So, it’s finally happened. Our trusty drive Steven Archibald (Archie) has given up the ghost; broken down; kaput; we’ve cruised ‘round the hood with the (manually wound down, if we can find the winder in the foot well) windows down for the final time.
While it was sad (sad? I was DEVASTATED - TE) when his head gasket finally blew, after 13 years of faithful service it was hardly a huge surprise. And now he can finally enjoy his time in the sun, it also meant we could think about a nippier replacement. Or certainly one with central locking; and less rust.
Which is how we came to take delivery of Beck - named after a lyric in Debra, one of the greatest falsetto funk numbers you’re ever likely to hear and already on heavy rotation on the stereo – with his wondrous Champion Blue paint job (a special release for the World Cup, they saw us coming) and a whole host of electrical mod cons with the potential to go wrong…
And after several long weeks of being bus wankers and utilising shanks’s pony, there was much excited anticipation for our first Sunday spin. And, whilst not quite the glamorous hills of Glendale, a jaunt straight down the A40 for breakfast in Brent seemed like a pretty good second choice. What have the Hollywood Hills got on the beauty of Hangar Lane gyratory.
Yet another Eater tip, this time from their 5 restaurants to try this weekend, a Friday column that tips the unsung and the far-flung, with the proviso that all suggestions must not be featured in either the Eater 38 Essential map, nor the monthly-updated Heatmap, and must be outside Zone 1.
Luckily, it often features somewhere from around my old endz, with exotic places such as Southall, Harrow and Rayners Lane getting a shout. A few weeks ago it was Dosa Express. Now, I can get pretty incredible dosas less than a ten minute stroll from my house, but that's no fun when you have a new motor to show off. I was also fascinated by the picture used to illustrate the story, showing the vast menu made of laminated sheets of A4, that stretched neatly across one wall and around the corner.
It's probably best to google the menu before you go, especially if you're indecisive, as the choice is vast (it also covers most the wall opposite) and is arranged with absolutely no rhyme or reason. Failing that, just look around and see what other people are eating, or what is being freshly cooked on the hotplate next to the counter, at least that way you can avoid food envy.
To drink we had ginger coffee and sweet, fudgy cashew and almond milk. I say we, but I found they smelt a little too much like scented draw liners and left them for my wife, who was hugely happy to have something sweet and soothing alongside all the fire and spice.
As well as dosa they offer a handful of other dishes, including vada, or lentil doughnuts, that were piled up temptingly on the counter, spinach pakoras and veggie samosas. We started with papri chaat, papri translating as wafer, or discs of crisp pastry, and chaat meaning 'to lick'. The pastry discs are broken up and layered with chickpeas, tamarind chutney, onions, yoghurt, chilli and fresh herbs, making a crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy snack.
We also ordered some chilli garlic paneer, that was served in a gargantuan portion that the photo doesn't quite do justice to. An classic Indo Chinese dish, the cheese curd cubes are stir fried with spring onions in a sweet and fiery sauce with huge amounts of fragrant garlic, chilli and ginger, served here with a token leaf of crunchy iceberg lettuce.
Obviously I had spent most of the week dissecting the menu but in the end eschewed the additions of cheese, salad, chutney and noodles, plumping instead for a classic rava masala dosa. Made with semolina, which helps give it its distinctive lacy appearance, the crisp pancake had been folded around a generous filling of spiced potato. Certainly beats cornflakes.
Alongside was a ladle of the familiar sambar, a thin vegetable stew with lentils and spices, a rich tomato and onion chutney and a virginal coconut chutney. The latter always looks so invitingly cool and fresh, yet ends up being the most insidiously fiery of the lot. Here was no exception, and I could just about note the sympathetic glances from the ladies behind the counter through the tears in my eyes.
The Ewing went off piste with the pesarattu paneer masala dosa, a pancake made with moog daal (green gram flour) instead of urad dal (black gram flour) and stuffed full with spiced potato, peppers, onion and shredded paneer cheese. This was a top rate dosa, although I'm not sure you could really distinguish a huge difference between this and a standard dosa, other than the slightly bilious tinge and a slightly spongier texture.
And here he is, the main man himself, ready to whisk us away for some more culinary adventures. He's even got cup holders.