Curry Brothers TIM HUGHES and ED NIX, below, continue their quest for spice heaven IT is a truth universally acknowledged that most Indian restaurants are anything but.
The chefs at your favourite curry house are more likely than not to be Bangladeshi – and much of the menu will bear little resemblance to anything served up on the streets of Bombay or Madras – or Mumbai and Chennai, as we’re now all supposed to call them (I mean, have you ever heard anyone ask for ‘Mumbai’ potatoes or a chicken ‘Chennai’? Thought not).
There is nothing at all wrong with Bengali food, of course, but the prospect of tucking into some genuine Indian tucker is one to whet the tastebuds of any genuine curry fan.
4,500 miles from Delhi may not be the catchiest of restaurant names, but as a foodie destination, priding itself on serving up dishes inspired by the street food of the Indian capital, it seems to have made a pretty big impression.
Which is why we popped in one wet, breezy evening, for a shot of spice – Hindustan-style. And, after a short, if heated debate about how many miles Delhi really is from Oxford, we found ourself in the city’s most stylish Indian restaurant.
First impressions are good – in a very untraditional kind of way. The restaurant is a cavernous place on Park End Street. Minimal and uncluttered, even on a busy night, the place feels spacious.
The clean lines extend to the open-plan kitchen, where you can see your food being cooked up for you, a spectacle which never ceases to fill me with childlike delight. This was heightened by the genuinely lovely waiters – under the watchful eye, and broad smile, of manager Kapil Khadka.
Attentive and discreet while still jokey and cheerful, the waiters are great fun, and, when asked to recommend their signature dishes, Kapil recommended the gourmet banquet.
Well, it’s always a party when the Curry Brothers are out – and, frankly, nothing says ‘celebration’ more than a banquet, especially when it comes washed down with a steady stream of crisp Cobra beer.
And a fine choice it was. And with no dithering about with menus, it saved valuable time for eating, drinking and, more importantly, the telling of ludicrous, and frequently eye-wateringly funny tales.
Consisting of three courses (four if you count the popadoms), the best of the banquet is at the beginning – a show-stopping array of starters, each a tiny taste explosion. All were twists on a familiar theme, with skewered and chargrilled chicken tikka, seekh kebab (minced lamb with coriander and mint), crispy vegetable pakora, and aloo tikki (potato cakes) served with a delicate pea dish. Best of all though was Amritsari machchi – fish sprinkled with masala, like a Mini spiced-up version of the best battered cod you’ve ever eaten from a seaside chippy. Fish, chips and peas, Delhi-style. What a start!
With a menu as imaginative as this, one might have expected a couple of more unusual dishes among the main banquet. But there were no great surprises among the delights, but then most diners wouldn’t want anything too out of the ordinary on a set meal anyway (and if you are feeling adventurous, you could always pick a couple of their house side dishes to keep things interesting).
You can’t fault them for sticking to the North Indian theme, though, with a Kashmiri lamb rogan josh, a Punjabi dhaba murgh (chicken tikka cooked with ginger, onion and coriander), a British classic (ahem!) – chicken tikka masala; and that universal favourite, the vegetable jalfrezi – this one being deliciously fresh and warming, something not to be sniffed at on a showery April night. The surprise hit though was a simple tarka (a bit like tikka, but a little ‘otter, as the old joke has it). This lovely dhal came laced with garlic, ginger and whole red chillies. And deliciously moorish it was too.
The whole shebang came with pilau rice and too much naan to eat.
If, like us, you hate to see waste, you’ll struggle with the deserts – beautifully presented fruits and teeth-tinglingly rich Indian sweets, but it’s worth the effort in the name of research.
Overall, this is one of those rare places where the food matches the standard of the surroundings. Better than that – it really will transport you to India’s greatest city, if only for a couple of hours.
Oh, and as for the name...it’s surprisingly accurate, the distance between our Carfax Tower and Delhi’s Red Fort being 4,209 miles. And if the food is this good there, it’s worth every mile.
* 4,500 Miles From Delhi, 40-41 Park End Street, Oxford 01865 244922.
The gourmet banquet serves a minimum of two people and costs £25 a head.