68 Millman Street Bloomsbury, WC1N 3EF
A couple of months ago I went for lunch to Namaaste Kitchen in Camden, one of the new wave of Indian restaurants offering a lighter and more refined take on the subcontinent’s cuisine. The food was terrific and when asked to review its sister restaurant Salaam Namaste in Bloomsbury it would have been churlish to refuse.
Chef/patron Sabbir Karim had told me that he was keen to refresh both the decor and menu at Salaam Namaste bringing in more of the kind of dishes that he was serving in Camden and moving away from the more traditional curry house menu that the restaurant had been serving.
We decided to sit outside and whilst we looked over the menu La Hedonista drank a Kir Royale (£7.50) which was perfect for the first warm day of spring and I had a Goa on the Rocks (£5.50), a cocktail made out of lime and vodka and sugar.
The drinks complemented the poppadums and delicious home made chutneys (Sesame and tomato, Mango, Coriander yoghurt and mint) rather well.
We were feeling hungry and ordered three starters. Chowpatti Bhelpoori. (£3.95) was the restaurant’s take on the classic Mumbai street snack. It was a crispy explosion of chickpeas, puffed rice, tamarind, pomegranate, peanuts, chopped chillies and red onion. It was the perfect way to set up the rest of the meal.
Goan Spiced Scallops, mango chutney ( £5.50) were flavoured with coconut, chilli and garam masala. They were seared on the outside but tender inside with a rich depth of taste.
Mangalorean Soft Shell Crab (£5.95) had a lightly spiced dry batter with the crab oozing juices-it came with a spicy tomato chutney. It is hard to find soft shell crab where the flavour isn’t overwhelmed and this dish managed it.
With our meal we were drinking a 2011 Pampas del Sur Chenin/Chardonnay from Argentina with notes of sherbet and lime which was robust enough to stand up to the heat and intensity of the flavours.
Sea bass was well spiced and fried to the point where the fish was crisp and the skin crunchy. It came with a rich tomato sauce and semolina cake (cornbread). Normally I wouldn’t choose to have bass fried like this but the dish really worked.
Char Grill Jingha (£14.95). The prawns were cooked on the Tandoori but still moist and tender and full of flavour.
Lemon Pilaff steamed with curry leaf and cashew nut (£3.95). I’d not had a lemon rice like this before, studded with curry leaves and pieces of lemon, and it made a refreshing alternative.
Date and Ginger Nan (£3.25). Another combination that was unfamiliar to me. The bread was sweet and gingery with deliciously charred edges.
Sesame Baby Aubergine with mustard and curry leaf sauce (£4.50) had a deep melting mouth feel and was flavoured with tomatoes and spices.
I finished off the meal with Tandoori Pineapple and Coconut Ice cream (£4.95). Grilled pineapple and coconut-what’s not to like?
Indian Carrot Cake Gajjar Halwa with vanilla ice-cream (£3.95) was surprisingly unsweetened and all the better for it. For me some Indian desserts are over sweet and this wasn’t.
Im an admirer of Sabbir Karim and his restaurants. He is committed to presenting a more sophisticated take on Indian food in comfortable surroundings without the pricing premium that the top end normally demands. Go and support him and his restaurants.
The Hedonist was a guest of Salaam Namaste
Namaaste Kitchen Camden
64 Parkway, Camden, London , NW1
www.namaastekitchen.co.uk/0207 485 5977
There seems to be a new generation of Indian chef/patrons who have spent time behind the stoves at London’s more progressive top-end Indian restaurants and are now opening their own places showcasing a lighter approach to the food. I can think of Manoj Vasaikar’s Indian Zing in Hammersmith and now Sabbir Karim at Namaaste Kitchen in Camden. Sabbir is also the owner of Salaam Namaste in Bloomsbury which has a more traditional approach.
Parkway is the main food hub in Camden. It is a pulsating thoroughfare full of restaurants, pubs and clubs.
Namaaste Kitchen sits about half-way down and the interior is an oasis of calm in brown and white after the hurly-burly of the street.
Fiona from London Unattached and I are met with freshly cooked poppadums and home-made chutneys (£!.20): Mango and pineapple , Tomato and finally a garlicky Coriander. These are some of the best I have tasted and I hope an indicator of what is to come.
While we are looking at the menu the kitchen sends out Panni Puri, little crunchy puffs of unleavened bread with a potato and spice filling and sitting on top of a deliciously sour shot of Tamarind water. In a sense the story of the restaurant’s food was in this little dish; intelligent spicing, a lightness of touch and intense flavours.
For our starters we ordered Spicy Soft Shell Crab (£5.95) and Tandoori Aatish-e-Jingha (£5.50).
Deep-fried in a semolina batter and marinated in a green peppercorn and lemon sauce, the crab was tender and brilliantly flavoured with a fig and prune sauce adding spice and depth to the combination of flavours. A great dish.
Tandoori Aatish-e-Jingha was a construction of King prawns marinated in English mustard, yoghourt and spices, cooked in the Tandoor oven and served with aubergine compote and balchao sauce (a Goanese curry). The marinade managed not to overwhelm the prawns and gave them a surprising depth of flavour.
Choosing wine for rich spicy food is really hard and often I get it wrong. For this meal we went with a bottle of 2011 Musar Jeune (£21.50) from the Chateau Musar Bekaa Valley vineyards in Lebanon owned by the Hochar family. It is a mix of Viognier, Vermentino and Chardonnay with herbal and fruit notes and worked really well in context.
The restaurant specialises in grilled food so for my main course I chose the Whole Baked Sea Bass marinated in raw coastal spices (£12.95). This was a great hunk of a fish, stuffed full of herbs and grilled to within an inch of its life. Chunks off flesh suffused with flavour were falling off the fish with added excitement coming from the spice crunch of the skin. This was fish eating at its most butch…
Pan-seared Monkfish Tail with tomatoes, lemon sauce and basmati rice (£12.95) was succulent and tasty with a tangy tomato and lemon sauce.
For our sides we chose Stir Fry Okra with raw mango (£3.50)-a deliciously sticky blend of okra, onion, tomato and rice and…
Sesame Baby Aubergine with mustard and curry leaf sauce (£3.50)-a squidgilly unctous curry combo that brought joy to my heart on a cold February day.
These were wiped up with a date and ginger Nan (£2.50), light and fresh from the oven.
For dessert we wanted something light. I ordered the Coconut Ice Cream (£3.50)
and Fiona the Tandoori Pineapple with Coconut Sorbet (£4.50). The sorbet turned out to be ice cream but still went well with the burnt sweetness of the pineapple.
I’m really impressed with Namaste Kitchen. It really isn’t necessary to go to Mayfair or Chelsea to get fantastic Indian cooking. You are better off heading for Southall, Hammersmith or now Camden. There is a self-confidence to this restaurant that shows in their approach to the food and the way it is presented. Flavours are intense but not overly hot, everything is freshly prepared, service is friendly without being creepy and the prices are very reasonable. Go!