South Asian Dining in the UK

Recently, I've become more and more aware of the array of Indian restaurants cropping up in my local area. The question is, are they as legendary, as great, as they claim to be, or are they simply serving the same dishes, but under a different name and management? As a keen 'culinary correspondent', I set out to visiting a plethora of Bengalese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani eating establishments in the Bromley and Croydon area. First stop: Shampan 2 - located in Bromley, this is a modern, upmarket Indian restaurant with an extensive menu. Although I am not usually receptive to overindulgent claims of being "Bromley's finest Indian dining" or the like, I felt strangely swayed by this restaurant's fare. Tender meats, superbly cooked and often complimented by subtle, sometimes pleasingly piquant spices paraded the plates. The staff don't swarm around you like overexcited bees, but rather leave you to your own devices, and let you enjoy their produce. Wonderful. Feeling quite enlightened, my next visitation was one of Shampan's home business competitors; The Ruby Indian Restaurant, also on Chatterton Road. For me, this place characterises the unoriginal edge of Indian curry. The food was pleasant but rather inoffensive and seemed to keep too comfortably in line with the cooking that is churned out by thousands of other Indian eateries across the capital; consequently, nothing jumps out at you. Equally, the same applies to Spice Empire, central Bromley. Although the owners clearly have had their heart set on creating an aesthetically pleasing interior and atmosphere, much is lost in the most important element of the equation; the menu. Subdued, often run of the mill flavourings best describe what is on offer - again, it will fill you up, but lacks that 'kick' which I miss so much from the authentic stuff. A bit of creativity and innovation works wonders with Indian food, which leads me to one of my favourite restaurants. Moving slightly west will take you to the Purley gates of Swayam Ruchi. Not only does it look beautiful here, it tastes heavenly. Park your car round the back, and prepare for a truly unique Kerala Banquet. Small details such as the banana chips (wafer thin salted and spiced slices of green plantain) or indeed the Madu Vada soft and silky dumplings filled with dal, black pepper and green chilly, give this a unique character quite simply unparalleled by its pretender neighbours. It is not just the names of the dishes that are different, but the content is irrevocably fresh both in flavour and in its refusal to adhere to the drones of formulaic Indian cooking. My final destination is Asif Balti House in Beddington. Don't be put off by the exterior, as this modest 30-seater is well respected by locals and serves mouth watering dishes that are invariably up to scratch. Intriguing dishes such as the Mugli Batak (ducked cooked with mince egg with fresh cream, green herbs and spice) or the Bata Chop starter (minced lamb, egg and breadcrumbs encased in potato patties) have always had me guessing, so this was the perfect opportunity to seize the moment and give my palette a run for the money. Flavoursome, full of wonderful textures and oh so morish, I can safely say that these Asif specialities have been added to my list of favourites! In conclusion and much to my delight, there are a good range of highly innovative and talented chefs who are simply qued up when it comes to serving high quality Indian food. Although my findings are limited to a specific area, I am almost certain that there are other great Indian restaurants out there right across the UK. The diamond does not always lie within beautiful, palatial surroundings, so don't be fooled by these post modern-looking joints with fancy drapings and expensive interior designs - often well-established restaurants with a matured sensibility can have that golden touch.

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About The Author, Dawson Gao