9 Wilcox Road, London SW8 2XA – web
Raj Dawood dispensed with the formality of the frivolously chilli shaped, plasticated menu. Instead, it would be more interesting for us ‘novices’, he said, to paint our small square, slatted table with a selection of his Indian bistro’s signature dishes, refined over a tenure of 22 years. Considering the kitchen is significantly bigger than the functional dining room, which is adorned only with a huge furry chilli, clinging to the ceiling like an engorged leach, and a timeline of chirpy review clippings going from snow white to the tint of tea brown, this seemed an exciting solution.
Caution to the wind, my guest, Walter Speller, who, like me, has wine, not blood, surging his veins, also embraced this plan. As he dived into a cool bag for a bottle, I took in the local scenery. From our al fresco setting beside lightly graffitied, padlocked shutters, which I suspect may have been lightly graffitied and padlocked for quite some time, I spied Hot Stuff’s delivery van, mottled like measles with yet more peppers.
A fairly warmed-up dispute over a girl would later ensue in our midst in and around the set of a souped car to the amplified soundtrack of its stereo. Whilst I considered hiding in the somewhat rustic and wittily titled ‘Vinda’ loo, Speller confidently took control, seizing my camera to flatter the ‘lads’, which included Hot Stuff’s brigade. Miraculously, this proved the brilliant antidote, calming any further high jinks.
Regardless of the actually entertaining pavement action, I recall that our small banquet of dishes – served on quirky piano key edged plates and barely fitting between us – were densely spiced and basically enjoyable. These included crisp pappadoms with resonant accoutrements such as tamarind chutney, densely woven mixed bhajis (onion, potato and spinach), firm, but alas, non-hallucinogenic ‘magic mushroom’ rice, enduring ‘special’ garlic naan, silken aubergines and chewy chick pea curry. The finale of a luminous Popsicle ‘dessert’ proved an infantilising, but amusing, parting gesture.
Free from a corkage charge, we cleansed our palates of Dawood’s easy hand with spice with an almost purgingly pure Chardonnay from one of Speller’s favourite estates. From vines tickling the undulating land of Metricup Road, Wilyabrup in Australia’s Margaret River region, Fraser Gallop ’08 delivered drippingly fresh green melon flavours via waves of understated power – despite having been opened some five days before.
Excluding the price of our bottle, Hot Stuff had delivered a bounty for a very respectable total (£33). Incidentally, the naan landed ‘on the house’ – a perk for newbies. The remaining Hot Stuff which we simply couldn’t stuff left Vauxhall in a takeaway carton. I munch its cool contents as I write…