Dinner@The Palm, Froxfield

The Palm is an Indian restaurant but unlike most, it’s not positioned on a busy city centre street or at the heart of a bustling market town, it is set in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside.  Tonight I’m meeting two people with whom I’ve shared many curry experiences over the years – Wills & Antonio.

Wills and I arrive together – Rock gave us a lift but she’s leaving the boys to it tonight.  However, Antonio is running late….he’s had a problem with a train.  We pass the time by working our way through a number of poppadums, served with pickles, chutney and raita, plus there is the opportunity to have a pint or two of Cobra.

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Chicken lollipops

Antonio eventually arrives and we can order something more substantial.  Wills selects the spiced chicken lollipop – chicken marinated in ginger, garlic and Szechuan sauce and then dusted with a gram flour batter.  Antonio has the mixed tandoori kebab – a combination of lamb tikka, seasoned sheek kebab and chicken with mint, fennel and coriander.  I have the seared sea bass,  marinated in tamarind & pineapple.  All the starters are quickly dispatched and enjoyed.

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Seared sea bass

Our very lively conversation covers football, moving house, work-life balance, challenging television appearances, problems with trains….and much more.

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Tandoori mixed grill

Onto the main event.  Our table is crowded with dishes of Rajasthani lamb, chicken tikka dansak, the chef’s recommendation – a chicken dish in a bright red sauce, sag aloo, garlic & peshwari naans and pilau rice…..but will that be enough food for three growing boys?

After another Cobra or two the answer is clear – all the food has been good – particularly the vibrant red chicken dish and the naan, but there is no way we can finish it all.

Great to see Wills and Antonio – a good night out in the Wiltshire countryside!

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Dinner@Siana, Old Town

Siana is one of the newest restaurants in Old Town and, as I’m meeting Gino for one of our regular culinary adventures and neither of us has been there before, this seems like the ideal opportunity to try it out.  Siana is on the sight of Mela, an established curry house that closed down in September 2017.  It will be interesting to see if Siana offers something different to the area.

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Patna samosa chat

A traditional pint of Cobra helps us concentrate on the menu choices.  Gino chooses the Patna Samosa Chat – lamb samosas served on a bed of chickpea chat masala, spiced with fresh herbs and tamarind.  It sounds and looks fabulous but Gino is less than inspired by the taste – the samosa pastry is perfectly cooked but the filling errs on the side of bland.  I am having the Lamb Tikka and I’m more fortunate than Gino – my lamb is beautifully flavoured.

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Lamb tikka

For his main course, Gino chooses the Chicken Tikka Shatkora.  Shatkora is a citrus fruit regularly used in Bangladeshi cuisine.  It is something like a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit – it is sour, bitter and gives the dish a real tang! It is a bit too bitter for Gino – even when mixed with everything else we have ordered for this course.

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Chicken tikka shaktora

I’ve chosen the Chicken Bengal Special – cooked with 21 different spices, onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, fenugreek, garlic and ginger.  It looks similar to Gino’s  but without the shaktora.  I really like the wide range of flavours and, along with the sag bhaji, it serves to dilute the power of the shaktora dish.  Plus we have decent chapati, excellent nan & pilau rice.

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As usual, we have ordered more than we can comfortably eat.  The food has been well presented and the general quality has been more refined than you find in many restaurants of a similar type.  I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m confident that I’ll give Siana another try in the future….I’m not so sure about Gino!

Dinner@Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen

Ahead of tomorrow’s flight to Romania, we are at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen in the Heathrow Hilton. Cyrus Todiwala, the chef patron, is known for being one of ‘The Incredible Spice Men’ on TV and for his central London restaurant Cafe Spice Namaste. We need another taste of fine UK cuisine before we leave for eastern Europe.

We begin with beer. Both Rock and I have a bottle of Curious Brew IPA. A fine Indian Pale Ale brewed by Chapel Down in Tenterden. They use pale ale malt and a balanced blend of three different hops to produce a distinctively flavoured IPA. We both love it.

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We spend a long time looking at the menu – there are just too many fabulous sounding things to choose from. We are also mindful of the fact that we almost always over order and we hate food waste with a passion! However….I have a cunning plan.

We share the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter – in effect, a small amount of several different dishes. But before that arrives we receive an amuse-bouche of saambaar, a spiced vegetable & lentil soup. It is very spicy and awakens parts of my digestive tract that have been hibernating for some time.

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Just as I am about to order a big pot of calming yoghurt – the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter arrive. Each element of the dishes is carefully explained to us in detail and I quickly regret having no shorthand skills. So, this is what I think we had: the thali includes tadka dhal, baingan bharta (a smoked aubergine dish), cholay paneer ( paneer & chickpeas in a gravy with pomegranate seeds), bhindi aur mushroom ki jalfraezi (a spicy dish of okra, mushrooms & tomato), a raita, rice and a roti.

The tikka platter consists of Barbary duck, Denham Estates venison, Scotch beef, chicken, paneer and salmon all cooked, tikka fashion, in a clay oven. Wow! To calm myself I order another Curious Brew IPA.

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Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is a calm and stylish place. The service is excellent, the quality of the ingredients and the cooking skill of the open kitchen is very high. Even the beer is first rate. It really feels like our holiday has already started and we haven’t even taken off yet!

Dinner@Salaam Namaste

I’m meeting Gustav & Ilia in London for a few seasonal drinks and dinner. I’ve known Gustav for many years but today I learn two things that I didn’t know we had in common. First, we both share a long held love for the music of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Second, I have been a diabetic since I was a teenager and now Gustav has the same challenge. After a few rounds of excellent Purity Ubu we start to think about food.

We need an injection of something exotic and head for Salaam Namaste, a modern Indian restaurant in Bloomsbury. We order papadoms & chutneys and study the menu. We start by sharing the Manglorean soft-shell crab and Bombay onion bhajis. The crab is excellent, the bhajis are pretty standard.

Our discussion covers a varied diet of health, family, holidays, music, modern society, politics and we do our best to put the world to rights…

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With almost no sign of self-control, we take the opportunity to test the king prawn patia, lamb rogan josh, chicken shaslik plus an array of dhals, naans & vegetable dishes. All fairly traditional but, on balance, good quality cooking and very enjoyable.

Despite our protests, Ilia picks up the bill – that is the generosity of the man!