As the UK prepares to discard the last vestiges of lockdown, there is plenty of fear mongering going on. One pervasive rumour is that one can catch the Delta (Indian) variant of the Covid 19 virus by eating in Indian restaurants. Determined to help out by eating out, I spent the last few weeks frequenting London’s South Asian restaurants.
The Cinnamon Club was one of the first Indian restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star and remains one of my favourites. Housed in the library that once housed parliamentary records, the grand double height, book-lined main dining room is habitually frequented by politicians and those who seek their favours. When parliament is in session, diners are regularly interrupted by a “division bell” going off in the restaurant – reminding MPs to head back for a parliamentary vote.
Some years ago I met the rather lovely Pamella Bordes at a party in Mumbai. In Britain she was a parliamentary researcher who frequented the very building housing the Cinnamon Club restaurant. She took her job so seriously that she had a division bell installed in her apartment. It is unclear whether she ever actually visited the parliamentary chamber. But the bell reminded gentlemen callers in her bed chamber to pull up their trousers and make it back to the parliamentary chamber. For a while she was the most famous Indian woman in British politics.
Politician’s girlfriends and wannabe mistresses are still a fixture at the Cinnamon Club. They are still gossiping about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent nuptials. When a man marries his mistress he creates an immediate job vacancy. The ladies at the Cinnamon Club were busy tarting up their resumes.
The food and service at the Cinnamon Club is faultless. Their biriyani, cooked in individual serving sized pots, sealed in pastry to trap all the juices, is incomparable.
South Asian meals are usually served with a range of side dishes and condiments. I find that the true test of a kitchen is in the quality and authenticity of the side dishes. On this basis Kolamba, (the Sinhala word for Colombo) a relative newcomer to the Soho restaurant scene scores well. Their Seeni Sambol (caramelised onion relish with dried fish), Pol Sambol (freshly scraped coconut and chillies), and Kiri Hodhi (turmeric coconut milk curry) are familiar accompaniments to any authentic Sri Lankan meal
Sri Lankan food is having its cool moment in London following the raging success of Hoppers (now in two locations). Having your home cuisine be declared cool is a decidedly mixed blessing – it’s like my memory has just been sold – and they are now churning out cheap forgeries. However, Kolamba rekindles fond memories of the fragrant dishes of my childhood. The Fish Cutlets (a golf ball sized mix of spicy fish and potato, breaded and deep fried), Polos (young jackfruit) curry, and Jaggery Beef (slow cooked beef ribs marinated in spices and jaggery, a form of palm based molasses) are worth returning for.
We will see probably see enough variants of Covid 19 to run through much of the Greek alphabet. Apparently it is racist to name a virus variant for a country or racial group. So far the Greeks haven’t objected. We will each have our own thresholds for what constitutes safe behaviour in a post lockdown work. But do go out for a curry.