, given a choice, I always favour the hot option over the cold one. And so, I have never ventured to try bibimbap served cold. I can however, safely say that bibimbap served hot makes for a fine meal. The rice,veggies and meat are all stirred together with chill paste and a little miso soup (to make the mix a little moist) once the pot hits the table.


Miso soup

For dessert, we decided to be adventurous and went for the black sesame icecream. It had tiny bits of black sesame seeds thrown into what looked like vanilla icecream. It was certainly an unusual dessert but not one that I would repeat. It had a slightly bitter undertone. Never a good idea in dessert, I think.

Black sesame icecream
Black sesame icecream aside, Soju has a warm and cosy vibe. The staff is polite and attentive (oh, and I must add, very pretty too!) and the food is of course, very good. Strongly recommend that you try, especially if you happen to be new to Korean food.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Curry Leaf East

The weather in London has taken a turn for the worse. It is so cold that my nose and ears go numb when I step oustide and take in the cold London air. Yesterday though, I decided that I could handle a little pain if it could bring me closer to a hot Indian meal.

I have been working on a deal that just completed yesterday. I had to celebrate the end of a long series of 13-17 hour days in the office! It's not over for good of course, but I will have some respite until the next deal comes along. It would have been too tame to just head back home after what had been my shortest day at work in a very long time and just eat a quiet dinner at home by myself with just BBC iPlayer for company.

So off we went - my friends, P and A and I - to the Indian restaurant closest to work, which happens to be Curry Leaf East on City Road.

I am reliably informed that Curry Leaf East is Bangladeshi run. I must admit that I am somewhat prejudiced against Bangladeshi run restaurants that claim to serve authentic Indian food. Brick Lane is full of them. Of the things that upset me about this breed of restaurants is how they Bangla-fy the names of everything on their menu. So Dal Makhani is Dhal Mokhni, Paneer Butter Masala is Poneer Butter Mossalla. Urrgh. The list is endless. 

I have been to Curry Leaf East a few times now, and have never been disappointed. The prices are very reasonable especially given the location (minutes away from Moorgate station), the quality of the food is consistently good in my experience and the staff are friendly and attentive. Not to forget the tiny orange flavoured chocolates that they hand out at the end of every meal! P and I asked for extras this time round, and they indulged us very happily. The food does tend to be on the heavier side, but hey, I suppose one can't be counting calories at an Indian restaurant!

We started the meal with tandoori shora, a grilled paneer starter which was meltingly soft, very well marinated and delicious, and an aloo tikki variant called aloo tiki pithi wala. The latter was superb! They got it just right - crunchy outer coating but soft inside. Yum! 
Tandoori shora

Aloo tikki pithi wala

For main course, we ordered roast duck, dal panchmeli (translation: chana dal) and saag bhajji. The roast duck was my call. What a mistake. The dish consisted of slices of cooked duck meat in a gooey tomato gravy. The gravy was the usual flavourless tomato gravy that is the mainstay of the average Indian restaurant in London into which you can dunk any old thing (paneer, vegetables, chicken) and call it something fancy like "paneer pasanda" or "shahi murg". In summary, an utter disappointment.
Roast duck

The saag and the dal though, were class acts. The dal was excellent. I was so glad that we decided to ditch the usual dal makhani and go for this one instead. The dal was cooked just right - the texture of the chana dal was still intact, but it had been cooked well enough for the dish to be creamy. What really stood out was the onion tadka, which often gets lost in a large pot of dal. Not on this ocassion though. The flavour rang out clearly and definitely got the dish extra points on my scale. I am not a big fan of greens generally, but am happy to report that the saag, too, was excellent.

Dal panchmeli

Saag bhajji

I have a huge sweeth tooth and inevitably order dessert in some shape or form at the end of a restaurant meal. This time, I silently lectured myself when we were handed the dessert menu and managed to say a quick "no" to dessert before I could change my mind.

We shuddered at the thought of stepping out into the cold and braced ourselves for the icy chill as we left the restaurant. But after that nice, hot "Indian" meal, as we headed back to the tube station, somehow the cold was much more bearable.