They don't make birianis like we students used to eat
Published 27 April 2003 News Review 511th article
Winner with Ahmed Asfar, Mustapha Mahani and Sayed Mohammed (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Everyone should have a local Indian. Not a red one with feathered head-dress and a bow and arrow. Although that would be nice, too. I mean a restaurant. Mine is called "The famous Kensington Tandoori, Indian cuisine, air-conditioned". It's just off High Street Kensington. I wandered round there with Miss Lynton-Edwards, ex-dancer supreme.
Time has stood still at the Kensington Tandoori. They have a lowered ceiling over padded side banquettes with chairs facing inwards on the other side of the tables. There are green and yellow lights illuminating fake plastic leaves and lemons. Leaves are also on the wallpaper. Between the tables are glass divisions etched with Indians on horseback, playing the sitar and dancing. The restaurant manager, Sayed Mohammed, has been there 15 years. Before that he served Charles Bronson and me at the Bombay Palace, Marble Arch.
The chef is Pan Singh Rana. The recommendation on the menu from C Waizer, executive chef at the Oberoi Intercontinental in New Delhi, says, "Mr Rana is hard working, responsible and a disciplined worker and his conduct is always upright." To complete the staff, there's Ahmed Asfar, who was sitting at the back. He's the brother of the deceased owner whose wife, obviously the real boss, comes in and signs the cheques.
I've delayed telling you about the food because, sadly, I was unimpressed. I had a very nice sweet lasse, which is frothed up something, rather like a milkshake. We shared onion bhajees and meat samosas, neither of which were remotely memorable. The poppadoms were good. The naan bread adequate. Then I had chicken tikka biriani and Geraldine king prawn massala. I also had chickpeas, boiled with fresh ginger, onion and spices. And some raita.
I remember, as one of the delicious tastes of all time, the chicken biriani I used to eat in Cambridge when a student, at some place near the Magdalene Bridge. Maybe memory plays tricks, but the one at the Kensington Tandoori had no oomph at all. Nor was it a patch on the biriani I used to get at the Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington before they enlarged it to death - the restaurant not the biriani. None of the food was in the same hemisphere as you can get a mile up the road at Zaika.
The dessert menu had colour photographs of what was available, which made it apparent they were all bought in. The four on the left-hand side came from Spain. Why Indian desserts should be shipped in from Spain I can't imagine. One came from a vegetarian shop in Drummond Street near Euston station and one from the Royal Sweet Market, whatever that may be.
I asked for mango and passion fruit, but they'd run out. They'd also run out of the funky pie. So I settled for a "coppa yoghurt, a glass filled with ice cream combined with yoghurt, raspberry, blueberry, wild cherry and strawberry sauce topped with wild fruits".
This had not travelled well on the journey from Spain. It was extremely dreary. Geraldine was having marsala tea. She said, "It smells lovely." I thought it smelt like medicine. I tasted it and it was even worse. The service was okay until I asked the waiter, Mustapha Mahani, for the bill. He produced his card which described him as "Public Relations Manager". I asked what he did in that capacity. Mustapha explained he went round hotels to tell guests about the Kensington Tandoori. "The last lot I got in came from the Intercontinental in Park Lane," he explained. Good for him.
It took for ever to get the bill because they didn't want to give me one. By now I was raring to go. So Miss Lynton-Edwards produced the camera. They kept saying I should wait for the chef. He was obviously changing into a clean outfit. "I didn't wait for Marlon Brando, why should I wait for the chef?" I asked. "Come on," I said to Geraldine, "let's take a photo of whoever's here."
At the last minute Ahmed Asfar appeared in the background. After we'd registered this group for posterity, the chef appeared. By then I was walking out. "Take his photograph," requested Sayed, the manager. "We're not wedding photographers employed by your restaurant," I thought. But I said nothing. I just fled.
I now go from the ridiculous to the sublime, namely the River Cafe in Hammersmith. I've been increasing my visits there recently. I know of no better food served anywhere in London. It also has the most enchanting receptionist, Neila Buth from Brazil. Indeed all the staff, led by Charles Pullan, are exemplary. It's also a beautifully designed place. As you may have gathered, I recommend it.
Your francophile correspondent (Winner's Letters, last week) who says "lavatory" is derived from the French is wrong. Lavatory is from the Latin "lavatorium" - a place for washing from the verb "lavare". What's wrong with having a swipe at the French anyway? Carry on the good work, Mr Winner. You're always readable and very often right.
Poppy Simpson, Haywards Heath
Good news for Sir Alan Fersht. The Spanish often refer to the lavatory as "el water" (water closet). But ty bach (little house) from David Jones sounds as awful as "loo" or "restroom".
Michael Hubble, Madrid
In the Philippines they always refer to the WC as the "comfort station". During all my visits I never found one that was.
Brian Christley, Conwy
Staff at the Oratory and other London restaurants should be taught the response to the request, "May we have another bottle of the same wine", is, "Yes, of course, sir", rather than "Another one???" delivered with a look of incredulity.
John Smart, Streatham
Cross my hot bun and hope to dine, but I've never witnessed a Winner ad break, probably because I'm mostly a wireless listener - where I heard his eulogy to Concorde. He ended by confirming, "You meet a much nicer class of person." But what is the point if osmosis does not ensue. but hang on, now I think about it, there has been an explosion in the filthy-rich and common-as-muck brigade.
Huw Benyon, Llandello, Wales
I recently returned from South Africa where I sampled ostrich meat for the first time. We now put it on our menu. Perhaps Mr Winner would drop in and sample it on his way to Gatwick. However, if you have ostrich steak cooked any more than medium rare, forget it! We're thinking of offering our diners kangaroo, alligator, kudu, water buffalo, bison and springbok. And we're only a country pub!
Jerry Hudson, Surrey