African Queen has been operating for fifteen years now in premises that used to be a pub called The Plough. I am guessing that it is named after the 1951 John Huston movie, but our waiter looked bemused when I asked him, and I can't really see either Katherine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart looking comfortable here. As you enter there is a reception area, then to the left a waiting area with large TV screens showing sports rather than Bollywood films, and a pool table. The L-shaped dining room stretches out beyond. The décor is basic, with wood floor and bare tables, as well as further TV screens on the wall. The noise levels were high with all the hard surfaces on this busy evening. Adding music to the mix was not useful, and I measured the noise levels at a peak of 92 decibels, which is too high, basically like sitting next to a lawnmower (anything above 85 decibels is harmful, and in breach of the The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005). The menu was vast, with plenty of options to choose from, though managing to communicate our choices to our waitress amongst the bedlam was a challenge. Prices are modest, as they are on the drinks menu e.g. a pint of Stella was £3.80, which you would be hard pressed to find in many London pubs these days.
Crisp bhajias were essentially deep-fried potato slices with minimal spicing other than a sprinkling of salt, so they were as much chips as anything else. They were not unpleasant, but didn’t taste very Indian (11/20). Papdi chaat had plenty of puffed rice and tender chickpeas, though for me a bit more tamarind chutney would have been useful (12/20).
Methi chicken had quite well cooked chicken in a rich sauce with plenty of fenugreek flavour (13/20). Amritsar fish was cooked alright but lacked much spice, so tasted a bit like the kind of thing you might find in a fish and chip shop rather than an Indian restaurant (11/20). The lack of spice was odd since the spicing generally was quite bold. This showed in a channa masala with tender chickpeas and a real kick of chilli (12/20). Methi aloo was pleasant, with plenty of fenugreek and potatoes that kept their texture reasonably well (12/20). Mattur paneer had somewhat chewy cheese and was one-dimensionally hot rather than having a sauce where you could taste the individual spices (11/20). Both pulao and plain rice was fine. Naan bread was rather too hard in texture, and even a second one made to order was still firm rather than soft and fluffy (11/20).
Service was well-meaning but very stretched, with our popadoms arriving after our starters for example. There were lengthy gaps in taking the order and between courses, though I suspect this was due to chronic under-staffing, as the waiters were certainly bustling around. The bill came to £33 a head with beer and far more food than we could eat, though they will happily pack up any leftovers. Portion sizes were very generous. Overall African Queen was harmless enough and modestly priced, and if it was at the end of my road I would go there occasionally. However it is not really a place that you would make a detour to eat at.