Published 11 June 1995 Style Magazine 101st article
Cumin for a bite: Gulu Anand, the Brilliant chef, serves up jeera chicken (George Jaworskyj)
"We must go to Southall," said my friend, gourmet and television writer Laurence Marks. "Oh," I replied. "It's like little India," he enthused. "There are street markets selling spices and silk, and there's the best Indian restaurant in England, the Brilliant." "Oh," I said, even less enthusiastically. But somehow or other on a Friday night there we were in the Ferrari in the most awful traffic jam ever trying to get to Hammersmith roundabout. Whoever organised Hammersmith roundabout should be shot. No, shooting's too good for them. Anyway, after various diversions and delays and getting lost more than once, we arrived in Western Road, Southall, Middlesex. Not a place I plan to spend my holiday in.
There were two people at a bus stop. One white, one Indian. "Where's the street market?" Laurence asked the Indian. "It's down there, left and then . . ." the Indian pointed. "But it's closed now." So much for silks and spices and all that, I thought. The almost-adjacent Brilliant restaurant is a large, highly unattractive room with tables laid out in rows as if waiting for a major function. I was later told that one wall used to have photos of Indian film stars, but after Prince Charles came to the place, they took down the Indian film stars and now feature only a large photo of His Royal Highness visiting. There is nothing I would less like to look at when dining than a photo of Prince Charles. Indian film stars I would have enjoyed!
The Brilliant is run by Kewal Anand and his younger brother Gulu, who is also the chef. The food is pretty good. The poppadoms were the best ever. "Home made?" I asked. "Oh no, bought at Cash and Carry and heated up," said Kewal. "If we made poppadoms here we'd never have time for anything else. Lots of labour and they have to be dried in the sun." Difficult in Southall, I thought. I also got an interesting lecture on rice. Apparently it catches bacteria very quickly; if you don't serve it within two hours you're in trouble. So we sat on nasty red chairs, eating very good rice, terrific jeera chicken with cumin seeds, pickled carrot and mango, prawns masala, karahi gosht lamb, mushrooms, peppers and kulcha bread, which nobody else makes! All excellent, but worth travelling to Hounslow for? Hmmm. I was also shown a large cuttings book of those who have taken the journey west and given endless information about some party there two days later to promote an Indian cookbook. "The Guardian and the Southall Gazette will be coming," said Kewal (or was it Gulu?) and they handed us invitations. I declined mine, but Laurence, polite to the end, accepted his graciously and clucked out noises that he would be there. Of course he wasn't, but looked good. I said nothing would get me to a party for an Indian cookbook with The Guardian and looked nasty. It may be a bit chi-chi, and Kewal and Gulu didn't rate it at all, but I'll stick to the Bombay Brasserie in South Ken. Incidentally, their choices for Indian food in more accessible areas were Khan's in Notting Hill, and the Bombay Palace near Marble Arch. I used to go to the Bombay Palace, but after waiting an hour for the main course and letting my views be known very clearly, the head waiter told me it was because they had a lot of take-away business that night. So be warned!
Some letters to this page are brilliant, some are very odd. Among the oddest was Mr Waterhouse of Yorkshire telling me I shouldn't mind if there's no doorman at Claridge's because he may be parking his car! What about my car, Mr, Waterhouse? Why shouldn't mine be dealt with? And what about the terribly important person who's paying over £1,400 a night for the royal suite? He or she has to wait, too? In the street, not knowing what, if anything, may happen?
Even Claridge's under its new management doesn't put that forward as plausible. They rightly say they should have more than one doorman on duty and promise me in future they will. So you see, Mr Waterhouse, they can park your car and mine! Pity about the King of Zog in the royal suite. He'll just have to wait.
I was interested to read that Mr Winner has taken Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons off his 32 best list. Could it be that Raymond Blanc, with his recently acquired three Michelin stars, is making hay while the sun shines? On a recent visit we felt nothing short of ripped off. Having ordered the £65-a-head, eight-course Menu Gourmand, we were presented with our first course: three salad leaves with dressing. There then followed six courses most of them nice, if a little samey and finally coffee and petit fours. Imagine our surprise when we were charged £7.60 for the coffee. On querying the addition to our bill we were told that the petit fours were indeed the eighth course, but the coffee was extra! That seems to me to be like a fish shop charging its punters £3 for a fish-and-chips supper and then telling them that the £3 was for the salt and vinegar and they would have to cough up extra if they want any cod and chips with it. The experience was enough to put us off ever returning to Monsieur Blanc's establishment. He should realise that there is a fine line between making a reasonable profit and leaving your customers feeling that they've been had.
Alison Bowyer, Taplow, Bucks
Recently a 30-strong party of family and friends enjoyed an excellent celebratory meal at the elegantly furnished Ashdown Park Hotel, near East Grinstead. Arrangements beforehand were meticulously handled, and on the occasion of our lunch, nothing was too much trouble to the most courteous staff; needs were remedied before we knew we had them. The food was beautifully presented, delicious and excellent value for money. Our guests' only complaint was that they were spoilt for choice on the menu. How glad we were that we ignored the comments made by another correspondent in January at the time our arrangements were being planned
Mrs L Willis, Bromley, Kent.