Inspiration for curry night in London
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
For gourmets of a certain vintage, it is impossible to imagine a bow tie and a wine glass without picturing Keith Floyd, TV chef and bon viveur, wearing the former and slurping enthusiastically from the latter. He died 10 years ago today, shortly after a meal of oysters, potted shrimp and partridge at Mark Hix’s splendid beachside restaurant in Lyme Regis.
While Floyd’s first love was French cuisine, he often had a yearning for spice: when in London, he stayed next door to the Bombay Brasserie and treated it as his dining room. I had dinner with him there several times; back then, the room was as exuberantly dressed as he was, all colonial cane chairs and Raj-era ceiling fans. Holding court at a corner table, bow tie firmly in place, he fitted in perfectly.
Founded in 1982, the grand old lady of London Indian restaurants is now more demurely clothed in dark wood and snowy tablecloths, but the flavours of head chef Prahlad Hegde’s menu are as vibrant as ever. Order the palak patta chaat: crisp-fried baby spinach with sweetened yoghurt and a chutney made with dates and tamarind. And the kebab platter, featuring perhaps the best seekh kebab in London, as well as brightly spiced chicken, and prawns pungently flavoured with ajwain.
The choice for London’s lovers of Indian food has multiplied over the past decade: were Floyd alive today, he would, I think, be very content at Kanishka, chef Atul Kochhar’s smart new Mayfair restaurant, not least because its door opens onto a well-stocked bar that would keep him happily supplied with his default order of Johnnie Walker Black Label: “Plenty of ice, if you’d be so kind.”
Kanishka’s menu focuses on the so-called “Seven Sister States” in northeast India: from the Himalayan state of Sikkim there are momos (soupy, fluted dumplings filled with gently spiced shredded chicken); a Tibetan-inspired stir-fry of lamb, peppers and wild garlic with grilled bok choi; and seared scallops matched with smoky Naga chilli and various declensions of cauliflower. Side dishes catch the eye too: saag makai (spinach with corn kernels and little chips of fried garlic); a rich, silken-textured black dal; and bamboo shoots with mushroom and green beans. And there is a splendidly soothing goat curry, fragrant with cumin and black pepper, while the sweet-toothed Floyd would certainly have saved room for mishti: peanut butter parfait with caramelised banana, topped with gold leaf.
Floyd’s flamboyant dress sense was not just for the camera: his kaleidoscopic wardrobe of blazers and bow ties travelled with him everywhere. “It’s a jolly easy way to look passably smart,” he once confided to me. “And you don’t dunk your tie in the soup.”