9 March 2018: Agra - Aggravating our curry addiction
Another curry and another outing with the work football team, or at least the remnants of it as injuries and departures take their toll. Looks like going forward the only thing we'll be tackling on a regular basis is a curry and a few beers; not the ideal fitness regime...oh well.
Agra was our destination for this latest fixture. After kicking things off with a few craft ales at the Euston Tap, we dribbled our way to Warren Street to take up our positions.
Chosen after a recent run of good form with curries in the area, would Agra keep up the positive trend?
Agra is famously the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in the world. Established in 1954, Fitzrovia's Agra is not quite as old, but fortunately the inside is livelier than India's ancient white-marbled mausoleum. A red neon sign drew us in like Hindus to the Ganges to find a throng of curry pilgrims much like ourselves.
Beyond the sounds of the Friday night hubbub, other elements within arouse the senses. Most notably a feeling of nostalgia grips you as a dated interior with 70s-style kitschy lighting, gold framed pictures and wall-mounted electric heaters, transports you back a decade or few. Or it might just be that the nostalgia comes from the cream and red paint and cheap wooden borders giving off a primary school classroom kind of vibe, complete with coat hooks along one wall that you could easily imagine hanging a few PE kits.
Yes, it's true Agra has probably seen better days, but along with the noisy atmosphere it feels more like character than tired old age. Judging by the number and calibre of the clientele it's a welcoming character felt by others. None other than Monty Python's Terry Gilliam was on the table behind ours and an image of Lee Ryan from Blue with the words "boy band Blue at Agra restaurant" further highlights the glitterati that have graced Agra with their presence over the last sixty years.
Less dignified were a rather inebriated group next to us who initially contributed positively to the hustle and bustle, but who in the end looked quite worse for wear from their alcohol travails. The curry proved too much for one who, head in hands, caught some shut eye on the table at around 10pm. This exemplified the quieter mood that had settled in by the end of the night as the punters slowly left one by one. Although, another of the last surviving tables took to anti-socially watching videos on their phones which spoiled the peace slightly.
Earlier in the night Spellins had tried to show us some of his own inappropriate mobile content. Upon review, this was yet another infringement on this blog's reputation and a adds a second strike against his name after being aggressive towards staff on a previous outing. Watch your step, son.
7/10 for venue
Starters and sides
Poppadoms and chutnies
Stuffed (potato?) paratha
3 X Pilau rice
The menu here is pretty extensive, but also quite traditional Anglo-Indian with few, if any, restaurant specials.
We started with a poppadom each and once again were treated to a Wakey masterpiece (see photos). Like a young Picasso he worked his gram cracker like an artist's palette, spreading dollops of mango chutney, lime pickle and raita across its surface with wild, yet deliberate abandon. A real privilege to watch.
Spellins handled his poppadom with less aplomb, dropping it immediately on to the floor, but did this stop him eating it? Oh no.
The breads were a little dry for me, especially the stuffed paratha that didn't seem to add much more despite it's extra filling. However, the piece de resistance was the mixed grill. For a reasonable £10.50 it proved a hit, with a mouth-wateringly fresh and sizzling tandoori chicken-half the dominant feature. Further to this were the ubiquitous lamb keema kebab and lamb and chicken tikka pieces. The lamb tikka was the pick of the bunch - deliciously tender and succulent.
Overall, it's a 7/10 for Starters and Sides, pushed up by a solid mixed grill.
For mains we had three meat and one veggie curry between four. The meat dishes weren't the largest and neither did they contain a great abundance of meat, but were on the whole good.
The dhansak had a nice piquancy to it and was a little creamier than usual, but the lamb kahrai [kahrahi] was a bit heavy on onion. The methi equally didn't reach the tender heights of the earlier mixed grill as the meat in each of the lamb dishes was a little tougher. However, the bitter fenugreek in the methi pulled it through as the pick of the bunch despite being run a close second by the aloo saag whose similarly salty, spinach and onion flavour was a nice compliment to the meat curries.
All dishes but one were licked clean, but a lonely pile of pilau went untouched. As is often the case my near-perfect, in-built ordering algorithm fell one rice too short.
Whilst enjoyable it's a 6 overall for the Curry on account of standards set else where.
Agra seems to be a family run restaurant with just the three waiters on show. Service wasn't the quickest or friendliest, but still amicable and helpful enough. Given the state of some of the customers, the staff were evidently also quite tolerant! Nothing really of note to mention so a steady 6/10 for Service.
Value for money
As always, a lack of BYO pushes relative price perceptions down. The large Cobras at Agra were around £6 each which isn't surprising, but 8 of them raised the overall bill to £157. £100 of that was food, which makes it £20 a head, which isn't too bad. However, we didn't order tonnes and in other places you might achieve greater economies of scale.
If the food had been a touch more competitive the score for Value might have been a point higher, but in the end it's a 6 for VFM.
It's a steady 32/50 overall with the Venue and Starters and Sides getting a 7 rather than a potential 6 each. The former on account of it's liveliness and atmosphere, the latter for the very tasty mixed grill. The mains were ok, but just didn't live up to the standards of other places this blog has been.
Nevertheless, Agra is still worth a visit for an authentic British curry house experience in London. Let's hope it's still around for another sixty years!
Address: 137 Whitfield St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 5EL
Cuisine: Classic Indian
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Slightly dated, Indian curry house, but has character and good food.