Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Front Line for Spicy Politics; FOOD&DRINK

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Front Line for Spicy Politics; FOOD&DRINK

Article excerpt


WHAT is it about politicians and Indian food?

Invariably, stories that involve a politician and a meal are located in an Indian restaurant. But perhaps it is not that they are looking to spice up sad lives, maybe it just that, like the majority of their constituents, they enjoy going out for a curry. Amin Ali, owner of THE RED FORT, has always made a point of proudly counting politicians among his most loyal customers.

There was none I recognised last week when the revamped Red Fort, which had been closed after a fire, opened again for business. I am not sure that the politicians will still be so enthusiastic; the food is now so good.

Ali, who during the previous 18 years that The Red Fort has been trading regularly sent for chefs from India for one sort of festival or another - with varying success - has this time brought over as a planned permanent fixture a real catch, Mohammed Rais, who was working as executive chef in the Maurya Sheraton Hotel in New Delhi. Rais comes from a Lucknow family whose fame as chefs goes back for centuries to when they were cooks in the Mughal courts. He learned his trade from the age of 13 working beside his uncle Imtiaz Quereshi - a name to conjure with in Indian gastronomic circles - and helped to interpret his recipes when Quereshi opened the much-lauded Bukhara and Dum Pukht restaurants in the Maurya Sheraton.

A different sort of uncle, or perhaps more appositely brother, was on hand last week: Robert Reid, chef of the Oak Room Marco Pierre White. Reid has been drafted in to lend a guiding hand, helping Rais to settle in, select suppliers and come to terms with the expectations of a London clientele. Eric Chavot, chef of the Capital Hotel, has performed a similar service at Iqbal Wahhab's Cinnamon Club, with an emphasis on devising attractive presentation.

Presentation is certainly a problem with much Indian food and one not solved by a squiggle of sauce from a squeezy bottle or a flourish of rocket leaves.

So often something that sounds intriguing and delectable, for example the first dish on The Red Fort menu described as seekh kebab of puffed lotus seed and green banana, arrives as a little brown patty. We had rather upped the little brown patty quotient by ordering some bar snacks before dinner, but even the shikampuri, spiced griddle-fried stuffed lamb kebabs, had a Little Brown Patty - could this be the genesis of a highly successful, politically correct children's book? - feel to them, despite intricate spicing and cylindrical shape. However, a dish called tandoori chaat - a word that means "lick" in several Indian languages - was fabulous.

Chunks of sweet potato, green banana, guava and avocado, which had been spiced, marinated and, in some instances, grilled, looked and tasted beautiful. …

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