Enthused at the prospect of an Anglo-style Indian restaurant [as reported in these pages] headed to London Sizzler (Hillcroft @ US59) for a reunion with "curry house" food as known in . . . well . . . London or genrally in the UK.
I am afraid, while nice enough, the London Sizzler did not deliver up the promised experience, which I always benchmark against Sunday outings to a legendary Tandoor restaurant in Ruislip Manor (next time in London take the Piccadilly Line and wander along the High Street there and your nostrils will guide you to it.). The pink or maroon napkins. The Victorian brothel wallpaper. The scent of incense and (most important) beating the then arcane British licencing laws by scoring drinkies on a Sunday before 12 noon.
[Aside: people in the US may or may not understand that one of the most profound reasons Brit's love Indian food historically is that Indian restaurants kept late hours. Hours such that when the pubs closed at 10:30pm one could then segue on to an Indian "curry house" and happily continue to be served alcohol ***so long as served WITH a meal*** until 11:30 or even midnight or later. The fact that after a heavy night's drinking male hormones are keenly aroused also explains the UK fetish for incredibly hot versions of curries such as Phal. Machismo to impress the ladies in the party or the fellow male imbibers UK style.]
Now there are definite differences in the UK version of things from the typical US and this is what I was after. For a start think tablecloths are used without plastic covers or other stain-prevention techniques. Also pappadums are ALWAYS deep fried whereas in the US they are almost always served dry roasted [for reasons I have never truly understood as I find a roasted poppadum about as attractive as sea biscuits]. UK restaurants always serve up a "trinity" of tamarind, mint and red coconut/onion chutney (sometimes a quadrophony with cauliflower or dal as well). It is the last which is always missing from US version. Also in the UK vegetables tend to be priced and portioned as "sides" making a more interesting meal less costly.Finally, in the more northern climes of the UK (say, around Newcastle) an evening curry would not be complete without 7 pints of lager and a fist fight erupting. But anyway, how did the London Sizzler do?
Their lamb samosas were a good start. Minced lamb in pastry. Period. No filler. A check in the plus column. The onion bhaji similarly could have passed muster on a side street in Hammersmith. The main courses though completely disappointed. The Lamb Masala (so called "signature" dish) was lacking anything I would consider masala. It was cooked small nubbins of lamb on a bed of onions. Mystery. Also the chicken korma was quite quite bland and had very little interest and was very "samey". A Tarka Dal was not very interesting either. The Nan was quite good I have to say.
Once again I had the feeling that the restaurant was catering to a particular clientele maybe less Indian than Indo-Pakistani. Or Sino-india. I couldn't place it and I am not saying that what is served in London curry houses is authentic. But I was being led to believe by other posts that that was what was on offer here. I actually found quite a sincere ethnic purity to the food and definitely not an anglo-centric take.
The service was OK although I did not like being referred to as "Boss" by our waiter for a variety of reasons. The price was a bit pricey too. The drinks (raitha was good but minute portions) especially. It ended up being $100 tab including tip. A bit steep for a "curry house" even if translated into UK pounds.
The place was not full with ethnic Brit's longing for the Indian grub they left behind, in fact it was mainly Indian customers. One other British Empire couple (Austrialia?) did arrive however so I suppose the Empire was represented quite heavily over any random sampling in a Houston restaurant with a dozen people in it.
One thing I was expecting and really missed was the heavy drapes, the heavy table furnishings and the tablecloths which you'd swear have to be thrown away after each usage but somehow can [by cleaners with techniques unknown to mere mortals] miraculously be turned snow white again.
I have nothing bad to say only that my sudden urge to return to the feeling of well-being that was had after a Sunday session at the tandoori in Ruislip Manor (my wife suspected the incense might have had a bit of "kick" added to it such was the euphoria) and it wasn't there. Also (why bother to say this again) the heinous and awful habit of bringing out the whole main course when one has varely nibbled one's appetizer at all is, well, heinous. Unclassy. But universally accepted in most of the US so I will shut up about it.
All things considered I wish I had tried the goat bhuna. The daily special helpfully NOT pointed out by the waiter and which I only noticed later. I think I saw some of the Indians having that and it looked quite intersting and better than what we ordered .
Thanks for reading. Good enough place. But not a recreation of English curry house fare.