Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Brilliant, Southall

Those familiar with the richness and quality of the Punjabi restaurants in Southall may feel it's a bit of a wasted opportunity on my part to have travelled to the area just three times in a decade only to revisit the same place twice. I don't have a great excuse really; I'd love to try one of the Punjabi pubs - the Prince of Wales maybe, or the Sportsman - or sample the jalebi from Jalebi Junction, but I found myself back at the Brilliant thanks to a combination of near-constant praise from others, a few people on Twitter suggesting the place after a disappointing meal at Gifto's Lahore and, yes, a PR invite which meant that even if things didn't go well at least I'd only have to finance the service charge.

There's also the non-trivial factor of the journey home to Battersea taking an hour and a half. I don't mind travelling for a good meal, but I would have been a very unhappy chappy indeed if I'd ended up on TFL rail at 10pm after another experience like that at Gifto's. I needed a sure thing, and fortunately from the moment I stepped through the door of the Brilliant (half an hour early because I misremembered the journey being 90 minutes from the office, not 60) everything went swimmingly. Tables nicely spaced, other diners chatting happily in their bubbles, and a pint of ice-cold Kingfisher to welcome me in from the rain.

With three kinds of poppadums (baked, spicy and fried) the Brilliant offer a range of house chutneys and pickles, all home made (as you might reasonably expect) but also in some cases quite unlike any you might find elsewhere. Pickled carrots, for example, in a kind of earthy, nutty herb mix I couldn't quite place but which worked incredibly well. And a super-sharp lime pickle, the limes with a similar refreshing texture to preserved lemons, and dangerously addictive.

And from there on, you really couldn't fault anything about the Brilliant at all. These chops, which I seem to remember being vaguely disappointed by a decade ago, were vibrantly spiced, nicely charred and absolutely dissolved in the mouth into fatty, lamb-y heaven.

The Brilliant "butter chicken" is, like a lot of the things they do, a twist on the classic. Served unsauced, and on the bone, it had all the spice and complex flavours of the usual version but the stark presentation seemed to concentrate attention on the chicken itself, which (being on the bone) was beautifully tender and incredibly moreish.

Seekh kebabs were similarly accomplished, nicely browned from the grill but soft and sausage-y inside, boasting a powerful chilli kick and plenty of flavour. It's only when trying the 'mixed grill' stalwarts from a restaurant that really knows what they're doing that you realise how badly some other places have been getting it wrong. I shudder at the memory of the tubes of blitzed sawdust that are passed off as seekh kebabs in some places.

Papri chaat was a little wetter than normal - that's a lot of yoghurt - but no less tasty, containing nice crunchy chickpeas alongside pomegranete seeds for extra texture, and lovely sweet tamarind.

After troughing our way through so many starters (you really need a large group to make the most of dinner at the Brilliant - damn you, Tier 2) we only really had room for one main, and that task fell to the famous house Methi Chicken, a dark, complex sauce containing chunks of tender grilled chicken. Again, you will have seen dishes like this in restaurants across the capital, but the finest versions, like this, sing to a wonderful tune of their own.

There was, though, just about room to squeeze in a tarka dal, which balanced the usual dense butteriness with a nice hit of chilli and went down very well. Also a special mention to the Brilliant house breads, one a lacha paratha which was fatty and crunchy like the finest patisserie, and also a roomali roti (literally "handkerchief bread"), whose soft, stretchy rolls were perfect for mopping up the last of the Methi Chicken sauce.

Anything you don't quite have space for the Brilliant will happily box up and let you take home, so we toddled out into the wet Southall streets laden with leftover lamb chops, tarka dal and plenty of that lovely roti. The next evening, the reheated leftovers were somehow even better than I remembered on the night - this kind of stuff really travels incredibly well. So if you're still nervous about dining out, or indeed if you're a local and want to make use of the place when the inevitable second national lockdown hits, I can't recommend their takeout service enough.

Yes, it's all a bit up in the air at the moment isn't it. Eating out in late 2020 in the UK is both an exercise in wilful denial and making the most of it while you can - looking at upcoming events in my restaurant-spod diary I wonder how many I'll be able to make, and how many will have to be parked for happier times. Who knows. In the meantime I'm going to carry on as if the world as we know it isn't collapsing around our ears, and hope that if we do all have to put our lives on hold, for however long, when all these dark days become a distant memory and we re-emerge blinking into the sunlight there'll still be restaurants like the Brilliant to welcome us back. That's something to look forward to, isn't it?


I was invited to the Brilliant and didn't see a bill, but prices are online and I estimate our dinner for 2 would have been about £70 without booze, which isn't bad really is it.


some velvet morning said...

do think that with restaurants on their knees, that for the foreseeable,you shouldn`t be accepting the long run you will get a lot more respect.X

Chris Pople said...

I'm sure nowhere would invite me for a meal if they didn't think it would work out better for them in the end?