Your average high-street curry house does cheap and cheerful Indian and Pakistani food. We flock there in our droves for a casual meal at minimal expense and in return ignore the flock wallpaper, shabby carpets and high sauce-to-meat ratio. But in recent years 'high-end Indian' restaurants have been thrust on an unsuspecting public. Is that what the great British public really wants?
Let me lay my cards on the table. I grew up in Hong Kong. I love nothing more than a noisy, bustling Chinese restaurant in Britain to take me back there in seconds.
The clanking of cheap (and usually chipped) crockery thrown onto the table with careless abandon by the oft-surly staff. The language issues, the rushed bookings. Things that the guide books (who more often see themselves as rule books) actively dislike. These faults become quirks, which become loveable and actually enjoyable.
So high-end Chinese restaurants by the likes of Hakkasan
have left me, more often than not, a little cold. And it's happening in Indian food now too, with the likes of The Cinnamon Club
(top-drawer but formal) and Benares
(still on my must-visit hit-list). With the recent National Curry Week ending, I turned my attention to what curry restaurants are up to.
Our expert restaurant reviewer, Stefan Chomka
highlighted amongst his Best Cheap Eats feature
here on MSN Food a restaurant in Central London garnering a whole lot of praise since opening - Dishoom
. His is the sort of recommendation I respect, so one Friday, I did.
A self-styled 'Bombay Brasserie', the decor follows the current vogue for dark woods, banquette seating and that bustling brasserie feel. It's pretty flash - chequerboard flooring, neatly arranged bookshelves, calculatedly-eclectic wiring adorns the ceiling.
It was rammed to the gunwales on a Friday evening when I visited, the bar crammed with eager punters. Every table was occupied. So far, so bustling.
The menu is an all-day morphing affair, with breakfast lassis and 'bacon naan rolls' on offer. Lunchtime is all mulligatawny curry soup and rolls before hitting its stride in the evening with a Wagamama-style 'order and it will appear as it's ready' style.
Meats from the grill (the lamb chops particularly) were excellent, the home-made naans produced from the open-plan kitchen from the tandoor noticeably a step-up from competitors. The 'Ruby Murray' curry was also good. According to my vegetarian guest, the paneer tikka was quite possibly the best she'd ever had. They didn't hold back on the spice or the chilli kick either, but got the levels just right.
And the service? Informal, relaxed, efficient and friendly. No surliness. No fluffed orders. Did it feel like a high street Indian restaurant? no. Did it feel like a high-end Indian? Not exactly. But was it fun, raucous minus the over-lagered diner and worth another visit? Absolutely.
There's a place for Indian restaurants like Dishoom - that try a little harder yet don't take themselves too seriously. As diners perhaps we ought to be asking a little more of our high street curry houses.
What do you think though? Do you like your curry houses down and dirty? The cheaper the better? Is Dishoom just another London fad that won't go the distance? Let us know in the comments below or contact us via our MSN Food Twitter account.