Sunday, 26 November 2017

Super Saturday

Everyone who supports a team has their ‘golden’ era. For me, I would like to say it was the mighty Tottenham of the late 80s / early 90s, with players like Gary Mabbutt and Gary Lineker. Sadly, for me, I was a whisker too late and I ended up with Jason Dozzell and Jason Cundy. That said I was lucky enough that my first real Spurs memory was the 1991 FA cup semi-final, a 3-1 victory against our North London rivals which spawned the famous chant “we’re going to Wembley cos we beat the Arsenal”, something that I, endearingly naively, thought was a common garden occurrence. 

Of course, it wasn't; that is until last season, when White Hart Lane was finally put to the wrecking ball and Spurs were temporarily afforded the chance to call the hallowed Wembley turf  ‘home’ for the 2017/18 Premier League season.

Long story short, it’s how the Ewing and I came to be heading to Wembley on a Saturday afternoon to see what would, hopefully, be their first home league win of the season (and hoping that it wouldn’t be a repeat of our last visit, where we conceived to get knocked out of the Europa league and Alli got sent off while I was in the loo).

As with the time before (with a visit to, what now appears sadly defunct, Karhe Queen), we decided our pre-match prep would be in the form of a curry at the Sri Lankan/South Indian stalwart Palm Beach. Perhaps not the greatest choice before squeezing in close proximity with thousands of other people, but with the range of good, cheap Indian food available on the High Road, even I could happily forego a dirty pre-match burger from the van.

The menu is big - a meandering tome that spans across the two countries, taking in soups, dosa, noodles, tandoori, South Indian specialities, devilled dishes and biryani. Ever-prepared, I had already studied it extensively online, but if you're not as into pre-planning I'd recommend heading straight for the Palm Beach specials, where you can find Indo-chinese food and Sri Lankan dishes such as lamb intestines, anchovies, rabbit curry and the, Dutch-influenced, lamprais.

Football + Curry = lager and large bottles of icy cold Lion did a fine job of quenching thirsts and quelling fires. They also have the mighty Lion stout, an export style stout that young men  in plaid shirts would be raving over if it was being served in plastic half pint glasses in a corregated shed in Shacklewell.

If anything could get me to become veggie it’s Indian food - finding myself powerless when confronted by a creamy tarka daal or an earthy saag bhaji. I particularly enjoy their treatment of the aubergine, a tricky veg to nail properly. Here it's served ‘Jaffna-style’, cooked to tender collapse, languishing in a rich pool of smoky, spiced oil.

Of course, I couldn’t really commit to just veg as it would mean missing out on delights like the vast portion of tender squid that had been dry-fried in a dark spice paste rich with shrimp and tamarind and was impossibly delicious; all crispy and soft and sweet and fiery. A classic Sri Lankan dish that’s unprepossessing looks belie it’s delicious charms.

Another dish that would have had a pop-up in a Brixton boxpark by now, had it been a more ‘Grammable proposition, is the kothu roti. A dish so named because of the sound the knives make as they chop the ingredients on a hot plate, it’s a dish borne of ingenuity with roadside vendors using leftover bread from breakfast (or string hoppers or puttu), chopped up and fried with a mixture of meat vegetables and eggs. 

While not being classically good looking, it’s a dish with depth and charm; certainly worthy of a second date. Here the venison version was outstanding and utterly moreish - compelling me to keep eating to the point I pretty much had to roll myself out and back down the High Road.

Additionally, deliciously, yet entirely unnecessary was a fragrant Malabar prawn curry from the Keralan coast. A dish full of plump crustaceans in a rich and fragrant coconut gravy, spiced with curry leaves and red chilli, that was soaked up perfectly by with a bowl of old school fluffy pilau rice, flecked through with grains of luminous orange.

I've yet to make acquaintance with an Indian/Sri Lankan pudding I've really enjoyed, despite my greed-driven perseverance. Not wanting to admit defeat, and as the Ewing was ordering pistachio kulfi (no pic, very nice) and a cup of spiced masala chai, I decided to try the watalappan, or baked coconut custard.

Served on a banana leaf, this was a wobbly slice of cashew-topped joy. that tasted like the old fashioned baked bread pudding my next door neighbour made when i was growing up, only the familiar vanilla and brown sugar had been replaced by pandan and jaggery. An exceptionally good pud, by any standards.

Grinding out a 1-0 victory against the Cherries was hardly the stuff of my schoolgirl Wembley fantasies, but as someone who still remembers the joyful feeling of reaching the end of the season and finishing higher than mid-table and with a positive goal difference, I’ll happily take it.

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