Lockdown made many a devout Londoner question whether the capital really is still the place to be, With food like this, maybe the suburbs are attractive after all.
It’s a fact that the trendy London flat in a hip area becomes less attractive when all the local bars and restaurants close.
Suddenly it’s back to being just a small box with no outside space and annoying neighbours just a thin wall away.
And if you don’t need to work in town every day, what actually is the point of even being in London?
Many years ago the suburbs were the place to be. You got a garden, a garage and neighbours you actually knew and could speak to about common interests. London, the ivory postcodes aside, was where you lived if you had no choice.
Reigate is not merely a suburb, it’s a very pretty market town that is well within commuter range of London, if you still need to go there occasionally.
The high street at night is relaxed, timeless with its old buildings and there are fair few chain restaurants and now Saffron Summer.
The restaurant did well in Chessington, very highly regarded, and bought this second location in Reigate just in time to not open when lockdown caught it out. Now it has opened with of course with all necessary measures in place.
This means waiters have both face masks on, as well those welder mask type things. It is easier to converse in sign language, as little of what they say behind these barriers is comprehensible.
But they mean well, they are keen and pleasant and confident in their chef, as well they might be as Executive Chef Awanish Roy trained at the Oberoi, as well as under the mighty Vivek Singh of Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen fame.
Right now, the menu is shorter than usual to work within guidelines. They’ve kept the traditional crowd pleasers, and a good few of chef’s specials, though.
We eat mini papads, although I do miss the tradition of smashing up a large one. The chutneys offered are always a guide to standards, and here a stand out is one made with shrimps. A spicy Indian take on a prawn cocktail and it makes a nice change to have chewy bits in the chutters.
These done, on to starters.I once went out on a cull with a professional deerstalker – deer have no natural predators in the UK and so they multiply and are a pest for farmers – and he told me it was very hard to sell venison as the public didn’t want it, despite its many good features.
Good Indian chefs do though, and here it came as kebab (minced meat on a stick kind). Moist and gently spiced it was a subtle delight, especially with the contrast of a crunchy slice of radish, smooth coriander puree and a tart raita. It could have been a bit stove hotter though.
Prawn Recheado was Goan style stir fried prawns. The Prawns arranged on the colourful with military precision and symmetry, had a soft bite and a fresh flavour underpinned by the spicing and were physically held to attention by a base of crab and curry leaf kedgeree. Very impressive.
I was going to have the wild boar vindaloo, apparently done to chef’s mum’s recipe with days of marination. Ã¢â‚¬ËœIs it very hot?’ I asked the waiter.’Mnph ftt sgr’ he said through his facial armour. I asked again,’Oh yes, very hot!’ he replied cheerfully, so I panicked and passed. Gone are my days of lager frenzy, followed by a killer vindaloo.
But I was very happy with my Guinea Fowl, which is basically posh chicken. In this case grilled guinea fowl breasts, peanut and dry mango marinade, egg masala.
I actually had a breast and a leg, nice contrast of meats, and the peanut crunch was very welcome. Although probably not to anyone with an allergy.
The sour notes of the dried mango suited the fowl and worked well against a tangle of salad sweetened with Indian honey. Pomegranate seeds popped and crackled in the mix. Not sure about the soft-boiled egg, I feel egg and curry is always a hostage to dietary fortune and we had to share a car home.
P had a classic Lamb Rogan Josh. We all know this one, a perennial favourite. Here it was not the usual tan-coloured stew with chilli, but a properly cooked dish with spicing firmly embedded in the tender meat and not the sauce.
Rice too shows a restaurant’s true colours. Here it was the real deal; long’witches’ fingers’ properly pre-soaked and cooked to the precise second. When a restaurant takes care over the rice, you know it takes care over everything.
We had kulfi on a stick to end. Desserts rarely excite in an’Indian’ and here it was no different. I like kulfi, but serving on a stick in a beer glass doesn’t do it any favours.
But hey, it was still refreshing as outside it was still sauna-hot.
If you’ve made the move out of London, or are planning to, then thanks to having Saffron Summer on its High Street, I can really recommend Reigate.