Before I moved to London, I had had little interaction with Indian curry. Growing up in Oregon meant few options by way of Asian food. We had “Chinese” and sushi, but nothing all that inspiring like Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese. It all changed when, at the ripe age of 22 and suffering from the most epic of hangovers, Indian curry and I were introduced. Spicy, tomato-y chicken jalfrezi from Khan’s on Brixton Water Lane was the brain-clearing, furry-palate-cleansing smack in the face of spice and heat I needed. It completely sorted out my hangover and I was hooked. At the time, I had no idea that a curry was Britain’s national dish and, after tasting more decidedly mediocre versions dotted about the country, I realised that Khan’s is more the exception, rather than the rule.
The décor of the restaurant itself is simple and unfussy. There are no napkins in the shapes of fans or white tablecloths to record the curry stains and scattered rice, shaming us with our messiness in the process. As the restaurant filled up with diners, we scanned the menu we’d ordered from hundreds of times and though drawn to old favourites, we desperately wanted to try something new – something that would break us out of our rut. The friendly managers and waiting staff enthusiastically recommended some new things for us to try; we trusted and ordered blindly. After a fair few poppadoms and dips, Chum Chum Chicken and the Maachi Pakwan Kebab arrived as starters. The Chum Chum Chicken was a large piece of breast meat, served on bone. Charcoal grilled and marvellously charred in places, the meat was succulent and buttery, smacking of garlic, chilli and coriander from the chef’s “special chutney”. Next came the Maachi Pakwan Kebab, a battered white fish served on a bed of smoked aubergine. It wouldn’t be wholly ridiculous to say I wanted to roll myself in the aubergine, it really was that good. Although packing some heat, it was delicate enough not to overpower the fish, which was light and flaky.
We moved on to our mains: Maachi Gulfam, Pumpkin Masala, Chicken Green Masala and a garlic naan. Maachi Gulfam was more white fish, this time marinated in herbs and spices, and pan-fried with tomatoes and garlic. It was a refreshing departure from routine tikka masalas and rogan joshes. Whilst highly flavourful, the dish was spicy but not overly fiery, rendering it a fine choice for those with low heat tolerances. Pumpkin Masala was a fantastic alternative to the ubiquitous Bombay Aloo. The pumpkin was tender but not mushy and held its own against the masala spices. Chicken Green Masala was convincingly herby from the coriander and sweet basil; the chicken was tender and juicy. The dish had a bit of a kick so was a decent partner for the other two more mild choices. Garlic naan was as to be expected: slightly stretchy, garlicky, and warm – a perfect implement for wiping up the last splatterings of curry.
Eat in or takeaway, the food is confidently prepared, delicious and intensely satisfying. My palate may be more experienced and my hangovers fewer, but Khan’s continues to impress. 11 years after that first introduction, I’m still hooked.
Khan’s of Brixton, 24 Brixton Water Lane, 0207 326 4460. Dinner for two was £45, BYOB
More at blondevsbland.com