As you might know, The European and I have spent many years in Dubai, and as a result we have been thoroughly spoiled by bounteous and authentic Indian fare. The beauty of this city is that life and its population are so transient that national and regional cuisines have no time to become localised (contrast that to cuisines such as Italian-American or British-Indian, which have developed over many, many decades). In Dubai, chefs and owner-operators hop off the plane from wherever they’re from, do a little cooking in the failsafe “just like mamma would make it” style, then move on to pastures new or head back home. The relatively small Emirati population is outnumbered (and when it comes to cuisine, outgunned) by burgeoning communities of migrant workers, fed and watered not just by work canteens, but by cheap street-side restaurants. The combination of conditions means that currently – even down to regional nuances – Indian food is pretty much how you would find it in India, Moroccan food as you would find it in Morocco… and so on (the only exception is Dubai brunch, which has seemed to take on a life of its own in only a few years).
During my time in Dubai, I had my eyes opened to how much better Indian food is when one eschews meat; for the first time in my life I found myself wowed by fried mushroom, and more appreciative of subtle idiosyncrasies of combinations of pickles and spices, some of which I had never heard of before. I also became paneer’s greatest fan, especially from Pudumadam, a local restaurant just across the (nine lane) road from where I lived and what I now consider to be my personal benchmark for Indian food.
Both paneer and an Indian takeaway unsullied by British influence is difficult to come by in the United Kingdom. When I returned to the country after my Middle East adventures and was staying with a friend, the takeaways in that catchment area were all hopeless. When The European and I moved to Royal Arsenal in the Spring of 2018 and set about working down the list of Indian restaurants that delivered to SE18, it seemed once more like all hope of a decent meal was lost… until the week where we landed on the letter ‘L’. Even after striking gold, we carried on to ‘Z’, just in case… but nope.
‘L’ was for Lane Kitchen, an independent Indian restaurant in Plumstead. It has been our dirty little secret almost every Friday night since. Her Highness orders a paneer chilli masala (tinged with pungent smokiness and the most perfectly tender cheese) and I take the classic paneer tikka masala, which is sweet and oh so rich. We order it with naan breads, which are more than acceptable but not a patch on Pudumadam (I will admit defeat on the search for an authentic naan on these shores). We also order egg fried rice, which The European dips into alongside her paneer (it pairs very well with my tikka masala sauce) but this is usually kept for lunch the next day (I bastardise it with cheese and piri-piri sauce from Nando’s). Other accoutrements for dinner are fabulously spicy onion bhajis for me, and papadums for us her. All is washed down with an array of craft I.P.As.
The food order is the same, week-in-week-out, mainly out of our pathetic fear of ordering something off their menu which wouldn’t be as good. And then it would be six more nights until we can order again (we are disciplined if nothing else).
Imagine then, how our fear of change and a slightly sub-standard Indian delivery was realised when a week or so into the Lockdown (is this an event now? Do we treat it as a proper noun?) Lane Kitchen closed. Now I will be the first one to admit that as Covid-19 problems go, this one is beyond minor, but it did piss us both off beyond belief. This was the angriest I have seen The European for quite some time and was quite astonishing, given the current troubles and strife and her generally ‘prickly’ temperament at the best of times.
We desperately tried quite a few other restaurants (even ones we tried before we found Lane Kitchen), but we were back to the same old issues of overly-sweet curries and rubbery papadums, our frustration with the situation compounded with the food being left on the floor in front of me like the delivery driver and I are completing an exchange of radioactive waste. Eventually things got so bad we resorted to trying Wimpy… but as it turned out, that wasn’t half bad.
Our misery was short lived; about a week or so ago, Lane Kitchen re-opened. I am not too sure what the story was here, but the driver alluded to how their chefs elected not to work through the pandemic at first, but later decided to return for whatever reason. The joy I experienced was akin to me sitting in my closed hotel, hearing about Rishi Sunak’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the first time.
I have just started seriously writing on this blog once more, and re-posting old stuff that I have recovered from previous failed blogging attempts (my best effort to date was a run of four years from 2012 to 2016 on a site that was closed by WordPress as I inadvertently allowed people to spam on there). As I have been dredging up old posts, I have began to realise how many posts are basically stories about nothing. This tale of Lane Kitchen is one more example, basically;
“There was once an amazing Indian restaurant that delivered food to us. It closed for understandable reasons and then reopened”.
Tell you what, just ignore the first nine hundred words and take it from us that Lane Kitchen rocks, and if you happen to be passing through our neck of the woods, give it a go. We will even let you eat it in our lounge, so long as you remain six feet away from us.