Always on the quest for great Indian food, Curry Brothers Tim Hughes and Ed Nix join a scientist friend for a high-brow trip out of town

THE people of Eynsham have it good. Not only do they have an inordinate amount of pubs and a vibrant social scene, but they also have a brace of excellent Indian restaurants.

So when it came to meeting up with a scientist friend from the area, it didn’t take much work on his part to persuade us to join him in the gateway to West Oxfordshire.

An expert in everything from astronomy and space travel to geology and meteorology, the author and popular scientist Richard Corfield is a familiar voice on national radio, where he is frequently heard intellectually jousting with his peers while being umpired by Melvyn Bragg. And, it seems, he is also an aficionado of curry.

“You must try The Bayleaf,” he instructed my curry brother Ed and me. “You will be very pleasantly surprised.”

Now, surprise is a word Ed and I do not use lightly. After all, we’ve travelled to some surprising places, where we have met some surprising people doing very surprising things – many of which are probably best left unmentioned. But would a village curry house do the same? It seemed doubtful – but we agreed to give it a try while wishing our cerebral companion well before he headed off to the boffin-fest of the Hay Literary Festival.

Located close to the attractive Cotswold stone village centre, The Bayleaf is clearly a popular spot. Even on a Wednesday night the place was busy with diners – couples, friends and families – yet pervades a gentle, sophisticated air. As its very English name suggests, it is very definitely a house which serves curry, rather than a curry house. And it is extremely friendly, owner Saidul Hoque greeting everyone with an engaging smile.

“What a lovely man,” I remarked to Ed and Richard after Mr Hoque had taken our order for drinks and popodoms.

“Oh, everyone loves Hoque!” came a reply from the neighbouring table – two village chaps out for what appeared to be a regular weekday fix of curry. “He’s a great bloke and is a proper local, a real part of the village.”

From denizens of a village where you have to work long and hard to earn your community credentials, it was high praise indeed. Clearly he is not resting on his laurels.

That this was going to be an altogether different type of meal was apparent from the start – beginning with those popodoms. Uniformly identical virtually everywhere, here they came in two varieties – traditional and spicy, and are served with a selection of creamy homemade dips and spicy chutneys blended in-house.

The next surprise came with the drinks. Unable to resist the urge to experiment, our inquisitive companion had set us up as guinea pigs for something on the menu which had previously whetted his curiosity – Indian wine: Soul Tree cabernet sauvignon. And a very decent drop it was too – dry and tannin-rich with lingering notes of spice, blackcurrant and raspberry. An interesting wine from the Nasik vineyards, near Mumbai, it was the perfect accompaniment to what followed.

Having invited Mr Hoque to choose for us (while steering him towards the hot side), we found ourselves digging into a platter of mixed starters – crunchy onion bhaji, tender chicken tikka, and sheek kebab, and a fishy fantasy of chigre ruposhi – enormous succulent king prawns with a hint of massala and fried pepper and onion.

Clearly the main courses (or rather Mr Hoque’s chefs) were going to have to work very hard to top that.

And while nothing could ever match the visual impact of those lobster-sized prawns, taste-wise the best was to come, in the shape of a chicken dilkush – a perfect blend of yoghurt creaminess and serious spice. It was joined by a tongue-tingling chicken jalfrezi and a fragrant, coriander-rich melt-in-the-mouth lamb achari. Keeping the heat at bay was our old friend the sag aloo and a mixed vegetable bhaji – an underrated dish but which when cooked lightly is the perfect tasty – and perhaps even healthy – accompaniment.

“We pride ourselves on the quality of food and ingredients,” says Mr Hoque over kulfi ice cream and strong filter coffee. “We make everything ourselves – from the popodom sauces to all the dishes, which are all cooked to our own recipes. “And people really seem to like it because they come back a lot.”

Unlike our friend Richard’s intellectual pursuits, it is not rocket science. But it is all good. In fact it is great. But did it surprise? Did it ever!

The Bayleaf is at 4 Lombard Street, Eynsham.
Call 01865 884402