The delicious paradox of a ‘Hindoostani Coffee House’ by the presciently named Dean Mohomed would have intrigued liberal thinkers and epicurean romantics of 1809 – the year that England’s first Indian restaurant appeared. Although Dean was declared bankrupt a few years later his legend lives on, namely as a historical snippet on the menu at Indian restaurant Rooburoo where this fusion of English and Indian is evident some 200 years later.
Rooburoo, on Chapel Market in Islington, perfectly mixes Western and Indian ingredients and should thrill Western palates. While not all flavours are strictly authentic (what, after all, is authentic about fusion?), the ingredients are fresh and perky, vegetables distinct, and best, whole spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are kept intact within the dishes.
That said, our meals gave mixed satisfaction. The starter of broccoli and paneer bhaji, ‘mixed with lentils for extra crunch’, was soggy and heavy on the gram flour. Chicken paratha, with chick peas and pomegranate seeds was doughy and confused.
But the fried bitter gourd crisps – or karela – with red onions were a welcome treat. Being an acquired taste, it was heartening to see the menu bold enough to include them, the ghost of chat masala working surprisingly well. Similarly, the home made pickles with poppadums – carrot and lime, beetroot and cider vinegar, mango and cumin jelly, also proved healthy alternatives to the usual lime sluggies that accompany most poppadum servings.
Mains-wise, the lamb chop biriani from Lucknow was generous in volume and plucky in flavour. We liked that. But my lamb keema was a disappointing student’s attempt, whipped up in a flurry, the flavours unmelded, stark and blunt. Spicy fish stew with oily fish and chickpeas tasted much better the next day – never be ashamed of dogging chow home – again, bold contrasts in flavour and texture. The pudding of mishti doi – sweet baked Indian yoghurt with molasses syrup was a winner but the kulfi with fresh fruit was just too fusion with its trickles of jus – gimme a pistachio , crenellated tower any day.
Rooburoo has a pleasantly sparse decor against aubergine walls and quirky, film memorabilia. The Bollywood actor Shar Rukh Khan’s velvet pin striped jacket sits in a glass case and historical photos make tasty eye fodder. The food is pretty affordable – Chapel Market prices this side of Woolies – and the wine list’s decent if not as adventurous as the food. On a drizzly, Wednesday night, the place suddenly filled up after 8pm, puffed full of urban, youngish locals. Rooburoo is high on concepts and originality – it just needs to tweak some of the cooking to deliver a little better.