Going for an Indian? A visit to Salaam Namaste offers up honest unpretentious Indian food in the familiar style of a British curry house, says Katrina Mirpuri.
As a British-Asian, I have a minor fear of visiting Indian restaurants in London. The BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me effortlessly nailed my terror in their’Going for an English’ sketch which sees the roles reversed of Indians visiting an English restaurant and ordering’the blandest thing on the menu’.
Words like vindaloo send a shiver down my spine as they are foreign concepts to me. If you’re not aware – a vindaloo is actually a Portuguese dish called carne de vinha d’alhos that somehow evolved to become a unnecessarily spicy dish that people order to show off in front of friends.
Thankfully, Salaam Namaste had a menu I understand. Mirchi, paneer and daal are words thrown around at home and suddenly the hunger hit me.
Arriving at peak dinner time, the restaurant was full to the brim but waiters stayed alert and on top of orders. As I settled down, a comically enormous stack of popadoms made its way to the table with a colourful array of dips.
The Mango and mint dips were to be expected however the tomato dip was something of a pleasant surprise. It’s easy to get carried away with popadoms, and without realising I dedicated 15 minutes of my time to crunching my way through most of the stack.
Having said that, it also gave me some time to browse the extensive menu. If you’re the slightest bit indecisive, the menu might be somewhat overwhelming. It’s large glossy A3 surface is filled with all sorts of dishes spanning different regions of India, but it’s the vegetarian classics that catch my attention.
For starters, there’s an impressive array of street food. I worry slightly for the amount of oil that I could be consuming but that doesn’t stop me. I order the aloo tikki chaat, vegetarian samosa and onion bhajia with zero hesitation. The waiter gives me the nod of approval as I lay on my thickest accent.
Our waiter was beaming and brimming with suggestions. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You must try the Indian wineÃ¢â‚¬Â, he said as continued to pour me a deep purple glass of their Soul Tree cabernet sauvignon from India’s Nasik Valley.
I’ve tried Indian wine in India before and have steered clear ever since, but the waiters enthusiasm was too endearing for me to decline. The wine was pleasant but very different to what you might expect. It had a juicy, almost sour berry-like finish which happened to go very well with the subtle spices in my starters.
The chaat steals the show as it arrives in a true Delhi style with mashed potato cakes slathered in tamarind and yoghurt. The sweet and sour combination is moreish and the masala chickpeas are the icing on the cake. Chaat is a fun dish to share mainly because it’s very easy to spoon off and steal the best bits from the top like the tamarind and yoghurt.
As for the samosa, I was happy to see thick pastry like they serve in Punjab instead of a flat and flimsy filo triangle. The samosa is crunchy and rich and reminds me of those I used to eat from a shop called Ambala – aka the Asian Greggs.
Fairly full from my starters, I sipped away at my Indian red wine and prepare myself for more food. Looking around the restaurant, I started to admire the slightly ironic decor.
A bright white light shone from the restaurants garrish neon art piece that hung near the entrance, and silhouettes of temples graced every wall. It was an extremely familiar scene and I could have been in any Indian restaurant in the world because they do all look like this. Why is that?
Suddenly everything arrives at once and my table is alive with colour. The paneer and vegetarian kofta came in a white place and shared the same bright orange colour whilst the aloo ghobi mutar (potato, cauliflower, peas) looked more humble in tradition balti.
The kofta is soft and enjoyable and its hearty vegetable mix is packed into a neat cone shape offering a good alternative to meat. The orange sauce it’s served with got a bit too sweet after a few bites and I was slightly disappointed to find the same sauce on the paneer but nevertheless it was still tasty.
The flavours are bold but I soon started to crave the familiar spicy kick, so I asked for some fresh chilli on the side – a cliche Indian request.
With the fiery flavor of chilli still burning on my tongue I picked at a few more chunks of potato with some garlic naan before admitting defeat.
The worst thing about being full is you can’t make any room for dessert. Sadly, this doesn’t apply to me as I am incredibly ambitious when it comes to sugar.
I opt for the pistachio kulfi which is essentially ice cream but denser. The richness of the ice cream overtook any lingering spice on my tongue and put me in a state of sugary bliss. What a way to end.
Overall, the food is very much made for the British palette which means Salaam Namaste is not the most memorable Indian meal I’ve ever eaten, but, in comparison to its neighbouring Bloomsbury eateries, it is great for tasty affordable food.