Dear old Grandad’s taken a tumble and as a consequence has been banged up at the NHS’s pleasure for the last few weeks. While it’s unlikely many of us would ever choose to be in hospital, the care he’s been receiving - at Northwick Park, the auspicious site of my own birth, and latterly Central Middlesex - has been first rate and even the (notorious) catering has had the thumbs up. If the Ewing’s ever admitted she’s hoping it will be on a Thursday, for corned beef and pickle sandwiches followed by jerk chicken and sponge pudding.
The frequent dashes made up the Western Avenue have meant things have been a bit slack on the domestic front, so luckily there are plenty of decent choices for dinner nearby when visiting hours are over.
Fortuitously Northwick Park is a stone’s throw from Kenton, the home of Ram’s Pure Vegetarian, and somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while. While most things with veggie in the title may scream of mung beans and tofu, here you can be assured of plenty of deep frying, liberal helpings of cheese and ghee, and cold beers to wash it all down with.
Speaking of the beer, Kingfisher is £2.00 a bottle, and only £3.80 for a 660ml bomber. So I had two. The Ewing enjoyed a cup of sweet, spicy chai.
The menu is bewilderingly large and is split into many different sections reflecting various different types of Indian cuisine. These include Surti Khajana (a state in Gujarat), Mumbai Chatpata (classic street food such as idli and dosa) - Panjabi dishes - South Indian Dishes and Indian Mirch (an Guajarati word meaning pepper or chilli) Masala dishes - This is then subdivided into starters and mains, with a few extra accompaniments, rice and daal dishes and Hindustani Breads thrown in for good measure.
To kick things off we had a plate of Pani Puri, the crisp shells being served with a lurid, spiced potato and chickpea mixture and a thin tamarind chutney. Preparing these is almost as much fun as eating them. Crack open the top of the shell -rather like a boiled egg - stuff with the potato mixture, top with a spoonful of tamarind liquid and down in one before it all disintergrates. A great start.
Of course, we were obliged to order a dosa. This time the Mysore version, the crisp, lacy crepe being stuffed with spicy garlic and chilli masala paste, before being folded and served with a decent vegetable sambal and an unmemorable coconut chutney (well I liked it - TE).
Next came a plate of Banana Methi Bhajiya - banana and fenugreek pakoras served with two different chutneys. These were the Ewing’s favourite dish of the day, the sweet, slightly spongy fried nuggets pairing well with the grassiness (a bit too 'compost' like for my tastes) of the green coriander chutney and the tang of the red tomato.
I have recently been flicking back through Simon Hopkinson’s latest book, Cook, and have been tempted by the rather 70’s simplicity of a recipe for a tomato curry, with the whole fruit simmered in a delicately spiced sauce; this craving lead to me choosing the, curious sounding, Tomato Sev.
While I normally associate tomato in a curry with the brackish, metallic and smoky flavours of Northern India and Pakistan, this was clean, light and tangy with a searing heat from a good thwack of fresh chilli. I expected the sev (chickpea noodles) to have been sprinkled on top of the finished dish, but they has been simmered into the curry, giving it a pleasing, if slightly odd, texture and a nutty back note.
The Vengan na Ravaiya, a peanut and gram flour stuffed aubergine that's a a Surti specialty, was equally fiery. The slippery, finger sized, baby baingan being simmered in a rich, oily tomato and onion sauce that reminded me of one of my favourite curries from Tayyabs (minus the lentils).
Our final main, from the Punjab, was the the Ewing’s favourite ‘cheesy peas’. This version of muttar paneer was rich and soporific while still showcasing the delicate sweetness of the legumes. The paneer, always a favourite, was pleasingly bouncy and with a smoky edge from a tumble in the hot kahari before being added to the sauce.
From the Hindustani breads section shared a Puran Poli, a Guajarati bread usually eaten during festivals and times of celebration and a speciality of the restaurant. The standard puri is stuffed with jaggery (palm sugar) and daal before being fried in ghee. Unsurprisingly, it was exceptionally good, if very rich, the sweet, butteriness providing a foil for the heat and astringency of the vegetable curries.
Tempted as we were by the homemade pistachio kulfi and the butter and sugar laden pastries and sweetmeats that sold from their adjoining sweet shop, dessert was far more restrained and refreshing, coming in the form of fresh mango and blueberries bought from the Lebanese grocers a little further up the road. And whilst the fruit might not have counteracted all our previous dinnertime transgressions, hopefully it will go some way towards keeping us out of the inpatients.