1 November 2018: Salaam Namaste - Return to heart centre
It was the ten year anniversary of the start of our grad scheme so we got the crew back together for some reminiscing in the locale of our old office in Bloomsbury.
As with our last outing to Diwana in Euston, not everyone could make it. It was far too far for our northern exiles, whilst Maccers disappointed again with his no show (although this was in line with the lack of performance we've come to expect from him on Gray's Inn Road). Less absent, but equally disappointing was Rubie who insisted on buying a bottled beer in the Blue Lion, a pub that had about twelve beers on draught. He did at least make up for it by laughing the most at the pub's stand up comic whilst most other punters didn't even listen. Others in attendance were Luke Pickering (freelance marketing services for hire), Churchey, Phildo and the Ace who also greatly appreciated the tragic jokes (the comedian's one-liners that is, not us, his far less successful former colleagues).
After a few jars and reminiscing it was round the corner to Salaam Namaste for our curry.
Salaam Namaste is situated in a slightly odd location, hidden away down a side street off Guildford Street, a short walk from Russell Square. You could easily walk past without noticing it. In fact, that's obviously what I did do for the best part of three years whilst working nearby, but on this occasion the restaurant was firmly within my sights.
Sounding more like a yoga studio, from the outside it has a fairly understated appearance, but the outside decking for al fresco dining during warmer months is notable. Visiting in November meant we sat inside instead where we discovered a fairly classy establishment.
All the usual curry house suspects can be found here: vibrant uplighting, mirrored walls, stenciled wooden friezes - but so too can more modern touches: a nightclub style bar, low hanging lamps and a bizarre blue neon wall.
It is slightly cosy but the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. Add light musak and a praying hands logo and the overall effect is a restaurant, well-designed by purveyors of curry who know what they're doing. In fact, the chef-patron here, Sabbir Karim, is multi-award winning which is wholly unsurprising.
Tasteful and smart it's 8/10 for Venue.
Starters and sides
2 x Pulao Rice
Dates & Ginger Nan
Namaste Mixed Sizzler
Manglorean Soft Shell Crab
Old Delhi's Aloo Tikki Chaat
The juxtaposition of contemporary and classic curry-house features found in the interior design is reflected in the menu that nicely balances modern and traditional dishes. For the sides and starters this means you'll find mixed grills and garlic nans alongside more original options like soft shell crab and date and ginger nan.
Yes, the nans here are spelled with only one a, but that's where parallels to your grandmother end; these are fresh and evenly balanced. The keema nan was probably the pick of the bunch with a nice spread of meat throughout, whilst the dates and ginger nan was unusual but didn't quite hit all the right notes with a slightly Christmassy taste. Singing more tunefully was the vibrant red chilli sauce and perfect mango chutney that came with the poppadoms.
The namaste mixed sizzler is for all intents and purposes a mixed grill with seekh kebabs, lamb chops and chicken and salmon tikka pieces. My initial reaction was that it was relatively small and the chops weren't the best - a little chewy and about 80% bone. However, the other components had delightfully spicy marinades offering a subtle range of flavours. The seekh kebab was beautifully juicy, the salmon housed a lovely heat whilst the chicken tikka had a lovely lemon grass fragrance albeit with a hint of Thailand rather than India.
Better than the nans and mixed grill were two really stand out dishes: the Manglorean soft shell crab and Old Delhi's aloo tikki chaat. The former, hailing from the south western region of India of the same name, was mouth-wateringly tender and particularly delicious when combined with the accompanying lime and chilli dip. The latter was a potato and chickpea cake, beautifully presented in a miniature cast iron pan and coated with a lovely spicy yoghurt sauce. Wow.
Pushed up by these two showstoppers it's 8/10 for Sides and Starters
Sesame Baby Aubergine
Shahi Palak Paneer
Tilapia with Crisp Okra
Palak Paneer Ke kofta
Mangalore Korri Gassi
The curries here also offer a blend of old and new. British curry favourites are available, but other, more originally titled mains are far more likely to draw the eye. The palak paneer ke kofta certainly fit this bill and was even more eye-catching upon serving. Spinach and cottage cheese dumplings, stood tall like termite mounds in a smooth tomato gravy. Almost Italian meatball in texture and taste this was a strange dish all around.
More familiar was the tadka daal which was excellent - not too viscous, with chunky lentils and beautiful cumin and tumeric flavours this is my kind of daal. Equally well-balanced was the sauce in the sesame baby aubergine with a lovely onion sweetness and deep, slow-burn heat. However, the baby aubergine themselves had a little too much skin for me and, with this extra texture, took the edge slightly off a very good dish.
Less impressive but still well presented were the shahi palak paneer (a rather average saag paneer), the lamb xacuti (a tender lamb madras type dish), the Mangalore Korri Gassi (a coconut, korma style main) and the tilapia (fish) with crisp okra. A big fan of okra, I didn't feel this combination with white fish and tomato was great. I prefer a lamb and okra dish, however, the tilapia was excellent, with a lovely melt-in-the-mouth, cumin glaze.
Not quite living up to the sides and starters, the curries here are still solid. 7/10.
Salaam Namaste's name means peaceful welcome and that's what we received here. Our waitress was very friendly and even offered a joke or two. She also cleaned the table and replaced our crockery between courses which might sound standard practice but isn't that common in London's mid-level curry houses. With no complaints and better than usual service with a smile, it's 8/10 for Service.
Value for money
The prices here aren't top of the range, but it's certainly not cheap here either, especially if tucking into £5.95 pints of Cobra. Our overall bill came to around £25 each for food but I'd say the overall number of dishes, their quality and the general comfort of the restaurant means this represents very good value for money.
Before visiting Salaam Namaste, reviews seemed very positive, but I was still pleasantly surprised by our visit. It offers a fantastic blend of modern and traditional Indian cuisine that shouldn't be missed. The number of patrons found here, despite its slightly out of the way location, are testament to the quality on offer. I'll certainly be coming back and strongly recommend you give it a visit too. For those further north, it has a sister restaurant in Camden - Namaste Kitchen - that is also firmly on our hit list.
It's a table topping 39/50 in total.
Address: 68 Millman St, London WC1N 3EF
Cuisine: South Indian
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: A delightful mix of traditional and modern Indian cuisine in tasteful, central London surrounds.