64 Parkway, London NW1 7AH, www.namaastekitchen.co.uk
In London terms, it’s been a pretty mild February. If you’re a foolhardy type, you could just about get away with shirtsleeves in the sun. But the mercury is definitely higher in Goa- with regard to both climate and cuisine- and it’s that very region we’re off to tonight.
Culinarily speaking, that is. March sees Namaaste Kitchen and its sister venue, Salaam Namaste, roll their regional feast menus out West, where the weather’s hot and the cuisine is hotter. In Goa’s 50-degree heat, eating spicy food facilitates perspiration, perversely cooling you down, but here in Camden it’s just plain palate-searing.
So much so that I develop a strange vocal wobble instigated by an over-enthusiastic dollop of green chutney, making me sound remarkably like a pre-pubescent boy. Not a good look. A gulp of ‘Indian tea’- an innocent-sounding concoction of gin, blackberry and lychee- and balance is thankfully restored. But I’m undeterred- indeed, my enjoyment of the aforementioned relish renders me largely silent until the pickles are cleared away.
The menu is heavily proteinous- almost dauntingly so for a confirmed veg lover like myself. Luckily, Goa’s West-coast location means a wealth of fishy dishes, too- much more my bag. But from the off, I’m won over by a celebratory dish of meaty-yet-delicate, karai-fried beef and tongue- a twist on the classic celebratory dish ‘sorpotel’, which traditionally uses pork.
I’m looking forward to the grilled Mackerel Riechard and it doesn’t disappoint, showing a distinct Portuguese legacy in its use of chilli, garlic and vinegar. The four centuries of colonial rule are also evidenced in Galina peri peri- spiced chicken thankfully far removed from its ubiquitous high street counterpart.
We’re delivered a selection of mains to fight over amongst ourselves. Gallina Cafrael, a whole green-spiced chicken leg with coconut chutney, requires one of us to reluctantly attempt to play Mum. Give it up, Ma, you’ll never please everyone- those pieces aren’t even! Other dishes are easier to divvy up, including gargantuan prawns in the Samarein Chi Kodi, served with a dried prawn balachao sauce.
That green chutney just can’t keep away from me- making a reappearance as the masala in a lively chicken curry. Lamb Xhacutti provides a rich foil for that herbal spicing, with its thick, aromatic peanut and sesame sauce. In fact, the entire menu delivers a multitude of tastes and textures, unsurprisingly given Goa’s own diverse cultural spectrum.
The trouble with a really good meal is knowing when to stop. That belt-loosening moment is fast approaching, yet delicious food remains a mere fork’s length away. What’s a diner to do? Take a deep breath, a vow of a long run and another hearty portion. I repeat the mantra as we struggle to do the feast the justice it deserves, hoping the ‘Cool As A Cucumber’ cocktail I’m sipping will imbue me with the same outlook.
Flavours continue to pique the palate; dry and smoky notes in the mushroom Amo-tik with its buttery-smooth sauce and crumbled paneer; tangy, slightly bitter tastes in the fenugreek and mustard cod Mashali Caldin. Rice is a simple and particular joy- fluffy-grained, ramped up with curry leaves, coconut, mustard seeds and a healthy dash of ghee.
Finally, we admit defeat. Namaaste Kitchen founder Sabir Karim pops out of the kitchen to hear the verdict, and hide a small knowing smile at our greedy discomfiture. The practically empty dishes speak for themselves, as do the small beads of sweat erupting on a few foreheads. Goa’s volcanic, enticing cuisine successfully recreated in North London. Now let’s have some of that weather.