Settling in to SE3

Chinipan, SE3

Usually, no matter which corner of London you visit you will find a curry house. So why has there not been one in Blackheath Standard for the last umpteen years? Luckily the rain has come to the desert in the form of Chinipan, a smart Bangladeshi-run place in the premises of the old hardware store.It’s only been open a few months and I’m pleased to see it’s going strong.

The name, meaning sweet leaf, is used on a few of the specials on the menu. I tried the Chinipan Fish Curry (£8.95), with tender, large chunks of salmon. The fish is marinated overnight then sealed in the tandoor for a few minutes before joining the spicy, creamy coconut sauce. A touch of smoked tamarind keeps your taste buds alive throughout.The Chicken Tikka starter (£5.50) was tender and moreish, and a fan of Biryani assured me the chicken version (£10.95) they had was excellent too. It certainly disappeared quickly.

Service is friendly but relaxed and there is an attractive lunch deal (£8.99 for two courses, £10.99 for three) which means it is one of the few local curry places where I often see people eating in the day. The decor is smart, if a little sparse, but it looks as if the team is slowly building a good reputation in this part of SE3.

The restaurant is now fully licensed after a spell of BYO when it first opened at the end of 2016

Chinipan, 15 Old Dover Road, Blackheath, London, SE3 7BT. Tel: 020 8853 5800. Open: daily noon – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 7.5
Decor 6
Service and friendliness 8
Vibe (early Wednesday night) 6
Value 8

Higher ground

Everest, SE3

The residents of Blackheath are, of course, blessed with plenty of good restaurants, and it’s always nice to visit the classy Everest Inn. Beautiful décor and smooth service underpin the excellent food.

It’s hard to resist the Lamb Momos (£5.95) when there’s a Nepalese kitchen. So I didn’t. They were as tasty as ever and complemented by the Beetroot Paneer Parcels (£5.95) – a superb pairing, with the beetroot’s slight crunch and the pastry really adding something extra to the cheese, as well as adding a glorious dash of colour to the plate.

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But that’s enough veg he cries, we are in a Nepalese after all. Good, hearty meat is called for from this hilly, cold region (Blackheath). Lasun Khursani (£9.95) and Lamb Gurkhali (£10.95) are certainly hearty and both are popular Nepalese dishes.

The Lasun Khursani is a home-style curry cooked with chillies and onions and is up there with a Madras when it comes to heat the menu said, although I’d say the dial was turned down when I tried it. Tasty nonetheless. The Lamb Gurkhali is a similar strength in the hot stakes and also uses chillies. The latter, I’ve noticed is becoming a bit of a favourite as people become more familiar with Nepalese food.

Everest Inn, 41 Montpelier Vale, Blackheath, London, SE3 0TJ. Tel: 020 8852 7872. Open: Sunday to Thursday: 5.30pm – 11pm. Friday to Saturday 5.30pm – 11.30pm.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 8
Decor 9
Service and friendliness 8
Vibe (early Wednesday night) 8
Value 8

Looking south

Pathiri, SE10

Fed up with identikit Indian restaurants and their identikit menus (same old, same old)? Pathiri in Greenwich’s Trafalgar Road could be just what you are looking for. This unassuming little place specialises in Keralan food, the home region of the friendly owner Kutty – and there are plenty of interesting dishes to try.

First up it has to be a couple of the South Indian dosas, the slightly sweet crispy pancakes (think crepes). The Ghee Roast Dosa (£4.75), with a hint of cheese, is a nice way to test the water or go for the more hearty Masala Dosa (£4.99), which is packed with potato, spinach and Nigella seeds (black cumin). The dosas are very large and come with an array of sauces so I’d advise the latter is shared if you don’t want to completely dent your appetite for the main courses.

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Masala dosa
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Clockwise from top left: Vegetable Korma, Cabbage Thoran, Fish with Cassava, mixing the fish with the sauce, the sauce for the fish, pilau rice.

There is a small choice of old-school dishes (Tandoori Chicken anyone?) if you really must, but fish has to be the way to go. Kappa with Fish Curry (fish mixed with cassava and served with a spicy sauce, £9.99) is a heavy, tasty dish and is recommended along with the Green Mango Fish Curry (£7.25). Both dishes use fresh coconut and have a good kick. Plain pilau rice (£2.50) or a Keralan Paratha (£2.50) are the best accompaniments, and coconut rice (£3.50) an overload of the fairground favourite.

Elsewhere, vegetable lovers will rejoice at the array of choices with dishes of beetroot, okra, eggplant, beans spinach, paneer and eggs all on the menu (from £4.50 as side dishes). But most importantly, Pathiri has a chef who takes his vegetables seriously (the Cabbage Thoran, £4.50, was probably the best cabbage dish I have ever had) and not as an afterthought to sit sadly next to the meat dishes.

Pathiri operates a BYO policy and on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes you can try a range of dishes with their South Indian Thalis (£8.99 veg, £9.99 non-veg).

Pathiri, 119 Trafalgar Road, Greenwich, London, SE10 9TX. Tel: 020 8858 1220. E-mail: info@pathiri.co.uk.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 7.5

Decor 5

Service and friendliness 8

Atmosphere 6 (Wednesday evening)

Chop chop

Lahore, E1

“I pretty much just end up eating plates of chops when I go to Lahore,” I tell my friend, who is heading to this iconic restaurant for the first time.

“What? No curry?” he asks, as if a night without the spicy tomato and onion sauce at least somewhere on the table, would be plain wrong.

A short while later he looks up from a mound of red meat, his hands covered in tasty juices from the plate, and exclaims: “I can see why you eat chops here!”

We’ve ordered two plates of their chops (£9.95 for five) and are tucking in. Lahore really do make the chops in most other places seem like mini offcuts. This large Pakistani restaurant is often referred to as an institution, so engrained is it in the way of life in Whitechapel. There are other restaurants in the same area called Lahore One and Lahore Two, although neither, as far as I am told, are run by the same owners. Lahore is the daddy and chops is the dish of choice. Plate after plate of these mouth-watering chunks of marinated meat head out of the open kitchen, where you can watch flashes of flame bursting from dishes as they are cooked. The spice marinade is rich and the balance between slightly charred edges and the tasty fattiness of the lamb is perfect. A huge plate of fresh salad, which is routinely placed on every table as guests arrive is the ideal mouth cleanser from the grease when fingers are licked clean.

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You can’t book in this canteen-style restaurant and it’s not uncommon to see a queue snaking out into the road. But once in you’ll join the hustle and bustle of a truly working restaurant, with a stream of waiters seamlessly delivery those fresh salads, jugs of water water, glasses for your drinks (it’s a BYO) taking orders and delivering dishes. And all this amid a throng of happy diners. This not a place where people whisper quietly, it’s where they fully embrace the food with gusto. It’s where there was restaurant theatre long before some PR person thought they’d attach the tag to the restaurant of some TV chef’s venue.

One curry club I know refuse to eat anywhere else; every month they meet here and tuck in. To chops no doubt.

But there is way more if you can force yourself from the lamb. Each day there is a special, said to recreate favourites from the streets of Lahore (how about Chicken Haleem, £10, on the weekend?). The Onion Bhaji (£3.50) is so fresh from the oil you’d be advised to wait a while before picking the pieces up unless you have asbestos fingers. And the Chicken Kebab Roll (£3.50) is a nice tandoori break from the lamb.

But if you still yearn for a “curry” they are all there waiting: Karai Gosht (£9.50), Chana Masala (£7), Chicken Biryani (£9.75), even Fish Curry (£9.50). But I must admit, with the meat coursing through my veins after the chops, I usually just overload with a Keema Curry (£9,50) and accept that this was a meat day without any doubt

Lahore, 2 Umberston Street, London E1 1PY. Tel: 020 7481 9737. Open: daily 11.30am – 1am.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 9

Decor 5

Service and friendliness 7.5

Atmosphere 10 (Tuesday evening)

Village spice

Kasturi, SE7

When you read from a food writer (Solange Berchim in the Greenwich Visitor) that the curry she ordered from Kasturi in Charlton was one of the best she had tasted, it is time to take notice.

The Greenwich Curry Club had a mammoth Christmas curry here when it was called the Viceroy, so we clearly needed to check out the venue’s new incarnation. After a couple of warm-up drinks in the friendly White Swan we skipped the starters and headed straight for the mains.

I’m currently on a Vindaloo rush and the chicken one (£6.95) was spot on – well spiced and a decent amount of vinegar. It’s amazing how many restaurants ease up on that ingredient when it’s a core part of the Goan dish.

Elsewhere on the table, the Lal Maas (£9.95 ), a Rajasthani lamb dish, didn’t explode in heat as we expected from the menu’s description, but it disappeared nonetheless, along with a Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani and Mashq-e-Tanjan, the chicken version of the same dish (both £9.95). Considering there were the remnants of a Keema nan (£2.95) and pilau rice (£2.95), an empty bottle of red wine and a few Cobras littering the table, the final tally of under £20 a head was exceptional for this quality.

I particularly like the tight menu, in particular only listing a handful of “speciality” dishes. Now, that is a restaurant that is confident in itself and one where you can be more confident that the chef actually does specialise in those dishes.

Kasturi, 10 The Vilage, Charlton, London, SE7 8UD. Tel: 020 8319 3439. E-mail: info@kasturi-restaurant.com. Open: daily 5.30pm – 11pm.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 8
Decor 7.5
Service and friendliness 8.5
Vibe (early Wednesday night) 7
Value 8

Plenty of fish

Saffron Club, SE3

Not only does this Blackheath restaurant have one of the coolest names in the curry world, it also has a superb selection of seafood dishes. Sparking my interest was the Punjabi Fish and Chips (£8.95), a twist on the British classic, with Ajwain seeds used with the gram flour for the batter and served with a yoghurt dip. There’s even peas. Spicy I wonder? The waiter did admit that the dish was pretty much standard fish and chips with a hint of spice but then that’s not such a bad thing in my book anyway.

Other tempting fishy delights on the menu are the Mixed Seafood Curry (£13.95) with tiger prawns, salmon, fish and mussels in a Goan sauce and Bulsari Salmon (£11.95), a brochette of fresh salmon with onions and peppers. There are also four different prawn dishes (from £12.95) and Tandoori Trout Fish (£10.95) served with a stir fried aubergine and tomatoes.

To say there’s a fair bit of competition in the restaurant stakes in Blackheath is an understatement but Saffron Club has certainly put its marker down when it comes to fish.

But as this is a Nepalese restaurant specialities such as Chicken or Lamb Hariyali (£8.95) and Himalayan Chicken (£8.95) are also to be recommended. The latter is cooked with Jimbu, a popular spice from the hill regions of Nepal apparently. Not your usual ingredient that’s for sure. And, as can be seen from the photo below, there are some excellent, fresh vegetable side dishes too.

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Saffron Club, 39 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, London, SE3 0BU. Tel: 020 8297 1071.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 7.5

Decor 8

Service and friendliness 9

Atmosphere 6 (Tuesday evening)

Value 7.5

Popadom and pickles

Crayford Tandoori, Crayford, Kent

I used to use this Indian restaurant a lot a few years ago, so I was delighted to see it going strong on a recent visit.

This is a classic small-town curry place: it serves more or less all the old-school dishes in its attempt to satisfy everyone from young couples getting ready for a night out to oldies making their visit a night out, to groups celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and all those people in-between (like our jolly table down from London for the night).

And a classic place deserves some classic ordering. So where to start? Ah, the joys of an Indian. No faffing around like in other places; it’s not what to order, it’s simply how many order.

“That’ll be six popadoms please.” See mum, I can order with no hands (on the menu) now.

Then it’s the pickle tray ritual as people make a grab for their favourites.

“Oh, that’s hot! Try that one.”

“Oh I love that one.”

“Is that the mango? Mmmm.”

“What’s that one? I don’t think I’ve had that one before.”

“Yes you bloody have,” I want to cry. “This is a classic curry house. They’ve been dishing up the same stuff for years when it comes to this bit of the meal.”

In case you haven’t been out since 1978 it goes like this…

  1. The popadoms arrive 18 seconds after they have been ordered. Some people in your group are still removing their coats and before long another member of the group will return from the toilet and exclaim: “oh you’ve ordered popadoms,” as if it is unusual.
  2. The amount of popadoms you get will be the highest number that a member of you party asked for. So if everyone asked for six but one person said ten then the waiter will have only have heard him and you will get ten. Nobody argues because it’s not the done thing.
  3. The popadoms will be moderately warm as they were cooked earlier and have been sitting under a warmer tray. Nobody argues because it’s not the done thing.
  4. The pickle tray will include, a) some chopped onion with mint and a bit of vinegar. b) mango pickle. c) lime pickle. d) yoghurt/mint sauce. There is never a variation of the pickle tray in a classic curry house, although occasionally the  yoghurt/mint sauce can be bright green thanks to colouring, which is rather exciting, even though it tastes no different.
  5. Everyone tucks in. There are two ways to eat popadoms and pickles. One is to break off small bits of popadom and put on the pickles one at a time so you can actually taste them. The second is to pile a mixture of all the pickles on your plate and mix them up into a complete mess in a complete disregard for the individual taste of each. You can then scoop up the mess on to your popadom and wonder why it is dripping all over the place.
  6. After five minutes someone at the table asks for another tray of pickles because they have already been devoured. This is the equivalent of a large bottle of ketchup and mustard being used on a couple of hotdogs but no worry, the waiter will assist us.
  7. The waiter mutters something in Hindi to his colleague. This can roughly translated as “that greedy bunch have eaten a whole pickle tray in five minutes. Thanks goodness we charge £1.10 per popadom these days.”
  8. After another five minutes the waiter returns to collect the empty tray but as he touches it someone exclaims, “we haven’t finished yet,” before picking up the last miniscule shards of popadoms and popping them into his mouth.
  9. The waiter says something else in Hindi.

And so begins a classic meal in a classic Indian restaurant, which on this occasion served up an excellent Chicken Tikka Sag (£8.95), Keema Bhuna (£7.95) and Sag Aloo (£3.20), as well as the largest King Prawn Butterfly starter (£5.95) I have ever seen.

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Sag Aloo (left) and Chicken Tikka Sag.

Crayford Tandoori, 4 Empire Building Waterside, Crayford, Kent, DA1 4JJ. Tel: 01322 529 907. Open: Sunday to Thursday 5.30pm – 11pm, Friday to Saturday 5.30pm – midnight.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 7
Decor 6
Service and friendliness 7.5
Vibe (Saturday night) 8
Value 8