One of my favourite things about visiting a new place is trying their local curry house. Part of the fun is that it’s a gamble. The photo below was taken on a recent curry expedition with Rosy Carrick. It isn’t great quality, but it’s better than the food was.
Me, Rosy and her daughter were visiting a tiny English town. The place had two respected Thai restaurants and one of the best pizza restaurants in the country – but I insisted that we check out the local curry house. I’m going to call it Slices of Balti, which is not its real name but is almost its real name (*).
The restaurant was pretty much empty, but that means nothing. I’ve been to empty restaurants that were great. With my parents one night, I was turned away from Brighton’s Chilli Pickle when it was empty, and I hear the food there is pretty good. So, faced by an empty small-town curry house, I insisted we go in. I mean, Balti is one of Britain’s national dishes. I was even going to forgo my usual vindaloo to try the dish boasted about in the restaurant’s name.
We gave our orders to the waiter, who spent most of the meal hiding in the back of the restaurant, playing with his phone. I like to think he was searching for jobs in better restaurants. Two sad flies dragged themselves through our table’s airspace.
When the pappadums arrived, Rosy complained to use that they tasted of burnt oil. I didn’t think they tasted that bad, but Rosy’s daughter did. She didn’t say anything though, focusing instead on stopping her mum’s commentary being overheard by the waiter.
Soon, the main course arrived. It was one of the most disappointing dishes I’ve ever eaten. Almost worse than the Malai Kofta I had in Khajuraho. It didn’t taste much of curry, being more of an English vegetable stew with a little curry powder. Sad potatoes, cauliflower and carrot floated in an anaemic sauce.
Thing is, every restaurant can have its bad days. I’ve had very good curry houses serve meat in my vegetarian dishes – hundreds of other people have had amazing experiences there, including me. Maybe this place was usually much better. But there was a flop-sweat feeling to this place, that melancholy of failing restaurants.
As we left the restaurant, a couple of other people came in. I wondered if we should warn them to save themselves, to turn around and head for one of the Thai places. But then, if I was going to save anyone, it should be the waiters, who’d be trapped there all night. We should clear the kitchen, take everyone to the pub, and get so drunk we ended the night singing.
We left quietly and disappeared into the night. But I wonder if I should reach out, make a call and ask Slices of Balti if everything is OK?
(*) That is totally not my joke, but was stolen from Shit Theatre. Sorry.