68 Millman Street
London WC1N 3EF
Tel: 020 7405 3697
What hits you first is the wonderful aroma, a kind of instant initiation to all things beautiful in Indian cooking, spices, herbs, garlic, onions all perfectly blended. I could have stood there on the threshold for hours just taking it in. But was greeted warmly and shown to a table instead. It is a bit of a squeeze as there isn’t much room. You get the impression on entering that it’s large, but what is large is a pair of mirrors across one wall – doubling the size instantly. No matter, the place was packed, through eavesdropping I gathered that all of them were returning customers. Salaam Namaste has won many awards; British Curry Awards, Asian Curry Awards 2012 etc. So no wonder it’s full and no wonder it smells great.
Its position in Bloomsbury lends itself to attracting that difficult breed of connoisseur, the literary curry lover. They can be a fussy lot if things aren’t just right. I once witnessed a stomp out by an editor who felt that the nan bread he had just eaten just wasn’t hot enough, this was his third portion!
Some of the dishes here are such an unexpected treat. For example I tried chukandari venison, which was tenderised with beetroot, seasoned with fennel and cooked in a tandoor. The venison had an earthy full feel like a bass tenor – it’s in the background, you can’t quite tell where it is in the orchestra but you’d miss it if it were not there. Tandoori Portobello mushrooms were taken to a new level by raisins, green chilli and homemade cheese. These were (you get four) really good and I could have many eaten more. A jingha peri peri with Portuguese spices was nice and punchy and not too hot.
I think one of the reasons for the success that the Salaam has achieved is down to hard work. I watched the waiters busily go about their duties serving Olympic quantities of beer and food as well as taking time to advise dish combinations for the uninitiated like me. It’s the sort of place that chums from work go to for a birthday or leaving do. It was full of jolly curry loving tables and importantly a few tables with solo diners. Nobody was hurrying them along despite being busy, it almost had the vibe of a local pub. But it is quite clearly not a pub.
M had decided to order straightaway after reading this description of pistachio chicken korma ‘A signature dish of the Taj served with real edible silver, Shahjehan frequently held moon light parties at the forecourt of the Taj Mahal where this dish was served’. The sheer romance of it moved her. It tasted very creamy and mild, almost not Indian at all and glistened with its silver adornment, quite beautiful. I tried a Travancore chicken curry, which came on a curved boat shaped plate. This Keralan dish is pepper heavy with garlic and lots of mustard seeds curry leaves and chilli and ginger. As with every course so far it was a hit. Everything was well balanced. On the side we ate three types of nan in a basket, some superbly creamy dhal makhani and charmingly named Mumbai style new potatoes, this dish seemed to reinforce the modern aspects with a gentle nod to the past. The only poor dish I had was a mango bruleé. It was lumpy and seemed to have been made with condensed milk, the spicing was nice (it some heat to it) but the texture of it was wrong. This wouldn’t put me off coming again, far from it. I can’t wait to return and try out other dishes, the menu is extensive so there’s plenty to choose from. They have a page of ‘traditional’ plates and a ‘Bukhara grill’ selection that I can’t wait to get stuck into.
So if like me you enjoy experimenting with Indian food you’ll find yourself in good hands at Salaam Namaste, it’s good value at around £25 per head without drinks. I doubt you will see any local huffing editors leaving in a mood either. As for the one I mentioned at the beginning, well he was my dining companion so I paid his bill and he gave me a writing commission, it just goes to show that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.
UPDATE November 2013
Salaam Namaste have just relaunched with a rather swanky refit and a new menu that retains the favourites but pushes the culinary envelope in new directions. Sabir Karim is still at the helm and is waiting to see you. It’s still the best Indian restaurant in Bloomsbury.