As many people probably do, I go through phases of craving a curry on a Friday night.
I’m going through one of those phases at the moment.
I’ve mentioned before that I find this difficult in London – my friends and I live all over the shop. Which means there’s nowhere ‘local’ to all of us. So travel is generally involved for some, but there’s often confusion as to where to travel to.
I kind of feel that if 80% of you are making an effort to visit someone else’s local, that place needs to be tried and tested and worth it; the bar is raised from somewhere that’s simply the nearest place serving a palatable lamb bhuna. My personal preference is for somewhere clean and welcoming, with a good selection of reliable favourites and some keenly priced, interesting and ultimately successful ‘chef’s specials’. Well cooked breads are important too.
Tayabs isn’t convenient for any of my mates, so is a treat and a slight effort, rather than a regular event. We’ve not had much success centrally (Dishoom, I thought, was over-designed and disappointing; I’ve heard mixed reports from Roti Chai but haven’t been yet) and the traditional City curry houses are close to work for many, but they’re also basically average to poor, and on a Friday we’d rather escape the towers.
To date our default ‘kinda’ local is the Mango Tree at the back of Borough Market. Unfortunately for a number of us (most importantly me) it’s not at all local. On the evidence of the last few trips, I also don’t think it’s as good as it used to be. Yet as we non-Borough residents are yet to offer a tried and tested alternative, we (meaning me) can’t be too critical. Time to get looking, I think.
Last Friday night I was in Camden watching other people be creative. I had been told on a number of occasions about a nearby Indian restaurant that was relatively new (like year or two) and had been well reviewed by the likes of Fay Maschler, so I thought I’d check it out.
Whilst it was convenient at the time, Camden is actually out of pretty much all of my friend’s way. So this might seem like a pointless expedition. But I reasoned that if it rocked, maybe we could all up roots and set up a commune nearby? At the least, perhaps you, dear reader, are local and looking for inspiration.
So here goes.
Namaste kitchen, which is on Parkway, probably aims a little beyond what I’m looking for in my ideal local: it’s ‘modern’ Indian cuisine, so there’s the odd slate platter and occasional micro herb. But look beyond those and there are both authentic regional dishes and traditional British curry house staples on the menu. Moreover it is, at it’s heart, a small restaurant striving to serve good Indian food in pleasant surroundings to people who live nearby. Tick.
I wasn’t a fan of the neon lights or the TV screen in the entrance, but those were quickly forgotten when we were seated in what is a comfortable room. Service was impeccable throughout – for my brother and I, and for the tables around us. Tick (for the comfort and service).
The best part of the meal, hands down, was from the grill: a whole sea bass that had been cooked hard and fast so that it was heavily charred on the outside, but beautifully succulent on the inside. It’s marinade was spicy and fresh. It worked superbly as a starter to share, but would be equally excellent as a main. Not the kind of thing you get in a typical curry house. Indeed, not the kind of thing you get in many British restaurants: Namaste kitchen has an open charcoal grill at the back of the restaurant and they’re obviously and rightfully proud of it. If you go, I recommend majoring on food that’s been cooked on this. Double tick.
We also enjoyed a cheeky little soft shell crab, deep fried with a nice light batter and a spicy/sweet pickle dip. This was one tempting dish amongst a nice selection of starters that, on the evidence of what we ate and saw, are much better than the starters at your typical local cuzzla. They seem well priced too – generally around the £4.50 mark. Bonus tick.
I didn’t feel that our mains really kicked on from there. A biryani looked super, with an authentic pastry crust keeping it moist, and a refreshing plate of yogurt on the side. But, actually, the portion was just too large and too heavy on the rice ratio. Like pretty much every biryani I’ve had, it seemed bland. Perhaps that’s how biryani’s should be? Perhaps … but I would still prefer more spice (not necessarily heat) and just more interest generally. Dash, but not a cross (saved by the yoghurt and crust).
The other main we had was a dry lamb dish (a Rajasthan Laal Maas). The lamb had been slowly cooked and had a lovely taste and texture. It was great that the sauce was not a flood of synthetic flavours. However, I was again disappointed by the lack of heat (and this time it had been advertised as being very hot). Also just a dash.
On a more positive note, we thought a basket containing a peshwari naan, a roti, and a date and ginger naan was excellent (you can choose any three of a number of breads). It’s also worth noting that there were a good number of dishes on the mains menu that sounded interesting and the front of house had been keen for us to try them. Tick.
Namaste are definitely trying to be more than a traditional British Indian/Bangladeshi curry house. To be honest they’re probably aiming to be a bit racier than my personal ideal, but good on them for having a crack. Most importantly we overheard a number of tables giving glowing reports of their food. Indeed, many of our neighbours indicated to the waiters that they were regulars and/or would be coming again. Which should probably be reason enough for any of you living in the area to give it a try.
Me? I thought it was decent food and an enjoyable experience, but not somewhere to move house for or trek to if I’m not in the area – that’s not a massive criticism, I’m just being realistic.
I continue to wonder whether my ideal of a ‘local’ curry restaurant actually exists, ideally one local to me. Star of India is pretty close, so I need to check that out. I’ve heard good things of Indian Zing too. Which isn’t so close, but is on the list for a trial soon. Any other suggestions?
Namaste in 3 words
Decent ‘modern’ Indian
I was a guest at Namaste. Depending on how much you eat and drink, you’re looking at £25-35 pp. Which is pretty standard and perfectly reasonable, I’d say.
www.namastekitchen.co.uk - 64 Parkway, Camden, NW17AH – 0207 485 5977