68 Millman Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 3EF www.salaam-namaste.co.uk
For some reason I’ve always thought Great Ormond Street Hospital was out West somewhere, so it was a bit of a surprise to find myself walking past it in Bloomsbury, but then Bloomsbury itself is a bit of a surprising place.
It seems to have stayed the same, while the rest of London has changed around it. The multi – door belled Georgian terraced houses look as seedy as they probably did back when Ginny Wolfe and her crew were being scandalous in the area. People still seem to live in these streets, ordinary people that is, not millionaires.
So Salaam Namaste fits right in, appearing to be just your neighbourhood curry house on a nondescript little street. So we’ll get the words’hidden gem’ out of the way now, shall we? It has in fact been in this spot since 2005 and Chef-patron Sabbir Karim has managed to notch up quite a few awards here for what was, at the time modern Indian cuisine, but now seems to me to be simply very good Indian cuisine.
The menu has been refreshed for Autumn/Winter 2016 with Kolkata Katti Rolls, and I liked the sound of Chilli Garlic Quail, the Wild Rabbit Achari, a curry from Rajasthan made with pickling spices, as well as Lamb Xacuti from Goa, made with a blend of poppy seeds, grated coconut and dried red chilies.
Sarson Macchi Tikka- Scottish salmon marinated in a blend of spices and ground mustard, chargrilled and served with spicy plum tomato relish- seemed an intriguing enough starter for me to want to try it.
It was a good choice, the fish creamy with the skin crispy and smoky against it, and the spicing restrained and subtle. The plum relish could have been livelier since, as it was served separate, there was no danger of diners over-heating themselves.
K, who likes chilli and prawns in equal measure tried the new dish of Jingha Peri Peri – King Prawns tossed with Portuguese fiery spices and served with spiced pineapple chutney. It was almost too hot for him, he said, but he wasn’t really complaining just making an observation as he finished, necked a pint of Cobra almost in two gulps, and paused to deliver a thousand yard stare over my shoulder.
There was then an intake of breath and a,’very nice that, very nice indeed’, while mopping up the plate with a folded bit of the beautifully buttery, or ghee’d up, nan.
So much a prawn fan is he that he then tried another new menu dish, Tandoori Rubiyani Duck – Gressingham duck breast marinated in yoghurt, cheese and spices, charred in the tandoor and served with roasted Tiger prawns, potatoes and a fresh cucumber salad. This too he liked and I could see, and he confirmed, that the duck was properly, pinkly, cooked.
A tangle of julienned vegetables added crunch and the potatoes and cucumber enhanced the textures. He was a bit dubious of the drizzle around the plate, thinking it a bit’poncey’ and rather regretted that he’d not ordered a side dish of a more sauce-like consistency to set against his dry main. Otherwise, another plate cleared.
I’d gone for a regular menu item, Green Chicken Curry from Goa with fresh coriander, tamarind, green chillies and fresh mint. Lively in its spicing, to say the least, it was also smooth and fragrant. Those bitter tamarind notes evident under the toothpaste charm of the mint.
We had no side dishes as I say, only the the rice, but that was we wanted; too much’Indian’ at lunchtime results in sleepy writers in the afternoon.
I ended up with a pistachio kulfi expecting the usual priapic column, but rather smartly this had been toppled and sliced to make it more elegant to look at, as well as easier to eat. It was slippery and icy, just the way it should be, with the rich pistachios well in evidence.
I liked the rather old-school ambience of the restaurant, as well as the well above average cooking. It’s good to find somewhere that just quietly goes about its business and doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.