It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Zilla zing
Published 10 June 2012 News Review 985th article
Geraldine and Michael with Manoj Vasaikar, chef/owner of Indian Zilla (Julian Whatley)
It was at a marvellous Indian restaurant on Bridge Street, Cambridge, that George Webb, the owner of the Rex cinema, his manager Leslie Halliwell, who became a movie historian, and I (then an undergraduate) dined every Saturday night. There I cooked up a successful scheme to get Cambridge council to agree to let George show Marlon Brando's movie The Wild One, which had been banned by the British censor.
Later I increased my sparse knowledge of India when my plane to Tokyo (where I was making a movie) stopped off at Delhi airport, in those days just a wooden hut. A delightful Indian trader stood by a stall with ravishing necklaces, bracelets and other trinkets in semi-rare stones and - dare I mention the word? - ivory.
I selected 30 items and offered 25% of the asking price. Much haggling followed. If you’re doing a bit of "negotiation", always show the trader the money. I culminated the discussion by saying: "Lovely to have met you. I have to go now to get the plane." My money and I turned to leave. Suddenly money was gone. Jewellery was mine.
You, who may not have been aware of these events, write to me on other matters. Saying I'm totally useless (true) and how much you enjoy what I write (perceptive). You're also kind enough to recommend restaurants. I put these missives in a file. Very occasionally I go where you suggest. Always horrific. Except once.
It all started when I fell out with Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington. I used to like it until the owners redecorated, thus stripping it of all charm. I think the chef was lobotomised as part of the redecoration, because the food became awful. The old manager left. The new one was hopeless.
For Indian food, Vineet Bhatia's Rasoi in Chelsea is great but a bit formal for common folk like me. So I put out an SOS to Sunday Times readers who responded with the spirit that saved Dunkirk. By that I mean turned tragedy into disaster. No, no, I’m being unkind.
Far and away your most recommended restaurant was Indian Zing on King Street, Hammersmith. I took my friends Michael and Shakira Caine. Shakira is Indian, a great beauty and a superb cook. We all liked it. Posh it ain't. But chef Manoj Vasaikar produces tastes that are a remarkable combination of skill and expertise.
Driving through Barnes (doesn’t everyone?), I recently noticed a somewhat grander sister restaurant called Indian Zilla. One Saturday Geraldine and I went there. I was in a terrible mood (not unusual) because Hammersmith Bridge was closed (when is it ever open?), so I had to drive for at least an hour through gridlocked parts of London no one should be forced to witness. I like my lunch on the dot of 1pm.
The problem with all Indian restaurants is that the decor is totally hideous. Indian Zilla is no exception. The food makes up for many things. Here's some of what I ate, all superb: vegetable bhanavla, griddled scallops, chicken jalfrezi, Karwari fish curry and organic vegetable foogath. For dessert I had a tropical lime sorbet and masala bread and butter pudding. I have probably left a lot out.
Our photo shows Manoj, Geraldine and I in my front garden. Why? Prize for best answer.
Two days after I exited the Harley Street Clinic, not at my best, Geraldine picked up a Radio Taxis Group cab to take us to the Wolseley for Sunday lunch. There was me and Geraldine plus a lady friend.
Being weak, I had difficulty getting into the taxi. The driver sat there like a zombie. He looked neither right nor left. He made no attempt to open a door or to help me or the ladies in any way. He just looked straight ahead as if to acknowledge that there was a customer might contaminate him.
I found this sad. I've been using black cabs for more than 60 years. The drivers, almost without exception, are friendly, helpful and witty.
Geoffrey Riesel, the chairman of Radio Taxis Group, was extremely gracious when told of this. He said: "We constantly preach to our 2,500 drivers to remember they are in a service industry." I guess a few don't listen.
From Cheryl Leigh in London:
Hymie goes to synagogue with a dog. The rabbi says: "This is a house of worship. You can't bring a dog in here."
"Whaddya mean?" asks Hymie. "This is a Jewish dog. See, he's got his skull cap in a bag." He looks down at the dog.
"Kippa," says Hymie. The dog opens the bag, takes out a skull cap and puts it on.
"Tallis," says Hymie. The dog stands on its hind legs, takes out a prayer shawl and puts that on.
"Daven," says Hymie. The dog starts to pray.
"This is fantastic," says the rabbi. "Incredible. Take him to Hollywood. Get him on TV, in the movies. He'll make millions of dollars."
"You speak to him," says Hymie. "He wants to be a doctor."
I wonder if managers who pose for your photograph are aware of the impending criticism? Richard Young of Great Fosters had a clenched-teeth smile as if he knew what was to come. We had a good dinner there for my mother's 80th but I agree about the atmosphere.
Durvin Sandiford, Surrey
I see nothing has changed at Great Fosters. I attended a corporate dinner there in the 1990s. The duck was so underdone it almost took flight. I'm not surprised you spend so much time with the quacks. The photo shows topiary growing from your left ear.
Paul Clarke, Berkshire
It's clear from last week's picture that your jacket sleeves are far too short. Have you paid another visit to Hymie Pockle's menswear stall in Petticoat Lane?
Frank Pittal, Essex
Outside the Turkish city of Bodrum there's a large poster that looks like you. Some say it's in memory of Ataturk. I doubt it. Could it be because you look like a Turk, or a tribute from the locals for not visiting their restaurants, or a warning to visitors that you may be nearby? Take a poll. To every correct answer, I'll send a copy of my book How to Avoid Michael Winner and Live Happily Ever After.
Eamon O’Connor, Cork, Ireland