Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lager & Curry in Soho, London, on a typical Friday night.

Read a more recent, up-to-date post about the Maharani here.

At about the time I publish this post, it will already be Friday afternoon in London. My English friends will already be thinking about which pub they'll be heading to once 6.30pm comes around. It might be The George or The White Horse on Newburgh Street, pictured below. Last Summer, when we snapped this picture, I was guide to Fred on his first trip with me to London. I told him that the British drink outside wherever they can and that if he wants to eat late (which he always does), we'll show him a thing or two about eating late.

photograph picture of a load of friday night boozers standing outside the white horse on Newburgh Street in Soho London

Although its not one of our better pictures, I love it because it absolutely captures the essence of a typical Friday night in Soho. If the slightest hint of sun has been out, literally hundreds of people gather on the sidewalks outside the 48 pubs in this tiny West End district no bigger than one square mile. They talk they drink, they buy rounds generously, asking everyone they know if they'd like a drink and include the friends of the friends who they may never have met before. It's the way things are, and it's the way I was, before I moved to a more Californian way of life. Yes, I miss it sometimes, but there are things about it I can do without. The night the above picture was taken, I went to the bar. "Do you have champagne by the glass?" "No." "Oh, can I have a Seabreeze please?" "No." "How about a vodka with grapefruit and cranberry?" "No." "Ok, I better have a Campari and soda then." At last. Yes, the thing I hate about pubs is that they are often geared towards beer-drinking males and have a smaller selection of drinks that appeal to women, unless you are satisfied with a sugary synthetic-tasting alcopop like a Barcardi Breezer.

Enough of the drinking, this is meant to be Curry week. I'm just trying to give you a window on this cultural phenomenon. The Soho norm is to drink right until the 11pm closing time (about 5 hours in total) and then dash to a local Indian restaurant (everywhere is in walking distance) for some late night nosh. By this point, some individuals can be a bit leery and I am always astounded by the grace with which the restaurants handle large groups of intoxicated customers.

The curry house of choice was nearly always The Maharani on Berwick Street.

photograph picture of the Maharani Indian Restaurant on Berwick Street in Soho London

The food at The Maharani (above & below) is actually a little bit more interesting than most high-street Indian Restaurants. They have some more unusual items on their menu, fish curries and even chaat appetizers like bhel puri.

photograph picture of the Maharani Indian Restaurant on Berwick Street in Soho London

Another of my favourite Indian Restaurants is called Gopals on Bateman Street which is where I took Fred last summer, at 11pm after he'd had at least 5 pints of Guinness. There are two things I always remember about Gopals. The potato patties with a tamarind sauce and the rice, which contains fresh coconut. Both of these items are memorably good. Ummm, I am getting hungry just thinking about them and I haven't even had my breakfast yet.

Below you will see a picture of what the damage looks like after a late night curry at Gopals. Yes, it's true, Brits seem to have room for more beer, even after a 5 hour stint in the pub:

gopals indian restaurant soho london photograph picture bateman street

Plain popadoms? In the UK, plain popadoms are the norm. In CA, I have only ever seen spicy popadoms served. Does anyone out there know any restaurants in the Bay area that serve the plain variety. Or have you seen them in a store? If yes, please let me know, thanks.

Maharani 77 Berwick Street, London, W1V 3PF, 0207 287 0233
Gopals Of Soho Indian Restaurant 12 Bateman Street, London, W1V 5TD, 0207 434 1621

Indian Curry and Spice Week logo

posted in and and and and and
Lager & Curry in Soho, London, on a typical Friday night.


  • At 22/4/05 08:49, Blogger Amy Sherman said…

    Wonderful post Sam! I am really loving the travel pieces you do. I feel transported...

  • At 22/4/05 09:07, Blogger Owen said…

    Sam - next time you come to the east bay, go to Berkeley to the University Ave exit. Head East into town and almost immediately (within 1 block) you will start to see Indian stores. The one I usually go to is on the left on a corner after about three blocks. They have EVERY kind of poppadum - plain, spicy, seeded with cumin, seeded with mustard seed, etc.

    Now for BIG poppadum secret number one. THey cook really well in the microwave - but you ahve to watch them because they go from ready to burnt in a flash. Put a paper towel down. Set microwave for at most 90 seconds (should be done right around a minute normally). Turn on (this works better with the spinning turntable kind) and watch. After about 40 seconds the poppadum will start to puff. As soon as it is 95% plus puffed stop the microwave and take out. NOTE: you can only do one at a time this way. You really ought to be able to find them in SF too, though. I like the cumin seed ones best myself...

    then serve with some lime pickle. I like sharwoods best myself and you can't get that here - we rely on trips back to England or relatives - but currently we are out. I may have to try making some myself(!)

  • At 22/4/05 11:53, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Any good Indian grocery will carry plain papad. Lijjat brand is the one I buy. Just ask for it at the counter. I roast mine 'dry' on an electric cook top (as opposed to frying them in oil which was the old 'traditional' method). You can make them in advance, store them in a stainless tin, and then warm them in a oven just before serving. Again, they burn easily so be careful. Papads crisp up as the cool.

    The book you have is actually quite good, but I'd recommend borrowing a selection from your local library. One book I sadly will NOT recommend is by film personality Ismail Merchant.

    As an additional note. Indian cooking is a bit of a misnomer sort of like lumping all the cuisines of Europe under the term "European cooking". Which would horrify the French, Swedes, Italians etc. Indians are essentially a compilation of many nations under one flag, happily sharing our now "regional" cuisines. Food from southern Indian for example, is radically different from northern indian food. Though the distinction may not be a readily discernable to everyone else's palate. There is also a home-grown version of Chinese-Indian (my brother terms it "Chindian"), based on Hakka chinese cuisine. Also Indian cooking is evolving due to Thai, and (forgive me) European influences! Just as it did when tomatoes, potatoes, and chillies were introduced to the sub-continent in the 17th and 18th centuries. Check out the article in the New York times about the evolution of modern "Indian" food.


  • At 22/4/05 16:53, Blogger Ced said…

    thanks for the fatted calf heads up. I'll try to check it out tomorrow...

  • At 23/4/05 01:46, Blogger jane said…

    am drooling over your soho pub/curry house adventure! sounds great. we are living in munich, germany, which has great beer, but good curry houses are few and far between.

    mmmm, i wish i could be headed that way tonight!

    thanks for a great read always.


  • At 23/4/05 03:31, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, you're making me hungry. And being a reasonable distance from SoHo, I'll have to try one of your recomendations sometime and let you know what I think. When you make it back to London, let me know and we can meet over a pint and talk foodie bloggy stuff. Cheers. Todd

  • At 23/4/05 20:19, Blogger Sam said…

    owen - thanks for the popadom tips.I'll have to try out the diff cooking methods. I don't lime pickle though. I am more of a mint sauce girl myself.
    anon - thanks for the tips too. DOn't worry - I didn't buy the book you warned me against. My new book has arrived, I am leafing through it, I'll announce it soon. It lists everything regionally which will be interesting.

    jane i think its the drinking not the food that is more at the forefront of a friday night, unfortunately. I haven't eaten much 'fine' indian cuisine

    If you decide to go and you aren't drunk, then I would probably go to gopals out of the 2 suggested. Otherwise, if you do some research on curry in London you will prob be able to come up with some finer examples of indian food than these two. But gopals has been round a while and is alittle fancier than some.

    I haven't any plans to be in London in the forseeable future so maybe we'll have to have a virtual pint instead! Cant wait to read about your ft duck staging. have you seen Phat duck?


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