Friday, 19 September 2014

Sambal Kitchen and Diner

A few weeks ago the Ewing and I were tasked with picking up a parcel from Gerrards Cross. Not wanting to schlep all the way over to ‘mini Hollywood’ – Wikipedia’s words, certainly not mine - for nothing, I was quick to seize the chance for an impromptu lunch stop en route.

The question was, where? As far as good eating goes, since leaving my first ever job (at legendary sandwich bar Mrs Crusty, the place I learnt how to battle with clingfilm and win) GX ‘village’ (it’s not) is depressingly bereft of anywhere I’d actively choose to patronise. This really is white sliced Middle Englander and ladies wot lunch territory.

Sure, there’s a branch of Malik’s – Heston’s favourite Cookham based curry house, and there’s Bawarchi, another Indian where we'd recently had a rather nice dinner. There’s also an offshoot of Beaconsfield bakers Jung’s, always good for a cake and a coffee; and I’ve been meaning to try the Three Oaks, yet another Cookham spin-off - although our meal at mother pub, the White Oak, was pretty average and pretty expensive.

After a bit of aimless Googling, I decided the best course of action was to carry on a few miles down the Western Avenue to South Harrow where, again according to my friend, Wikipedia, ‘shops on Northolt Road sell Sri Lankan and Polish groceries. There are five Halal butchers, nine public houses and four chicken shops.’ Beer and fried poultry, now that’s more like it.

Despite the leafy beech trees and chalk escarpments of my Chiltern home, I still love this neck of the woods. I was born less than two miles up the road and good old Grandad still happily lives round the corner in Pinner. I also love the contrast; as you dice with death dodging in and out of bus lanes, marvelling at tmyserious shops with names such as Shankar Superstore and Natraj Sweet Centre, a mere twenty minutes away au pairs pushing Bugaboos are competing for space at the duck pond on GX Common. South Harrow can still boast a bigger branch of Waitrose, though.

After an attempt to entice us into having our fortune read under the railway bridge (lord if it wasn’t for bad luck, you know I wouldn’t have no luck at all), we made it to Sambal Kitchen and Diner, a Sri Lankan restaurant complete with sister takeaway branch next door. 

We started off with some mutton rolls; good old Findus pancake-esque cylinders wrapped in fluorescent breadcrumbs and stuffed with spiced lamb, and served alongside a hot chilli dip and the obligatory sparse shreds of warm iceberg. The classic tubular snack, fresh from the fryer, to get things going.

We also had a dosa, one of the Ewing’s favourites. This time we tried the Jaffna dosa, two spongy, slightly sour, lentil pancakes served with coconut chutney and a thin vegetable sambar for dipping. Rather different from the more familiar masala dosa, a drier, more French crepe like version, but very good none the less. 

Drinks, which appeared about half way through our meal, were interesting. The Ewing had a fresh pineapple juice, while I had the Nelli crush, a lurid green, ultra sweet gooseberry flavoured cordial that was surprisingly refreshing when paired with all the heat and spice. This one came, unusually, with crunchy jelly like lumps, adding its own unique frogspawn-like texture. Mmm, crunchy frogspawn

My main was the devilled mutton curry with two buttery Veechu roti – the Sri Lankan version being far closer to Malay style flaky flatbread rather than the, relatively, parsimonious Indian kind. Served with a dish of simple creamy, nutty yellow daal and more fresh coconut chutney.

I love curries like this; the thin fiery gravy rich with the slightly acrid note of fried curry leaves and the dry chilli spicing fierce enough to thoroughly clear the sinuses. The bread was great, too, breaking apart in fluffy, ghee-soaked layers to be used to scoop up the sticky shreds of tender meat.

The Ewing went for the Pittu and fish curry, an interesting combo of pittu, a dish of steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut, usually served for breakfast; a punchy Ceylon omelette (stuffed with fresh green chillies); coconut sambal; a vegetable paal curry and a king fish curry.

The Ewing was slightly apprehensive about the king fish curry. The last time she had ordered one, down at Dosa World in Bournemouth, it was so hot that she couldn't manage eat it, while the insane spiciness left me temporarily deaf and barely able to breath. The sweaty endorphin rush at the time was great, the day after not so much.

This was far tamer, but still with a decent kick, the meaty king fish standing up well to the rich, slightly smoky, sauce and the turrets of rice providing a nice bland counterpoint to the spice of the curry.

I was beaten when it came to desert, but the Ewing, unsurprisingly, wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Her choice was the falooda, a tooth-achingly sugary ice cream desert flavoured with heady rosewater syrup and studded throughout with chunks of fruit.

On arrival it smelt rather like a gathering of freshly powdered grandmas and looked like pink ectoplasm, so when she proclaimed it was nice I was happy just to take her word for it. Although, even she doubted the wisdom of attempting to finish the whole thing after the vast spread that had preceded it.

Twenty four quid later and we were happily heading back to the leafy ‘burbs to pick the package up, only to discover that it had been locked in a storage cupboard and the only key holder had gone home twenty minutes beforehand (long story). Proving it really was a falooda too far. 

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