Monday, 18 October 2010
The Brilliant, Southall
Ask anyone who lives in West London where their favourite Indian restaurant is, and they will very likely point you towards Southall. Try to convince anyone who lives anywhere outside West London to travel to Southall for dinner, however, and you may encounter some quite understandable resistance. My God, it's a journey. From Clapham Junction I boarded one of those rickety branch lines that seem to run once every second Thursday, which got as far as some godforsaken place called Brentford. From there, the 195 bus meandered on a leisurely arc through dark suburbs until finally, one and a half hours later, it pulled up outside the Brilliant. "It better bloody had be", I thought as I slunk inside.
It all started so well. Worryingly well, in fact. The selection of house pickles at the Brilliant contains some of the most astonishing flavours I've had the pleasure of eating, including a mixed pickle in a subtly nutty (sesame?) oil and a fantastically strong lemon concoction which cleansed the palate better than any amuse bouche. All home made (apart from the more workaday mango chutney) and remarkably fresh, these really were impressive, and along with a half pint of the house passion fruit juice (also freshly made) all signs pointed towards this being a very good dinner. The possibility began to dawn that I'd be having to make quite a few of those nightmare journeys if this really was as good as it gets in London. Cripes.
But then, with reassuring mediocrity, the mixed grill arrived. Actually perhaps that's unfair - some of it was pretty good, particularly the lamb chops which were nicely charred on the outside and almost sausagey in texture inside, and the prawns were also well timed, the flesh having moisture and bounce if not being particularly strongly spiced. But chicken tikka pieces were watery (literally - I don't know where all that liquid was coming from but it seemed rather unnatural) and bland despite the skilful grilling, and seekh kebabs were similarly dull. It was all just a bit tame, and although it was all perfectly nice in a kind of family-friendly way, there was nothing particularly exciting. At £15, too, it was certainly at the upper end of what I'd expect to pay for this kind of food.
The best bits of the main courses were very good. A vegetable biryani had a lovely vinegary gloss to it, nice crunchy vegetables, and a decent tomato/curry sauce on the side. And a dish of butter chicken in some kind of tomato sauce (sorry we had somehow managed to order this one "off menu" and I can't remember exactly what went into it) was genuinely delicious, with complex spicing and tender pieces of grilled meat. I should also mention the bhatura bread, which was as fluffy and rich as you could want and made soaking up the leftover curry sauce extremely enjoyable.
On the other hand, there was a pretty horrible bowl of paneer, which consisted of lumps of flavourless cheese in a sauce of unseasoned spinach, the whole lot tasting not unlike green wallpaper paste. And Papri Chaat was a cold, claggy lump of grainy chickpea patty soaked in low fat yoghurt that I could barely take more than a mouthful of before gagging.
So, a mixed bag then. Some good stuff, some not so good. And ordinarily this wouldn't be too much of a problem - after all, even average Indian cooking is streets ahead of most other types of cuisine - if it wasn't for the hellish journey required to get here (for most of us, at least) and - most importantly - the price. At £70 for two with no alcohol, this was not a cheap meal, and I can think of a good handful of other Asian restaurants that you could enjoy a decent mixed grill with bread and a couple of mains for literally half that amount. In fact, I can think of one restaurant in particular, in a comparably remote corner of the capital, where I did just that last week. And it's there, and not the Brilliant, that I will be returning next time I'm in need of some lamb chops and seekh kebabs. Come on now, you didn't honestly think I would get through a review of a curry house without mentioning Tayyabs, did you?