BY PALOMA LACY
Spontaneity is not usually top of my list when it comes to dining. I like to know where I’m going and what I’ll be eating, with very good reason.
I don’t like waiting for a table, so booking is essential and knowing the cuisine I’ll be feasting on has a bearing on what breakfast or lunch at home might look like. Organised or boring? You decide.
So it was with great surprise that I found myself in Greenwich on New Year’s Eve, without a dinner reservation. Surely only fools operate in such a cavalier fashion on the busiest night of the year, when everyone knows that restaurants are fully booked well in advance? Well, I have a good excuse.
Invited to a party, my husband and I decided to head to Greenwich mid-afternoon, wander around the market and take advantage of the numerous street food options available.
I was beyond excited by the prospect, as by the time I usually reach the market, I’ve generally just had lunch, leaving no room to try anything else. Sadly, even with the best laid plans, we didn’t make it.
We boarded a train at London Bridge which took us in the opposite direction, adding nearly an hour to our journey.
Finally arriving at Maze Hill, we headed for our original first stop – the River Ale House.
I should have realised this wouldn’t be a quick visit, with a CAMRA member, and a returning relative keen to tap into London’s burgeoning beer scene, in the mix.
To be fair to him, with so many fantastic small batch brews to try, there’s plenty to keep you there.
Fast forward an hour-and-a-half, and with the light fading, we realised there was little point heading to Greenwich Market. And so came the big question: where to eat?
We decided that 5.30pm was probably early enough to arrive and miss the evening dining crowd, and followed someone’s suggestion that we check out the Gurkha’s Inn for a Indian and Nepalese treat of epic proportions.
We followed our noses, much like the little boys from that famous gravy advert. The kitchen was just about open for service and was already cooking up a storm that drew us in, in an instant.
The owner greeted us warmly, but looked a little horrified when we explained we were looking for a table for that night. Before he had a chance to say, “no”, we promised to be out in under an hour. Relieved with our announcement, he happily showed us to a table.
Quick dining requires speedy choices and ordering at break neck speed. This is not easy here as everything looked and smelt so good.
This may not have seemed the most sensible choice for pre-party food, but I eschewed the heavier curry dishes for Gurkha’s Mixed Grill.
As well as being one of the healthier dishes on the menu, the senses are awakened from the time the skillet leaves the kitchen. I love listening out for the sizzle from the kitchen as it’s brought to the table.
Good restaurants like this start creating such dishes a day or so before, beginning by getting the most important part right – the marinade and subsequent marination of the meats. Succulence is everything here, and this version was spot on.
Chicken tikka, lamb tikka, tandoori chicken, sheekh kebab and king prawn – served with naan – was perfect and excellent value, priced at £12.95.
I took a few minutes to scrape the caramelised onions, almost welded to the pan. Just one thing left to add, raita.
My husband can’t resist a curry, and his choices are more often than not bold. This night was no exception and it saw him plump for Naga Chicken (£8.95).
Not his first time trying this dish but this version was nonetheless a mighty opponent, no surprise given the Naga is widely considered the hottest chilli in the world.
Chicken cooked with onions, fresh coriander, and the all-important Naga pickles, made for one mighty curry. An admission that finishing it was a tall order was forthcoming and not unexpected.
My brother-in-law decided to play it a little safer, both in terms of the spice levels, with the Gurkha’s recommendation of Kukhura Bhutura (£8.95) – lightly spiced chicken, cooked with garlic, green peppers, spring onions, ginger, tomatoes and fresh coriander.
Paloma was not a guest of Gurkha’s Inn, 17 Colomb Street, SE10 9HA.