Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Cafe Spice Nameste, London

On my recent trip to Europe, I had only two nights in London, which meant I had very limiting dining opportunities.  On the first night, we somehow wound up at a Michelin star French Restaurant, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. For the only other meal, I wanted something more unique to London.

While London is not exactly known for good cuisine, I had two interests in particular: fish and chips and indian food, both of which I really enjoy, and constantly disappoint in San Francisco.  None of my dining companions seemed very interested in fish and chips, so, we all agreed on indian.

Emil was with me, and has spent considerable time in London, so I asked for his recommendations.  He told me that his top three indian meals of all time were all in London, even though he’d visited both India and Pakistan.  This was great news, and I eagerly looked up his suggestions.  Two were very high end, Michelin starred, not quite what I had in mind.  We were looking for more classic curries, something casual and simple.  Luckily, his third pick fit the bill: Cafe Spice Nameste.

Cafe Spice Nameste is a London institution, it has been open for 19 years, and has won numerous awards.  The cuisine is both traditional and contemporary, with a menu spanning offerings from Goa, North India, Hyderabad and Kashmir.  The decor is bright and quirky.

Service throughout the meal was awkward, mostly due to the table size.  A majority of the tables in the restaurant are all the same size, 4-tops.  Except that they are really sized for two, particularly for a cuisine where you wind up with a bunch of side dishes.  After receiving only our drinks and pappadam to start, we didn’t even have room on the table for the appetizers.  The staff were constantly awkwardly moving things around the table attempting to fit things, rather unsuccessfully.  This was not unique to our table, I saw the same problems happening at every table that had more than two people at it.

Anyway, the food was highly unremarkable, certainly not better than anything I’ve had in San Francisco.  I was glad to see my friends, but, I certainly wouldn’t recommend anything we ordered, and I wouldn’t return.  Maybe I just ordered all the wrong things?  The others seemed to enjoy it more than I did.
Mr. Todiwala's Pickle Tray & Papad. Each £0.70 (per person).
"Exclusive & unusual ‘Hand Made In-House’ chutney & pickles.  Using the finest British produce."  They also sell the chutney online.

We started with the pappadam, not complimentary, but suggested to us soon after we sat down.  It was classic thin, crispy pappadam.  I dislike lentils, and never really care for papadam, but they were pretty standard.

The chutneys were also fairly standard, and a separate item from the papadam.  I did like the chopped pickled stuff, a mix of onion, carrots, and spices.  I used this condiment with many dishes throughout the meal.

Everyone else seemed to enjoy having something to munch on right away.
CoCorrrumba!  £8.25.
"Another fab in-house special made with coconut water, Jamaican Appleton Rum, shaken with fresh mint and brown sugar. Poured over crushed ice and laced with rose syrup."

Indian food can be a bit hard to pair drinks with, so I was surprised by the large cocktail menu.  The rest of the group decided to start with a cocktail, so I did the same, and picked the "CoCorrrumba!"  I hoped it would be sweet to compliment the upcoming spicy food.

The drink was indeed sweet, but too sweet to drink on its own.  I did like the rose flavor, but it was overkill, and even the muddled mint couldn’t make the drink refreshing.  I tried to save it to have later with my entree, but the staff kept trying to take it away.  I think I had to tell them no at least 5 different times, and I'd only taken a few sips out of it, so I clearly wasn't done.  I think they really needed space on the table.  And, it turned out, I didn’t have any spicy food headed my way anyway ...
Amuse Bouche: Vegetarian Puree.
I've never been to an Indian restaurant that served an amuse bouche!  This was a nice surprise.

I’m not entirely sure what was in this "vegetarian puree", but it most certainly contained lentils or split peas, both of which I despise.  All I could taste was the lentils.  I appreciated that they served an amuse, it was in a cute vessel, and it was warm, but clearly not for me.
Baked Isle of Mull Scallop with Cheese and Chilli. £9.45. 
“Hand dived King scallops by Diver and seller Guy Grieves from Mull, flash grilled, topped with a blend of cheeses with chilli and garlic & baked."

For my starter, I choose the scallops.  Now, this was an odd choice, I admit.  There is nothing remotely Indian sounding about the dish.  Baked scallops?  Cheese?  No, not indian, but, things I love.  And I’d had some great scallops on the trip, and wanted to continue that trend.

The scallops arrived, 4 to an order.  I was planning to split the dish with Emil, but as I mentioned, our table had absolutely no space on it, so there was no where to put our tray of scallops, nor the samosas that the others ordered.  After trying for a minute to re-arrange things, the server asked if he could just put them on my plate instead.  A fine solution, but, awkward.

The presentation was nice, served in the shells.  The scallop however was totally lost.  The description said “seared”, but, I didn’t detect even the faintest sear on the scallop.  They also weren’t whole scallops, instead, chopped, and I think perhaps a single scallop was used for the full order.  The cheesy sauce was fine, but, lukewarm.  How a baked dish could come out not hot and bubbling I don’t know, but I was pretty disappointed by the serving temperature.  I also expected interesting spicing, even though there was nothing in the description, because, well, I was at an indian establishment, and indian cuisine is known for bold flavors and spice.  But, there wasn’t any here.

So, yes, lukewarm, chopped up, not seared, not flavorful?  Meh.  I didn’t even want a second one.
Cheese, Chilli, & Garlic Naan. £3.25.
One of my favorite aspects of indian meals is the hot, fresh, delicious naan to dunk in assorted sauces and curries.  Since I don’t like rice, I planned to use naan with my dish and forego rice altogether.  We decided to order a basket of plain naan and a basket of chili cheese garlic naan, because, cheese and garlic make everything better.

When the naan arrived, both baskets looked fairly similar, but I thought I spotted a bit of cheese oozing out of one, so I went for it.  Even after eating a full piece, I wasn’t certain I’d picked the cheese one.  The very center of my wedge seemed like it might possibly have some cheese, but it very well could have just been moist from butter.  It had a bit of flavor from the garlic, but I didn’t taste any chili at all.  What was going on here, did they really just think we couldn’t handle any heat?  We ordered chili naan on purpose!

Next, I went for a piece from the second basket.  This one was clearly the cheese naan, as it had cheese between the layers of bread.  But again, no chili.  I guess the first basket must have been the plain?

The naan was hot and fresh, which was a selling point, much improved from the lukewarm scallops.  But, the naan was horribly burnt on the bottom.  I was able to sorta rip off just the top layer of bread, along with some cheese, and use that, but I was again disappointed, and wouldn’t get the naan again.
Paneer Saagwalla. £6.95.
"Chargrilled marinated Indian whey cheese diced, simmered in part puréed, part chopped fresh baby spinach. Sizzled with sliced garlic, red chilli, cumin and crumbled toasted fenugreek."

As boring as it is, for my main dish, I choose paneer saagwalla.  I adore paneer, particularly fresh, well prepared paneer.  And a well spiced saag can be delicious.  And, apparently, I was in the mood for cheese.  My starter had a cheese sauce, my main dish was paneer, and even the naan I picked was cheesy naan.  Whoops?

I was incredibly disappointed by the dish.  The paneer was tiny little chunks.  They were rubbery and absolutely flavorless.  My personal favorite is when the chunks are bigger, and are pan seared first to have a bit of a crust.  The spinach mixture was just … spinach.  It didn’t seem to have any spicing to it whatsoever.  Again, where was the spicing, where was the heat?

This dish honestly tasted like a microwave version from the grocery store.  Flavorless, boring, and rubbery paneer.  Sure the price of £6.95 was good, but I wouldn’t ever get this again.

[ No Photo - sorry! ]
Pisatchio Kulfi. £6.50.

In my world, even a disappointing meal can be saved by dessert!  And, since I have a thing for ice cream, I was interested in trying their kulfi, offered in three flavors: rose, pistachio, or hazelnut.  I don’t tend to like hazelnut flavor, and after the crazy sweet rose cocktail I wasn’t in the mood for that, so we settled on the pistachio, again, not a favorite of mine, but the best of the choices.

The kulfi was served sliced up, at a good temperature. It was surprisingly creamy for something so solid, and didn’t melt too fast.  But, meh ... it was just pistachio ice cream.
Cafe Spice Namaste on Urbanspoon
Related Posts with Thumbnails