Working for some time in the region of Goodge Street, I would sometimes have lunches at Bertorelli’s in Charlotte Street. They provided an Italian menu. At the time, it was a good place for a quick lunch, that is, one that could be consumed within the hour. A wide range of food was available and a good selections of wines. They seem to have moved out of Charlotte Street and can now be found in Mincing Lane and St. Martin’s Lane. The site of the old Bertorelli’s seems to be a Pizza place now.
From time to time, we would go to one of the Indian restaurants. In Mortimer Street, there is the Gaylord. This was, and, probably still is, the high class Indian restaurant of the area. Just round the corner in Tottenham Court Road from Goodge Street was the Sardar Restaurant which was a bit more down to earth. This has long gone. In Grafton Way was the Orient where I had many a chicken Biryani. What a dish.
Biryani or Biryanee is quite complicated, but worth a try. Here’s a recipe.
6 medium white onions, 4 cloves of garlic coarsely chopped, 10 cloves, fresh ginger, coarsely chopped made from a piece about 5 centimetres long and 2 centimetres wide. A quarter teaspoon of ground mace, seeds from 8 whole Cardomom pods. 4 teaspoons of salt, 28 grams of natural yoghurt, 8 tablespoons of cooking oil, 2 bay leaves a kilo of chicken pieces, a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a teaspoon of coriander, 2 teaspoons saffron, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of poppy seeds, 2 tablespoons of milk, 12 ounces of long-grain rice.
Are you sure you want to go on ?
The chicken should be marinated. Coarsely chop 3 onions. In a blender place the onions, garlic, ginger, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, poppy seeds, mace, the lemon juice and one and a half teaspoons of salt. The resulting paste should be put into a large bowl with the yoghurt and thoroughly mixed.
Thinly slice the remaining onions. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, do this over a medium heat. When the oil is hot put in the bay leaves and four black cardomoms. Fry for no more than fifteen seconds, then put in the onions and fry them until they are soft and brown. Using a perforated ladle, remove them and drain well. Into the marinade, mix two-thirds of the fried onions. Place the rest on a paper towel to drain.
Skin the chicken pieces. Separate leg from thigh and cut the breats into four portions. Score the chicken pieces an place in the marinade. Mix well and cover the bowl. Place in the refrigerator for two hours, turning from time to time.
After removing the bowl from the fridge, put all the mix into a large stewing pot.
Bring to the boil slowly, then lower the heat. Cover the saucepan and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Take out the chicken only, place them in a large covered casserole. Set aside. Reduce the marinade over a medium flame until you are left with a thick sauce. Pour the reduced paste over the chicken andre-cover the casserole.
Soak the Saffron in a table spoon of hot milk. Place five pints of water and three teaspoons of salt into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil. Then add the rice. When it reaches boiling point again, cook for a further five minutes and no more. The rice must not be fully cooked. Drain the rice and pour it over the chicken in the casserole, recover. Add the Saffron to the rice.
Sprinkle the oil, cardamom and bay leaves over the rice. Replace the lid and bake for one hour in an oven at 150 Celsius.
Put the chicken in a pan with ground spices, the garlic, ginger, yoghurt (two tubs), lemon juice and salt. Mix the chicken and spices and leave to marinade..
Fry the onions till crisp and brown. Divide the onions into two portions. Place on portion with the meat and save the other for the rice.
Of course you have to cook the rice with its spices.
Eventually place the meat and rice into a large pot with a good sealed lid and cook for an hour. Of course the oven will be set at 150 Celsius.
In these Indian restaurants, we tried everything, always washed down with a pint of lager. There was another Indian restaurant I used which was in a basement in Percy Street, but that’s long gone. They used to serve a wonderful griddle-cooked chicken.
In 1961, I had eaten a rare fish curry at The Queen’s Hotel in Candy, Sri Lanka, soon afterwards, I visited Veeraswamy’s, in Regent Street, London, which is the oldest Indian Restaurant in Great Britain. In fact, it might have been the only surviving one when I went there. There had been Indian restaurants in the East End to cater for Indian seamen in the early nineteenth century. Upon entering Veeraswamy’s, one was greeted by a giant Sikh gentleman rigged out in traditional dress. Inside the restaurant one may as well have been in India.
The food in Indian restaurants has always been memorable, especially the Biryanis, the Dhals, the chappatis and the Naan bread, and what about the pickles ?.
Later on, we were treated to Chicken Tikka Masala which has now become a favourite in Britain.
Our main Greek restaurant was the Cosmas, but, on occasion, just for a change, we might venture into the Glory in Goodge Street. Here, my colleague, of the time, Stan Joseph and I would partake of Hummos and Taramasalata followed by a Kleftico. One day, we sat there waiting for the food, having already been supplied with a bottle of Arsinoe. We each took a sip. The conversation stopped. I looked at Stan and he looked at me. We had just sampled nectar. The wine was superb and the like of which I have never tasted again in a white wine. We could not explain it and, eventually, continued our mundane conversation .
It took a number of bottles of Arsinoe in the ensuing weeks to realise that it would not happen again.
In Soho, it is claimed that there are over four hundred restaurants. I find that hard to believe, but, of course, there is an enormous choice of dishes from around the world.
All that was missing from Soho was English cooking. I am hoping that the Quo Vadis will solve that problem. There even used to be an Aberdeen Angus Steak House. We had the opportunity to partake of Italian, French, Hungarian, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Arabic and Japanese cuisine.
I know of no other location on earth that can offer the wide variety and number of quality restaurants that can be found in the Soho and Fitzrovia areas of London.
I was lucky to have been able to experience that variety over many years.