Some good value Indian meals

Saturday, May 26th , 2007

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The Brilliant has undergone two improvements recently. It used to have rather tacky decor betraying a magpie-like fondness for twinkly chandeliers, but recently they gutted the place and have wisely opted for tasteful restraint over sparkly objects.  More importantly to me, they have introduced proper romali roti. This bread only turns out properly when you have two things: a hot steel hemisphere on which to cook and fold the bread and, more importantly, someone who can flip a large, wafer-thin sheet of pastry in the air without dropping it.  The result is a little rolled-up parcel of wonderful, airy bread.  Now all I need to do is persuade them to cook their vegetables firmer in the way that Haandi do and we will have pretty flawless cooking to accompany the many strengths of the place: tasty snacks, superb rich sauces for the main course curries, excellent technique with fish and chicken. 

Another old Indian favourite I revisited this week was Diwana Bhel Poori in Euston. This has been here since I came to London, and never seems to change.  The Gujerati starter snacks are superb, the bhel poori itself a beautifully poised blend of tastes and textures, the samosas the best in London.  Their weakness are the main course curries, which are very ordinary, though at £6.40 for a main course including bread it seems churlish to complain. I was being piggy this week and had home-made kulfi and shrikand, With starters now racing up in price to £3.40 I managed to exceed £10 a head here, though I could not finish it all the food. Surely this is the best value restaurant in London?

I first visited Arbutus just after it opened and was rather perplexed by the rave reviews it received for what seemed to me merely very pleasant bistro food using cheap ingredients. This week I returned but remain bewildered. I had a nice crab salad, but this was just some crab bought in and placed on a plate, along with a few decent salad leaves and a some more crab meat on a piece of toast. I followed this with a nice piece of sea bass with Jersey Royals. This was fine, but I can also buy a piece of sea bass, put it in the oven at 170 degrees for 13 minutes and put it on a plate. Moreover the lemon tart was actually flawed, with very hard pastry and over-acidic filling. For £74 a head I really expect something more than this, pleasant though it mostly is.    

I also did a little experiment.  I am very fond of lemon desserts and decided to make lemon posset, a very simple dish with just three ingredients. However recipes vary wildly regarding the proportion of lemon juice to put in compared to the cream and sugar. I made up two recipes, one from food-writer Jill Dupleix and one from Marcus Wareing, the latter having fully 50% more lemon juice than the former. I carefully measured out the ingredients, made both at the same time, and marked the underside of identical ramekin dishes for a later blind tasting. My preconception was that a recipe from a 2 star Michelin chef should win out over that of a mere (admittedly award-winning) food writer, but I could not have been more mistaken. The Wareing posset was overly acidic and had even developed a skin on the surface while setting, whereas the Dupleix version was a refreshing delight, nicely balancing sweetness and acidity.