old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

October 18, 2006

No spice please, we're French

This site has now moved to Salut!

The task I set myself, ambitiously enough, was to find a good Indian meal in France. To qualify as good, the meal had to meet arbitrary tests on taste, service and cost.

If I were not a little choosy in these matters, I would declare the place where I have just eaten as the winner.

The Shahi-Qila, which promises Indian and Pakistani specialities in rue du Colisée, off the Champs Elysées, served my lunch companion a chicken tikka masala that he found excellent, while I enjoyed a lamb rogan josh. It was not cheap - 61 euros - but we could have opted for set menus at 15 or 20 euros each.

Our bill was bumped up by the extras: one portion of rice, another of vegetables, cheese nans, a small Indian beer each and tea.

Service was not brilliant; we had gone early to avoid the lunchtime rush, but still had to wait 20 minutes to pay. That was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable, and the experience otherwise confirmed my generally favourable impression.

Shahi-Qila is not a bad Indian restaurant. For France.

The qualification, I'm afraid, is important. Suggestions will continue to be made on where I should have gone, and I cannot pretend to have tried more than a fraction of the ever-increasing network of curry houses in France.

But for now, I have to say that no restaurant known to me here offers the quality and value for money we have come to expect as standard in Indian cuisine, at its most basic, in the British Isles.

As I have said before, this is not really surprising. The French palate is more attuned to the specialities left over, as it were, by a different colonial tradition. If I liked couscous, I'd be perfectly content in any French town.

"The style of Indian food we get in England wouldn't work here," said my friend, a Briton who has lived in Paris for most of his adult life. "The French would find it too spicy."

So I return to the do-it-yourself theme that had its origins on my previous blog.

My main course choice was deliberate. It was essentially the same dish that had been served at dinner by my friend's French wife a few evenings ago. Hers knocked spots off the Shahi-Qila version, just as Mme Randall's tandoori chicken is streets ahead of theirs.

So where did our dinner party hostess learn her secrets? From a book, Les Meilleurs currys indiens by Camellia Panjabi, who founded one of the great - though hardly cheap - London restaurants, the Bombay Brasserie, nearly a quarter of a century ago.

I assume the book is a translation of the English-language edition 50 Great Curries of India. My friend is happily working her way through the recipes, hampered only by her failure to find anywhere in Paris that sells one of Camellia Panjabi's recommended spices, Black Cardamom.

When I promised to return to this subject, I called it unfinished business, overspill from Another Place. My conclusions prove nothing much, and I suppose my search will go on, if less publicly.

And maybe the quest will one day end at Monflanquin, 35 miles south of Bergerac in the Lot et Garonne. That is where Meena Bedi has made her home, and where she is launching what she calls a "private curry supper club".

At a trial run, which took the form of a Pendaison de crémaillère, or house warming party, she served an elaborate menu of Punjabi cuisine to a mixed Anglo-French circle of friends.

Could Meena, British of Indian origin, be the one to show France the way? She is already "under huge pressure" from fellow expats to satisfy their own cravings. And the French? "They were intitially quite wary," she reports. "But I think I won them over in the end."

This site has now moved to Salut!

22 Comments:

At October 18, 2006 5:32 PM, Blogger Joan Dawson said...

Colin,

Is the Bombay Brasserie in Soho - somewhere around Frith Street? Mm .. memories of Indian food and Ronnie Scott's. The Last Days of the Raj in Low Fell isn't quite as good but well worth a trip next time you're here.

 
At October 18, 2006 5:32 PM, Blogger Joan Dawson said...

Colin,

Is the Bombay Brasserie in Soho - somewhere around Frith Street? Mm .. memories of Indian food and Ronnie Scott's. The Last Days of the Raj in Low Fell isn't quite as good but well worth a trip next time you're here.

 
At October 18, 2006 6:41 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Come to Toronto, Colin (you're way overdue). There's a whole neighbourhood nicknamed Little India -- food like you wouldn't believe.

 
At October 18, 2006 8:32 PM, Anonymous raymond y (or exeter) said...

How can you eat something that gives you the galloping curry farts, horrible. Youre better off with a good kebab.

 
At October 18, 2006 8:53 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Hey, nice blog??? Oh dear, is this a hitherto-unsuspected downside of the unregulated blog -- the junk posting? Shame on me but I did click on "make extra cash." It is -- no big surprise -- American.
Do you have this problem on your blog, Sarah? Is there an easy way around it without reinstituting restrictions? Easy enough to ignore one or two of these but what are the chances of them becoming an epidemic?

 
At October 18, 2006 8:57 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

PS -- Exeter, what's with the sudden identity change? Especially on such a delicate posting?

 
At October 18, 2006 9:00 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

PPS -- That was quick, Colin.
For those wondering (not for the first time, I'm sure) what I was talking about a couple of minutes ago, an anonymous junk-posting showed up offering unprecedented ways of making easy money. I must have happened upon it in the few minutes it sat here before Colin also spotted it and removed it. But what happens when he's not around and we're left to play by ourselves?

 
At October 18, 2006 9:03 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Joan Dawson may be thinking of the Red Fort in, from memory, Dean St, Soho. Excellent but expensive, though - again from memory - not quite so excellent or expensive as the Bombay Brasserie (which is in Kensington). Last Days of the Raj seems a better bet provided there's no chance of Gazza wandering in. No apologies for helping Nice Blog Make Extra Cash man on his way. What next?

 
At October 18, 2006 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Bill, you enable 'Show word verification for comments?' in the comments settings. That way you get the series of letters which bloggers have to copy into a box, and it stops spammers getting in.

I had to implement it to combat junk spam on my blog. Has to be done. That or moderating...

 
At October 18, 2006 10:42 PM, Anonymous raymond y said...

You oughtnt to be squeamish about farts Bill, eating all those great Toronto curries. Everybody else on here has got a name and Ive got one too, better than exeter. It comes up a different colour though, I'll be thinking its because I'm chinese.

 
At October 19, 2006 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a great fan of couscous either, or indeed of paella - another staple of this part of the world's party circuit.

I love risotto though. As for curry, I was not brought up with it, and left the UK as I might have been coming to grips with its spiciness. As it is, the mildest curry is quite enough, and indeed, just a hint of cumin or curry spice would suit me just fine.

 
At October 19, 2006 10:31 AM, Blogger Louise said...

So glad someone else doesn't like spicy food! Although I have Anglo-Indian friends who cook divinely - I think it is from south west India where they use cream, yoghurt etc and is truly on a par with good French food. Not a Paella fan either - it's true that it seems to be the staple menu for 'fetes' in the south - lots of overcooked rice and frozen prawns -ugh! Make a rather good coucous I must say and have eaten some memorable ones in Morocca - and eating with your fingers makes all the difference!

 
At October 19, 2006 11:00 AM, Anonymous derek reavill said...

There's no such thing as a good curry in France. All the spices are toned down for the French palate. I have to weekend in London to get my required dosage and the resulting ring of fire. Which firm wanted to use Johnny Cash's song in its publicity?

 
At October 19, 2006 2:08 PM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

I was quite happy on reading yesterday "Bombay to Bergerac".Now this morning it seems as I delve into "no spice please,we're French" it's the same dish served up on another plate so to speak.Now readers have nameplates to sort out.Well.Bring back Bombay.For the love of bombast.No need to frenchafry a solid empire.

 
At October 19, 2006 3:01 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Sorry Anne......not many perks to being a private blogger but after rather too many years of having headlines imposed on me, I am rather enjoying the right to choose - and change - my own. My first choice would have been fine had I not already had "From the Seine to the Swale".

 
At October 19, 2006 3:14 PM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

Point taken.
Bombay another time perhaps.

 
At October 19, 2006 3:42 PM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

An error occured while posting"no need to frenchafry a solid empire".Before I am curried off to the prisons in Orleans,I should clarify 'Empire'.The epicurean empire:150,000,000 BC to 2006 AD.

 
At October 19, 2006 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Living in Leeds we have learned to become curry snobs here and begrudgingly accept that Bradford is the curry capital of GB - our trips to the many famous and not so famous curry houses in that not-so-fair city are the stuff of legend.

And so whilst in Perpignan last year for a rugby game we stumbled upon a genuine Indian restaurant, owned and staffed by English speaking Indian people.

It was awful.

The food was bland and in one case uncooked (still frozen), I've tasted much better from an Asda takeaway, and the service was appalling although the owner did say that he was not used to "having such a rush on", the restaurant seated at least 100 and we were a party of 15.

The restaurants in Perpignan are superb, the Catalan dishes are a dream - just avoid the one Indian restaurant in town.

 
At October 20, 2006 9:49 PM, Blogger PhilB said...

How can one not like paella?
Of course, it has to be prepared properly - with fresh ingredients. A little rabbit, mussels, fresh shrimp, fresh courgettes, fresh peppers, and so on. Paella has to be made at home.

Mmmmm!

 
At October 21, 2006 6:59 AM, Anonymous j said...

As I learned to cook with housemates from Hyderabad and Sri Lanka, I claim to do a mean curry. The main problem in France is getting the ingredients so now have a sideline bringing industrial quantities of cumin, coriander etc back from Blighty for myself and various like-minded friends. (my lowest ebb was grinding chickpeas to make the flour for bajis - never again!) At our aperitifs we always serve spicy snacks from mild like bajis, medium like tandoori chicken to too hot to trot. I find our french friends becoming ever more adventurous in what they will try, especially as they were at first expecting 'English' food, (and not looking forward to the ordeal). Completely off topic they also love Christmas pudding and Christmas cake though aren't so sure about mince pies.

 
At October 21, 2006 5:13 PM, Blogger femme au foyer said...

If you're scanning France, you have to go to Lille for the 'Bombaysers de Lille'

 
At October 28, 2006 2:28 PM, Anonymous June Harper said...

My favourite curry house has to be Annapurna on Chiswick High Road. Good quality Indian food with great service and reasonable prices..

 

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