Saturday, 10 July 2010

"Dr Cat is disillusioned with / a new cloud arriving"

Indian Chef
For work reasons, I used to live in Hemel Hempstead. For those unfamiliar with 'Hemel', it is one of those joyless over planned Home Counties bumhole towns. The natives - Hemeloids - like to spend their time shrieking at each other, fighting outside pubs, and eating at Indian Restaurants. Hemel has more Indian restaurants than trees, and they seem to multiply faster than rabbits. Some are good, mostly they're bad.

Kigali isn't a joyless over planned bumhole town. The planners haven't quite finished yet. However, it still has more than its fair share of Indian restaurants. According to one Ugandan Asian of my acquaintance this is because East African Asians are better at doing business than they are at making pizzas. From what I've tried at Kigali's various Indian restaurants, they're better at doing business than they are at cooking curries too.

Indian Chef has a pleasant enough setting behind the Diplomat hotel, snuggled in the valley behind the parliament. The Surfer and I sit outdoors and are immediately surrounded by a circle of hovering obsequiousness. This is increasingly common in Kigali restaurants as owners and managers overcompensate in an effort to overcome Kigali's reputation for crap service. The result is that diners feel pressured into ordering quickly, ruining the relaxed flow of a good restaurant meal.

Like other Indian Restaurants in Kigali the menu here is too long, and includes some unlikely dishes which you just know the chef can't manage. Chinese dishes creep in at the edges, and cock-a-leekie soup even makes an appearance.

Sweet Jesus. Cock-a-leekie soup? At which stage in the writing of the menu did the chef sneak this one in?

Poppadums and so on are fairly run of the mill, and for some reason we're plied with salt and vinegar crisps. The Surfer orders a vegetable curry and asks for a little additional heat. I write 'vegetable curry' as the finished result is so generic that it is hard to remember what the original order was. The 'additional heat' comes in the form of raw green chillies stirred into the cooked curry at the end. They impart little of their heat to the sauce, but deliver eye-watering explosive surprises.

My chicken biriyani looks promising, but is spoilt by a slightly rancid flavour (bad ghee or cooking oil?) permeating the dish. The accompanying yoghurts and pickles are OK, but do little to hide the problem.

Oddly enough, the side dishes that The Surfer and I share are top notch. Garlic nan is light and fresh out of the oven, and cumin rice is well cooked and perfectly seasoned and spiced - we even decide to box up the remains for dinner the next day. I order a kulcha, but am eventually served something else entirely. This doesn't prove to be a problem, as the something else entirely is a feather light flatbread, slightly moist and flaky, tasting somewhere between a roti and a chapathi. The staff insist it is a kulcha, even though it is nothing of the sort.

Staff are friendly and attentive. Our young waiter engages us in a bit of chat about our time in Rwanda. Asked if we've learned any Kinyarwanda words, The Surfer leans over and whispers "Amabere" in his ear, and we watch him go spinning and giggling in embarrassment across the restaurant.

The owners hover a bit at the end, chatting about football and food. They keep shaking my hand and fishing for opinions, and it dawns on me that I've been rumbled. This happens occasionally, and is always a bit awkward. They hand me a suggestions book, which I sign as The Jiffler.

Diplomat Hotel Website