Salaam Namaste, 68 Millman St, WC1N 3EF www.salaam-namaste.co.uk
Bloomsbury restaurant Salaam Namaste has just relaunched to celebrate its new modern dÃƒÂ©cor and menu but until I attended its launch party, I had no idea it was such a hit with legal eagles from nearby Lincoln’s Inn. Here was former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, a regular visitor. There was a top barrister I recognisedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Councillors, bigwigs, and I snaffling prawns peri peri.
Salaam Namaste is headed up by Sabbir Karim, the patron chef/owner crowned ‘Innovative Chef’ in the Asian Curry Awards 2013. He also owns its sister Namaaste Kitchen in Camden.
Most excitingly, Sabbir is an air steward in his spare time Ã¢â‚¬â€œ how many British chefs can boast that? Ã¢â‚¬Å“I source recipes from my travels,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Sabbir, who adds he pops off onto native soil or down to hotel kitchens when the plane lands.
The new minimalist dÃƒÂ©cor of caramel and beige with banquettes down one wall was pretty and inoffensive Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I don’t know what the old gaff was like but this did seem well-suited to the well-heeled.
We started with tandoori portobello mushrooms filled with figs, cashew nuts, curry leaf, raisins and paneer. These were gentle angels, as were the intriguing rhubarb raisin paneer tikka. Mustard quail cooked on a tandoor tasted mainly of the tandoor, little of the mustard and was a bit dry. I’d had the jingha peri peri prawns a few nights before and they were stunning.
Onto mains and there was a temporary trauma as it was revealed there was no more lamb shank for the new lamb shank biriani but chunks of leg instead. Lamb on the bone is sweeter and gooier so I was disappointed but not as much as the obnoxious lawyer on the next table who decided to humiliate the waiter about this in front of a group of admiring and tittering women. This is a shameful scene that takes place up and down the country Ã¢â‚¬â€œ townies insulting Indian waiters because they can and this incident was worsened by our horror that the yokel was from our own home town.
However, Sabbir came to the rescue and lamb shank did miraculously appear, bussed over from the Camden branch Ã¢â‚¬â€œ what sweeties. The biriani, which came under a pastry lid, was rich and plentiful.
Jumbo Dorset crab vindaloo Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a whole crab cooked with Goan spices Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sounded fascinating but sadly we didn’t get to taste it properly because we couldn’t crack open the damn thing. Pathetic, huh? But these West Country types are hard critters and I’d have expected at least a section of it opened out of courtesy. In the end, I had to beg a reluctant waiter to help so I got one tiny claw’s worth of meat which was lovely but hellishly not enough. It sat in a sea of harsh spicing which served to tempt even more.
Dorset crab, beetroot Ã¢â‚¬â€œ “what’s up with all the fusion ingredients?”, I ask Sabbir. He doesn’t like the word ‘fusion’: Ã¢â‚¬Å“We’re here Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we can’t get all the Indian ingredients here so we use beetroot, mackerel etc,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says of his use of British components. Makes sense.
Pudding of carrot halwa with coconut ice cream was a treat Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the carrot fudgey as it should be and desiccated coconut texturing the ice cream Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something which had initially alarmed me until I realised what it was.
All in all, a place that’s such a hit with the locals can’t be bad, albeit lawyer clients, and there were some nice touches. The Asian Curry Awards certainly likes Salaam Namaste, with the relaunched restaurant named ‘Best South Asian Restaurant’ subsequent to my visit. Only a litigation-fearing fool would disagree.