Tom curates West Hampstead’s curry choices

Given that the weather will soon (already has) turned ominous, I thought a quick round-up of a few local curry establishments would be in order (though they’re listed in no particular order). Not that there’s anything wrong with eating such things on a hot summer’s day of course…

All hail the Tin

All hail the Tin

Predictably, I’ll start with the take-away only Tiffin Tin. It’s not that these guys give me back-handers (bribery would work, it’s just that no-one’s offered yet), it’s simply a case of wonderful food, and remarkable consistency. The dishes feel healthy, yet robust, with hunger-bashing portion sizes and appetising aromas of freshly ground spices. The Tin has only ever got one order wrong, delivering some lamb samosas I hadn’t ordered – but those rich, flavoursome morsels were impressive all the same. My favourite dishes; the Goan salmon (tantalising flavours, perfect heat) and the koshi machhi. Note also the excellent vegetable-based dishes – brilliantly done.

On Dyne Road

On Dyne Road

A comparable alternative might be Holy Cow in Kilburn. My findings a while back were of high-quality ingredients and assured cooking. Strangely, their delivery menu appears identical in parts to the Tin’s. The consensus on Twitter has generally been that it’s good quality, but on the pricey side.

Bengal Spice West HampsteadBengal Spice on West End Lane offers a more traditional experience, with a wide range of old favourites served in the same way I remember as a greedy teenager. Recently I enjoyed a tangy, vibrant prawn madras but if this had a hotness rating of two chilli symbols on the menu rather than three, then I respect the bravery of whoever tries the vindaloo! The salmon tikka starter was also excellent.

Of a similar style, Ruchi in Kilburn seems to have been around for as long as Bengal, and again seems to please those looking for the tried and tested options, done very well. I haven’t eaten there many times, but Jonathan’s often mentioned it and praises it as the best of its type in the area. [JT: if you want old-skool done well, then Ruchi is your go-to restaurant.]

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Fortune Green's finest

Fortune Green’s finest

Bombay Nights in Fortune Green, again long-established, features a joyful logo and a nice balance of expected and less-common selections, which include scallops and crab in addition to a wide range of chicken and lamb plates. I’ve enjoyed dinner there, and am impressed by its enthusiasm in updating its Facebook page with colourful and tempting photographs – the owners seem proud of what they do.

Returning to a slightly more modern take on this fantastic cuisine, Guglee is the sort of place that makes one proud to live in the area. The interior design is gorgeous, the atmosphere buzzing (the kitchen is visible to diners and the camaraderie of chefs and other staff is evident), and the food is classy, inspiring, all-round delicious. Railway lamb (Rogan Josh style) and prawn kadai stand out – and although the food is refined, the portions are generous! And let’s not overlook that delightful Indian Shiraz, which we’ve raved about many times on here. [JT: Also does the best Indian chaat streetfood starters. Agree with Tom, this is one of the gems of West Hampstead.]

Modern font, modern food

Modern font, modern food

Mill Lane's other curry option

Mill Lane’s other curry option

Spice Tree (formerly Babur Empire) is somewhere I’ve enjoyed a hearty takeaway king prawn jalfrezi from on occasion, but I haven’t eaten in the restaurant recently. I do tend to order from the aforementioned Tiffin Tin as its vegetable dishes are at a level above most of the competition. Spice Tree has a very smart new outside terrace, so perhaps it’s worth going along to try it out while the weather is still… errm… well, take an umbrella or something (Brits talking about the weather again – yawn – sorry!)

There are of course plenty of other Indian restaurants to try in NW6; we’re lucky in having such choice, and maybe this continues to drive quality? Everyone who enjoys a curry has their own personal tastes and preferences, whether it involves an overload of chicken (Jonathan), or proud, glowing prawns (me).

Well, I’ve worked-up quite an appetite absorbed in all that… time to grab a corkscrew and a spice-orientated delivery menu ASAP.

Tom branches out to Spice Tree

In urgent need of a really fiery bite to eat the other evening, I decided to try out Spice Tree on Mill Lane for the first time since their refurb and change of name (from Babur Empire). Whilst the new menu has more variety in regional dishes (and is certainly very appetising), it was one of the old classics I was after; namely a cork-poppingly good king prawn jalfrezi. I’d quite enjoyed this in the past from Babur, and was curious to see if anything had changed.

Quick verdict – enjoyable, not bad, not amazing. The prawns were a little rubbery, which is a fairly regular occurrence with prawn curries in general I find (even my sacred Tiffin Tin were a little off-form with prawns last time out, unusually) but there were enough of them, which is important of course. I don’t understand “quality not quantity” when having a curry – I want both!

The sauce was very similar to how I remembered it; ‘traditional’ – very buttery, and nicely tangy. Onions finely chopped, though personally for a dish like this, or a Rogan Josh or Korai, I like big chunks of tomato, onion and things; it makes it more interesting. There was enough heat from the green chillies, but the green bell peppers were absent altogether; annoying.

A side dish of veg curry was decent, of good flavour and again very buttery, though with a slightly odd limitation in vegetable varieties, with an emphasis on green beans. Make of that what you will! Paratha was fine, a big disc of enjoyment, though had lost some life in its short journey to Tom Towers.

Overall then, I enjoyed my hot and spicy dinner, but with the main dish costing similar to what I’d pay at the marvellous Tiffin Tin, I’d perhaps find it hard not to go with the latter next time, as I usually do. That said, I’d be interested to revisit some other old favourites, and have a meal in the restaurant soon where perhaps I’ll be somewhat more adventurous.

Ahhh…. a soul-warming curry on a cold winter night. What is it with chillies and things? So uplifting. Actually, I’ll happily eat a curry any day of the year, for any meal. Proper food, for all seasons – including this festive one. Happy dining!

Whampreview takes Guglee for a spin

Guglee seems to have been pretty much a hit since arriving in all its bright orange glory on West End Lane. The clean design and pared down menu makes a refreshing change from old-school curry houses, but there’s no let up in the flavours. It was time to put it to the Whampreview test, so 24 of us descended on it last Thursday.

We’d already agreed that we’d have a set menu with a choice of main courses, but I think both Tom and I were expecting the “mixed starters” to come as a platter or two between each table of eight. Instead, each person received a veritable bounty of Indian delights on their own plate. There was a piece of Hariyali Chicken Tikka – deliciously fresh and green; a piece of tandoori chicken – lovely and succulent; a pani puri; one of Guglee’s famous chat street food dishes; and an Aloo Tiki potato cake. It really was a great selection. Tom, who hardly ever eats chicken, claims he could have eaten “tonnes” of this, while Tony reckoned these were a “very generous portion size for a starter”. Even the poppadums got the thumbs us, being less greasy than is often the case.

As we neared the end of our starters, and already several glasses into the wine and beer, our waiter came round with an extra treat – the Sev Puri Chat. These are “down in one” crispy pastry ‘shots’ that explode with yoghurt and spices on the first crunch. They were a good table bonding ritual, especially for those first timers. Tony was pleased that the waiter had warned us not to attempt to nibble them delicately, as there would have been some clothing casualties otherwise. Some people found them a little large to cram in all at once. 

We were now quite full.

So naturally it was time for the main courses. Guglee had given us a good selection to choose from; my table shared most of them while seven of Tom’s table went for the fish option and six of Nicky’s table went for the lamb. Clearly I chose the more imaginative diners!

Alongside the main courses we got naan breads, rice, tadka dahl, chana masala, and “Veggie Veggie 5”, which is a mixed vegetable side dish. These were generally very well received, the dahl on Tom’s table coming infor a whole heap of praise.

The Indian Railway Special Lamb Curry (aka a Rogan Josh) is what I think of as Guglee’s house special. I had it when I came before and have ordered it several times from the Finchley Road branch. I have to say this time around it wasn’t as good as it has been. The sauce was thinner than usual and although it still tasted nice, it lacked the depth of flavour I associate with it. “Not special enough,” said Jayanti. It was the most popular choice on Nicky’s table, and everyone liked it although Susan and Matt wondered whether the meat might have been more tender. I would definitely order it again – having had it so many times, I think this was a blip.

The Goan fish curry, which dominated Tom’s table, was to my mind a far gutsier affair. Thick with coconut and with the fish chunks still nicely solid it was the hit of our table. Nicky and Claire, however, found it a bit too rich and not spicy enough – better as part of a selection of dishes than on its own. One person’s “not spicy enough” is Dom’s “a nice kick, but not too much”. 

We also tried the Chicken Tikka Massala, that famously British dish, which was also pretty good. It’s never been my favourite, but I would have happily eaten the lot had I been able to squeeze any more food in. There were two vegetarian options – sag paneer and kadhai vegetables, both also got the thumbs up.

Perhaps the universal refrain was that people would have liked to have tried more things but were too full. Ryan just wished he had more room and Tom said he’d have liked starters and mains to have come at once so he could have tried everything.

We all seemed to leave a lot of food. There was talk of doggy bags and Thom and Debbie both made good use of them. Sadly, I was out the next two nights so decided against, but it seemed a shame to waste so much. A bit like with Spiga, the restaurant’s generosity had been its undoing.

A few hardy souls felt it was their duty to test the desserts, which Guglee was kindly giving us on the house. Nicky’s table went for the Rose & Honey Kulfi: “They looked like posh Mini Milks to me. But I like Mini Milks, and I really liked these ones, despite being disappointed there was no joke printed on the stick.” They were a nice, refreshing end to the meal, fragrant with real rose petals. Unfortunately my table’s waiter somehow forgot to order our desserts in the kitchen and by the time we were wondering where they were, it was really time to leave. Tom’s table tried the rice pudding, which was described as “interesting, with a lovely hit of cardamom.” Debbie said the carrot dessert was “hard to explain”!

All the tables opted for the Indian wines – there’s a Shiraz and a Zinfandel for the reds and a Sauvignon Blanc as well. The Zin is more expensive, the Shiraz is much better – so that’s a no-brainer. Non-Indian wines are also available, and some of us stuck to traditional Cobra. Despite their curiosity being aroused by the cheeringly-named ‘Thums Up’, Nicky’s table decided to avoid it when Susan told them it’s a popular Indian brand of super-caffeinated cola. She warned ominously “you won’t sleep if you drink it”.

We’d agreed a set price for the food of £23/head, and the total bills varied from £35 to £40 a head across the tables depending quite how many bottles of wine got consumed!

Overall, Guglee offers interesting Indian food that you’re not going to find in every London neighbourhood. The restaurant is buzzy and welcoming with friendly staff and modern decor. Also, I should reserve a special mention for Sachin, one of the two brothers who run the restaurants. It was both his birthday and his wedding anniversary on the day, and he cheerfully helped ensure everything went well, when I suspect he’d probably rather have been at home celebrating.

Jonathan’s table: 7.1
Tom’s table: 8.5
Nicky’s table: forgot to score. “It would probably have been a 7.5 or 8”.

279 West End Lane
T: 020 7317 8555

Guglee West Hampsted on Urbanspoon
Apologies for the lack of photos, mine were all terrible. Thanks to Tom & Nicky for their notes.