A fling with Zing rekindles my love of Indian food
Published 16 May 2010 News Review 878th article
Michael with Rahul Kulkarni and Manoj Vasaikar outside Indian Zing (Gerladine Lynton-Edwards)
I waved goodbye to the Bombay Brasserie because my staff Christmas dinner was mishandled and the food was poor, as I'd found it to be earlier. The general manager, Arun Harnal, isn't up to much either. Nor is the re-design of the restaurant.
My former receptionist Zoe had a lovely coat. When she went to get it, the restaurant staff had given it to someone else. Harnal apologised and paid for a replacement. But Zoe had to leave in the cold, find a new coat and be highly inconvenienced. A £50 bunch of flowers wouldn't have been inappropriate. Nor would her meal being removed from my bill. Harnal did none of that. Although, later, when I wrote about it, he suddenly offered freebies galore. Not accepted.
Instead I sought advice from Sunday Times readers. Peter Willsher, Jonathan Robinson and Richard Price recommended Indian Zing in King Street, Hammersmith. Geraldine and I dropped in for Saturday lunch. Place was empty. Not a good sign. All changed. It's amazing. The greatest Indian food I've ever eaten.
Don't take it from me (although why not?) - when I took Shakira Caine (she's Indian in case you didn't know) and her husband, Sir Michael (he's not Indian in case you didn't know), they were equally ecstatic. Shakira declared it the best ever, and she knows. She cooks that type of nosh.
The owner-chef, Manoj Vasaikar, blends flavours and tastes and textures like a genius artist. Everything is perfect. The decor is simple and welcoming. It has a menu headed, "Relaxed weekend lunch £12 for two courses £15 for three courses". Only downer is Hildon water. Awful.
I had, in no particular order, a vegetable bhanavai - a "version of an onion bhaji, first steamed and then griddled in the authentic Maharashtrian way"; green peppercorn malai tikka (that's chicken cooked in a clay oven); lamb rogan josh "cooked in a traditional style originated from Awadh region in north India with a unique flavour of rogan (tinged, flavoured and spiced oil) and josh - a strong punch of knuckle juice and marrow".
I nicked some of Geraldine's Karwari fish curry, lemon and ginger rice, unbelievably good pappadums and chapatis, saffron-flavoured rice, tandoori scallops with onion and tomato relish ... I could go on. I dictated, "Everything is beyond belief tender, effective, sensational blend of whatever he's blending." Geraldine kept muttering, "Incredible."
Indian desserts are usually terrible. I had a splendid organic multi-seeded bread and butter pudding and a sweet lassi. Later, I took Michael and Shakira Caine. Can't remember what we had but it was all fantastic. This place is more than a find, it's an Aladdin's cave of taste-bud enlightenment.
Before she died, Rose Gray, co-boss of the River Café, used to get takeaway from here. I'm not sure they do that massively, but Shakira was definitely planning to have some. It's near enough to my house that I can go and eat it straight from Manoj's kitchen. It was most efficiently served by the restaurant manager, Rahul Kulkarni. Eat your heart out, Bombay Brasserie. This is Indian food as it should be.
Good news: Richard Caring's Ivy-Caprice-Scott's group of restaurants is abandoning Tufa water in favour of Malvern. Malvern and Evian are the best. Tufa, Hildon and Blenheim, the worst.
I had a superb lunch in Le Caprice the other day. It was full of Saturday boys. That's a marvellous phrase I've just learnt to describe Jewish men. Because the go (in theory) to synagogue on Saturday.
My friend, the hotelier Andrew Davis, said, "I can do business with him; he's a Saturday boy." Thus I was educated.
I also ate very well at Scott's in Mayfair. Lovely group there: Eric Clapton, Terry O'Neill, Bernie Eccleston, Michael and Shakira Caine, Joan Collins, Carol Vorderman, Andrew Neil.
Scott's is a favourite of mine. This visit was unique. I ordered a starter and a main course. I got them. But neither was what I ordered. I asked for seafood cocktail to start and got asparagus. I ordered a risotto to follow and got seafood cocktail. They were both so good I didn't even mention it. Joan Collins ordered a Cosmopolitan cocktail, got something entirely different. Not important.
There's always a rare day when even excellent staff make a bit of a mess. Happened at the River Café when I ordered salmon and the restaurant manager, Charles Pullan, who'd taken the order, brought lamb. A way round this is for me to order things I don't want on the basis that I'll probably get something else.
Winner's Dinners at the Belvedere was massively over-booked as was my one-man show at the King's Head Theatre a week earlier. I met 96 charming and interesting readers. Introducing the meal, I said, "I asked the chef Gary O'Sullivan what he could do. That produced a 20-minute silence finally broken by the words "Beans on toast".
"You'll have to stretch a bit beyond that, Gary, I responded." He did, superbly.
PS: I'm on TV's QVC next Friday at 1am and 1pm flogging signed copies of my Winner's Dinners and Fat Pig diet books for an amazing price: two books, inc p&p, for £17.88. Should be a laugh.
I've just had a huge clearout of my wardrobe - old stuff I haven't worn for years. Seeing your state of sartorial elegance at Lewtrenchard Manor I now realise I should have dispatched my clothes to you rather than to the Salvation Army.
Roy David, Kent
In all the years of reading your column I have never read such rubbish as last Sunday's description of your "speedy" meal at Lewtrenchard Manor. How on earth anyone who "purports" to be a serious food critic can praise a six-course meal that arrived at the speed you described is beyond me.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire
The grounds of Lewtrenchard Manor look delightful. Since "other staff members" were in the photo it was only fair that an ageing member of the gardening team was included.
Brian Harrison, Essex
So the hotelier Andrew Davis says Geraldine deserves a Nobel prize. Presumably, the peace prize, considering the amount of oil she has to spread on the troubled waters left in your wake.
Nick Jones, Mollans, France
Recently and rather rashly I purchased a pair of light blue loafers in New York and am now subjected to ridicule every time I summon up the courage to wear them. Imagine my delight to note that in at least three of your photo opportunities you sport a similar pair. What taste!
Duncan Latter, London
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