|Spicing Up A Singleton Christmas|
Indian Zing proves the perfect spot for an alternative Christmas lunch
As a saunter along the High Road any time of day shows, Chiswick is full of families. And families tend to gather together at Christmas and do something relatively traditional. Goose instead of turkey? Oysters not smoked salmon to start? Christmas pud banished in favour of chocolate log? It doesn’t matter. It all falls into the traditional family get-together of tinsel, crackers and gravy. I’m not knocking it; it can be one of the best days of the year.
But what happens if, like me, you have no ties? Should you slave over a hot stove cooking up the works for one or, if you are lucky, for a few chums in a similar position (my mother’s easy apricot and walnut stuffing and bread sauce recipes would make it all deliciously worthwhile)? Should you accept invitations to join other families? Or should you do something different?
Despite several very welcome and lovely invitations, all of which were seriously tempting, I decided to do my own thing.
Around about September I began to harbour a fantasy of going to Indian Zing on Christmas Day. I wondered, in a mildly paranoid kind of way, if people would think I was sad (to use the vernacular) or mad (no comments, please). So I let the thought simmer away at the back of my mind, hoping a lottery win might give me wilder options.
In November, with invitations coming in (but no Lotto luck), I realised I had to get a grip. I called an Indian-food-loving friend, similarly commitment-free, only to find he had opted to work in a shelter for homeless people in Hackney. I mentioned my fantasy to another friend, who I thought had other plans, and was delighted when he suggested joining me. He had stipulations – no forced camaraderie with others or jollying along – which meant we thought as one. I checked; all seemed fine; the special Christmas menu looked fantastic; at £29 for three courses the price was more than right; I booked.
And off we set, after a glass of champagne and a light smoked salmon crescent to speed our journey in the cold along the High Road to Hammersmith.
We made the right decision. The restaurant was full enough to make us realise that doing something different is not that different – a few tables of couples, a couple of tables of foursomes and one long table which gradually filled with an extended Indian family - always a good sign of authenticity and quality. Not that I need reassurance about the food at Indian Zing. It is consistently excellent: modern but not mucked about, beautifully presented but not showy, complex but balanced flavours – and without pretension.
As always, we were greeted warmly and with a shot glass of lightly spiced deliciousness – this time it was mulled wine, with a snatch of bay leaf and peppercorns adding an Indian touch – to get us in the mood for deliciousness to follow.
I thought my Goan crab cake, sensitively spiced and herby with a light onion relish, was the best ever starter – until I tasted Max ’s banana flower patties (I do like to share). There was nothing cloying about the sweetness of the banana; it added contrast to the gently warming spices and vibrant green relish of coriander, mint and pomegranate juice with a dash of tamarind vinegar. The Manglorean beef stir fry was unctuously rich, glinting with curry leaves and served with small, light rice cakes. Presentation is a high spot here.
We could have opted for roast turkey with all the trimmings, or masala roast turkey (which sounded very tempting) but instead stuck with our non-traditional Christmas theme. Country captain – chicken breast with a rich and thick oniony gravy, cashew nuts and raisins – shared equal limelight with the lamb lonvas – an Eastern Indian speciality cooked with coconut milk. Both drew immediate mmms of approval; not a speck was left. Sungta bhende kodi was full of excitement on the palate: king prawns and okra in a garlicky, oniony, herby red curry paste, every last bit of it scraped up with naan. The lemon and ginger rice was as good as ever – and looked as pretty as ever. Vegetables were a surprise – sprouts, perfectly crunchy and gloriously green, carrots and broccoli, all gently spiced; an appropriate nod to the season and the day.
Puds. We were full. We were greedy. We both chose the Christmas pudding, opting for the cinnamon and lemon zest custard rather than brandy sauce. Stickily rich, the pud was one of the best I’ve ever had; the delicate citrus sauce lifted it from its traditional heaviness.
We shared a bottle of Indian Shiraz, full bodied enough to hold its own against the boldest spices but without drowning the gentler flavours. It was extremely quaffable and, at £18, very good value – as was the whole occasion: £46 each including the tip.
Service comes with a light touch and a warm smile, set by Manoj Vasaikar, the accomplished and talented chef who stopped by to meet us all and check all was well, and Rahul Kulkarni, who manages the team front of house. The loos are lovely (I can of course only vouch for the ladies loo but have been assured that the gents is of a high standard); slightly naughty prints on the wall raise a wry smile (in the men’s loo, too, apparently).
And if you were worrying about the presence of an extended family and potentially misbehaving kids, there were about half a dozen children who took themselves off to the back of the restaurant where they played together contentedly, we assumed, given the lack of rowdiness or tears.
As if all this wasn’t enough of a perfect day, all the women (bad luck, Max!) were presented with a colourful, glinting Indian bangle in a small, prettily decorated cardboard box which will, inevitably from this obsessively reducer, re-user and recycler, be re-enjoyed until it collapses. It was a lovely, generous touch – which will evoke memories of what was, we agreed, the perfect Christmas lunch for someone with no ties. I’d do it again next year, no hesitation. Given that Christmas Day is also my birthday – and that I was born in Bombay – it was all rather neat, too.
Don’t wait for next Christmas to stroll (or ride a bus) down the High Road to Indian Zing (it’s opposite Latymer School). It comes highly recommended in the best restaurant guides, not just Max and me, whether you want to celebrate a special occasion without going in to town or squeeze in an affordable but high quality curry during the credit crunch.
January 8, 2009