At about the time I publish this post, it will already be Friday afternoon in London. My English friends will already be thinking about which pub they'll be heading to once 6.30pm comes around. It might be The George or The White Horse on Newburgh Street. Last Summer, I was guide to Fred on his first trip with me to London. I told him that the British drink outside wherever they can and that if he wants to eat late (which he always does), we'll show him a thing or two about eating late.
I love a picture we took outside The Whitehorse because it absolutely captures the essence of a typical Friday night in Soho. If the slightest hint of sun has been out, literally hundreds of people gather on the sidewalks outside the 48 pubs in this tiny West End district no bigger than one square mile. They talk they drink, they buy rounds generously, asking everyone they know if they'd like a drink and include the friends of the friends who they may never have met before. It's the way things are, and it's the way I was, before I moved to a more Californian way of life. Yes, I miss it sometimes, but there are things about it I can do without. The night the above picture was taken, I went to the bar. "Do you have champagne by the glass?" "No." "Oh, can I have a Seabreeze please?" "No." "How about a vodka with grapefruit and cranberry?" "No." "Ok, I better have a Campari and soda then." At last. Yes, the thing I hate about pubs is that they are often geared towards beer-drinking males and have a smaller selection of drinks that appeal to women, unless you are satisfied with a sugary synthetic-tasting alcopop like a Barcardi Breezer.
Enough of the drinking, this is meant to be about curry. I'm just trying to give you a window on this cultural phenomenon. The Soho norm is to drink right until the 11pm closing time (about 5 hours in total) and then dash to a local Indian restaurant (everywhere is in walking distance) for some late night nosh. By this point, some individuals can be a bit leery and I am always astounded by the grace with which the restaurants handle large groups of intoxicated customers.
The curry house of choice was nearly always The Maharani on Berwick Street.
The food at The Maharani is actually a little bit more interesting than most high-street Indian Restaurants. They have some more unusual items on their menu, fish curries and even chaat appetizers like bhel puri.
Another of my favourite Indian Restaurants is called Gopals on Bateman Street which is where I took Fred last summer, at 11pm after he'd had at least 5 pints of Guinness. There are two things I always remember about Gopals. The potato patties with a tamarind sauce and the rice, which contains fresh coconut. Both of these items are memorably good. Ummm, I am getting hungry just thinking about them and I haven't even had my breakfast yet.
Yes, it's true, Brits seem to have room for more beer with their Indian, even after a 5 hour stint in the pub:
Plain popadoms? In the UK, plain popadoms are the norm. In CA, I have only ever seen spicy popadoms served. Does anyone out there know any restaurants in the Bay area that serve the plain variety. Or have you seen them in a store? If yes, please let me know, thanks.
Maharani 77 Berwick Street, London, W1V 3PF, 0207 287 0233
Gopals Of Soho Indian Restaurant 12 Bateman Street, London, W1V 5TD, 0207 434 1621