Food writing

Curry corner

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Greenwich Visitor January 2013

There are a few good reasons to like Green Chillies in Blackheath Road. The staff is always friendly for starters, and the food consistently hits the spot (Green Chillies was highly commended in the takeaway category in the Greenwich Curry Club Awards 2012). But they also care about the community in which they operate. They have been involved with supplying freshly cooked food to homeless people in London for some time and now they are looking to link up with some organisations on their doorstep. Bench Outreach, a Christian charity in Deptford, work with alcoholics, drug users, ex-offenders and homeless people, and many of these could soon be enjoying some tasty Sub-continental meals.

“We hope to be working closely with Bench Outreach to supply hot meals where the need is identified,” said the Green Chillies’ manager Ali Ibn Tawhid. “We are particularly pleased that this is a multi-faith initiative [Green Chillies is a Muslim-run takeaway]. After all, I don’t think someone who is hungry and in need is really going to care about the chef’s religion. We have the knowledge of food – we are thinking healthy biryanis and dhals – and Bench has the on-the-ground knowledge, so we hope this will be a great partnership.”

Meanwhile discussions with the Salvation Army, also in Deptford, have led to an interesting possible link-up beyond supplying food for the needy. The community church has identified a problem with obesity in the area so the Green Chillies staff could soon be providing information and guidance to some of the less privileged families the church works with on how to cook healthy but affordable meals.

Do you get the blues on a Monday? A sure-fire fix for curry lovers is to head to the Viceroy in Charlton (10 The Village) where it’s banquet night and for just £10.95 you can enjoy a starter, a main, a side dish, rice, naan, ice cream and coffee. Not surprisingly it gets packed so it might be an idea to book. Tel 020 8319 3436.

Curry to Go is the latest incarnation of the curry takeaway at 106 Blackheath Road (it was previously called Medina). The new owners will be open every day from 5pm-11pm and will be hoping to tempt you with dishes such as Balti Duck Tikka Masalla (£8.50) and King Prawn Jalapeno (£9.50) as well as old-school favourites that start from just £3.95 (vegetable) and £4.45 (chicken). There is free delivery over £12 (within 3.5 km) and a free side dish if your order is over £15 and you collect. Tel: 020 8692 2423.

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Draam busters

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Chaat! (British Curry Club magazine) 2012

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My friend suggests a whisky bar he knows just a short walk from the station. I’ve just arrived in Aberdeen and the wind blowing off the North Sea feels capable of biting even into the solid Granite that built the city. A couple of warmers later and we’re heading off for a curry, a smart new place he’s heard about that’s just up Market Street.

Whisky followed by fish seems appropriate in Scotland, but strangely we end up with a fish that’s been imported from Bangladesh – a whole tilapia, spiced. It’s not bad but a bit dry. As we are. We down our Cobras and order a whisky. The choice is from the region of Speyside, the small but prolific whisky producing area that is famous for its mostly gentle style of the drink. My friend wants gentle so as not to over-power the fish but goes for something slightly oily to help the dryness. It’s got a taste of pepper too. Three cheers for my clever curry-whisky friend and we’re soon happily off back to the whisky bar to discuss the merits of importing a fish from the freshwaters of Asia to the north of Scotland.

Whisky and curry go together remarkably well. The spicy notes – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cloves among others – are central to the aroma and taste of many whiskies while a host of the other tastes you associate with your favourite curry can be found too. In whisky you’ll also find creamy smoothness (Korma dishes), smokiness (Tandoori), sweetness (Dhansak), vanilla (Kulfi), nuttiness (Pasanda), zestiness (Achari) aniseed (Goan fish dishes), as well as saltiness, fruitiness and slight oiliness.

There are two approaches to pairing food and drink. One is to complement the dish by choosing a drink with the same or similar tastes and aromas; the other is challenge the dish by adding new tastes to the equation.

Master of Malt John Lamond is firmly on the side of the former. “The whisky you choose has to complement the food. I’d say always do this, but particularly with Indian dishes which are so complex. They’ve been carefully put together to create a range of different tastes and the last thing you want is to choose a whisky that upsets that and blows the food’s taste out of the water.”

But Lamond also warns it works both ways due to the power of some curries. “The art, or magic, is in the marriage of the flavours of the whisky with the flavours of the food so that each complements the other, rather than one swamping the flavours of the other. The more highly flavoured, such as Vindaloo blast the taste buds and make tasting almost anything alongside them almost impossible,” he advises.

“Creamy masalas would go with youngish (up to 15-year-old) Speysides – Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Mortlach, Glenfiddich for instance. Jalfrezis would work with Ardbeg, Black Bottle, Big Peat or Caol Ila, even Springbank or Johnnie Walker Red or Black. Some would also fit well with tandoor cooked dishes, but they would have to be quite heavily flavoured and a lot of the flavour in curries is down to the contents of the dish rather than the way it has been cooked, such as perhaps a Gosht.”

Pairing whisky and curry works, but ultimately it’s about experimenting and having fun.

There’s a lot of snobbery associated with whisky (as with wine) but just as you don’t choose your favourite beer with an elaborate performance of swirling, staring and sniffing nor do you have to do so whisky either. See the boxes for some ideas of Indian dishes and whiskies but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you. A few select whiskies and a selection of dishes from your favourite takeaway can make for a great night at home with friends.

As Lamond mentions, curry has plenty of complex flavours so give your taste buds a chance! I’d advise trying the whisky and the dish you want to pair it with before loading extras like pickle on to your plate. Keep the rice and bread dishes as plain as possible (plain or pillau rice and plain nan or chapatti); you’ve got enough taste stuff going on without introducing lemon rice and garlic nan into the equation as well.

Ultimately, have fun discovering which whiskies work with which curries, but always tread carefully with powerful tastes, as Tom Morton, BBC broadcaster and author of the whisky books Spirit of Adventure and Journey’s Blend warns.

“Matching curries with whisky is really about the post-prandial hitching of a dram to the aroma left behind by a curry. A Glenfarclas 105 after a nice wee korma can cut through the cream and coconut. But you have to be careful. A cask-strength Talisker on the back of a ferocious Jalfrezi may leave your throat or oesophagus in tatters.”

Classic dishes and popular whiskies 

• Butter chicken, with its creamy, tomato base works well with the vanilla smoothness of America’s favourite, Jack Daniel’s. No Coke!

• The strong and powerful smokiness of popular blend Johnnie Walker Black is needed to compete with the extra hot spiciness of Lamb madras.

• Famous Grouse combines spiciness with sweetness (from its fruit tastes) something that fans of a Prawn Dhansak will recognise and enjoy.

• Biryanis are dry but highly aromatic and need a light and sweet whisky that will not fight the subtle aromas of whole spices used in the dish. Go for a Bell’s.

• Kormas or Pasandas, with their creamy and nutty tastes both work well with the easy, smoothness of Ireland’s triple-distilled Jameson. Any wonder it’s a favourite for Irish coffees?

Advanced tasting menu

Starter: Onion bhaji and Glenkinchie 10 Year Old. A classic, simple starter of sliced onion and gram flour that deserves a gentle accompaniment and this Edinburgh whisky is light but has a touch of spice and ginger.

Lamb: Lamb tikka and Caol Ila (pronounced Cal-le-la). The tandoor-cooked lamb needs something as strong and smoky as the single malt Caol Ila (it’s the lead whisky in Johnnie Walker Black) with its hint of pepper and spice.

Chicken: Achari chicken and Tullamore Dew. This Irish blend offers spicy and lemon flavours, ideal if you like your chicken cooked in tangy pickles.

Vegetable: Motor paneer with Wild Turkey. The smoothness of the cheese needs a smooth whisky and this famous Kentucky Bourbon provides that, but also adds hints of spices including cinnamon.

Fish: Goan prawn curry and Bowmore 12 Year Old. The great texture of this shellfish is popular but their taste of origin is often lost in the cooking process. Go for a whisky that was matured by the sea. Islay whiskies are well known for their salty, seaweedy flavours.

Dessert: Kulfi and Johnnie Walker Gold Label. Have a bit of fun with this creamy, soft dessert. Take a mouthful and let it freeze for a few seconds then enjoy a nice amount of this creamy, honeyed blend.

Curry corner

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April 2013

If there is a lull during the night (or at the end of the shift if it’s particularly busy) the staff in a curry house will take a break and eat their own meal. But for them there is no pondering about whether it’s to be Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Vindaloo or a Prawn Bhuna. The chef will already have a pot bubbling away so there is no messing about when the time comes for the staff to eat. What’s in the pot is what the staff get to eat. The curry (if that’s what it is) is commonly called the Kitchen Curry (although some might say Staff Curry). Very few places actually advertise it on their menu (Memsaheb on Thames near Crossharbour DLR, a place Delia Smith has raved about, is one that does) but quite a few places will dish it up if you ask and there is enough to go round. The Kitchen Curry will change every day and will more than likely be a dish that is popular in the region that the chef or staff originate from. Memsaheb’s menu says the Kitchen Curry (£7.95) is, ‘Usually fairly hot, sometimes very hot, meat is always on the bone.’ You want authentic? The Kitchen Curry is the place to look.

There’s more of what is promoted as authentic Indian food on offer for those of you visiting your broker or investment banker soon, or more likely if you work in Canary Wharf. A new kiosk has opened up just outside the entrance to the Jubilee Line (opposite Smollensky’s) serving Indian street food. Perfect for lunchtime, but expect a queue, and remember not to spill any on your new suit.

My favourite fish supplier, Lockie’s Shell Fish (in the Lord Hood Pub garden on weekends) has been expanding its range lately, which is great because fish curry lovers cannot live on whelks and cockles alone. The red mullet is a must try and it’s easy to rustle up a spicy snack. Take half a tsp each of coriander seeds and cumin seeds, a quarter tsp of black peppercorns, a couple of dried chillies and a pinch of salt and cinnamon powder. Crush it all up and rub into the flesh and leave for at least an hour. Then on a high heat fry the flesh side for two minutes and the skin side of the fish for one minute. Eat with a pickle of your choice.

Being surrounded by beautiful things when your eating a good curry really can make a difference to a night out. @Benb111 (a regular tipster for Curry Corner) has unearthed a gem at Ladywell Tandoori, where beautiful murals of Indian scenes (by artist Gill Golding) go hand in hand with great food. The Murg Achari (£6.95) is recommended while you enjoy the artwork on the walls.

So now we’ve got great food and great art how about some music? My favourite curry songs are Korma Chameleon, It’s Chappati and I’ll Cry if I Want To, and Oh Dhansak Boy, the Pipes are Calling. Of course, if you don’t like those you must be Sharp Dressed Naan so maybe you can Tikka a Walk on Wild Side?

The Mighty Mitre Burger

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It stands at a wobbly 17cm tall and includes nearly a kilo of beef (two pounds) – hungry people, please welcome Greenwich’s biggest burger.

Inspired by his favourite TV show, Man versus Food, Matt Lannon, manager at the Mitre Hotel, has set his customers a challenge of his own: eat the Mighty Mitre Burger (and chips) in 20 minutes and you’ll get it for free.

Having witnessed the first one being cooked and plated I’d say chef Ed Lorryman will have as much trouble getting this monster to stand up straight as customers will have of actually eating it. But should you fancy your chances at the challenge here’s what you’ll have put away… one Italian brioche bun (plus a middle bit of bread), four 225gm (or eight ounce) beef patties, every one topped with cheese, bacon, a battered onion ring and Naga Bhut Jolokia peppers from India. The peppers, nicknamed ghost peppers, supposedly because the heat sneaks up on anyone who eats them, was named the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of Records in 2007 (although it’s subsequently been out-hotted). Add a side order of chips.

“Don’t forget the lettuce, tomato and onion we top it off with,” says Matt, “we want to make sure there’s some healthy stuff on there as well.”

The burger is priced at £15 and all in all weighs in at approximately 1.25 kilos (2.8 pounds) uncooked and that’s not including the chips.