Declining popadoms might have been controversial. I think it was controversial because everyone around us was clearly enjoying said popadoms. I also think it was controversial because our waiter did double check – triple check in fact that we were sure we didn’t want any. But that’s by the by. I wanted to see what Wandsworth’s Amirah’s Kitchen had to offer in the way of starters – to fill up on popadoms when the starter menu promised so much would have been ill conceived and irresponsible. Street food marks out the Old York Road Indian’s appetiser menu; small and intricately flavoured dishes pieced together with the grace of a skilled food-Jenga player; seared scallops with spring onions, cherry tomatoes, garlic and cracked pepper; lamb patties with cardamom and spiced yoghurt; warmed aloo tikki chaat with tamarind and mint chutney.
Criticise if you must but I opted for Amirah’s mixed pakora – fried potato and spinach bhajis, onion, and potato pakoras. Unadventurous? No, I beg to differ. When you’ve eaten something with great frequency, and it is that simple, it should be – well – simple. Pakoras can be monstrous in this country and in polarity also ludicrously divine. Eating something again and again gives you a benchmark; you know what to expect, its nuances and even its shortcomings. I had set Amirah’s Kitchen a challenge. The fried potato and spinach pakora was floury and moist on the inside, but getting there was the best part. The inaugural bites inward had texture and a brittle crunch which popped as your teeth anticipated the coarse, toasted coriander seeds on which your eyes had already feasted.
Again to start; Punjabi fried fish. In detail, tilapia coated in gram flour and deep fried until it’s the colour I like my beer. Golden. In less detail. Melting gloriousness. And so good with the tamarind and mint chutney accompaniment which gave it the spicy slap round the face it could withstand. Tilapia really is a wonderful fish when fresh and well cooked. Haddock and cod really leave much to be desired with their wetness.
Things done not so well? Well the onion ring in Amirah’s mixed pakora was a bit nondescript, and the batter a bit dry and thick for my liking. Plus the advertised mint chutney didn’t quite make it through the pass on this occasion which is by no means a deal breaker but it’s nice to try these things.
My main, kadhai jhinga, was small yet perfectly formed. The congruence of the red chilli, peppers, toasted coriander and the substantial, succulent prawns were not lost in a silver vat that one is often served in Friday Night Curry House X. The tiger prawns were the dish – and the thick sauce clung to them. There was no leftover watery gravy which had to be apologetically mopped up with cardboard naan. The prawns were cooked as their quality deserved. Oily? No. A very good dish, if slightly over seasoned.
The Welshman always chooses a lamb curry. At Amirah’s Kitchen his habitual leanings were rewarded in his rogan josh. Large hunks of bone tender lamb sat in an ochre bath of ginger, browned onion, and tomato. Robust and hearty, with only a slight hint of immiscible oil, but that’s if I am being especially fussy.
Piglet – I am. Amirah’s Kitchen was very generous and brought out desert. Shhh, don’t judge. I still had room. The warmed gajjar halwa (carrot fudge) was muted with subtleties of cardamom, and the grains of almond and pistachio gave the carrot sweet threads of texture. Served with vanilla ice cream the hot-cold combination was creamy and rounded. My initial interpretation of halwa is that it is sticky and fudgey, so I was surprised when this desert was wetter and less glutinous and cohesive. It was also not as sweet as other Indian deserts I’ve had experience of – which was no bad thing in my opinion.
Amirah’s Kitchen on Old York Road, Wandsworth, is trying to serve authentic Indian street food. Its lunchtime menu offers kathi rolls, shashlik, and other on-the-go bites. The starter menu also nods to the street food scene – like I said before structured, definite flavours stacked around a small bitesize centrepiece. Conquering street food is ambitious – the ingredients must stand out, be entirely fresh, and be of snack-worthy digestibility. There are reasons why Amirah’s Kitchen doesn’t continue their street food manifesto past 5pm which personally I think is a shame. If those reasons are financial or to do with turnover then that obviously must factor in the owner’s business decision, and I can completely see that, especially for a restaurant which has only been open 10 weeks.
For now Amirah’s must build its reputation as a great Indian restaurant in Wandsworth, and from the excellent standard of last night’s meal, I can see that it is doing this. The street food backbone is not lost, but ‘translated’ throughout the post-5pm mains. I mentioned beautifully-cooked tiger prawns, an emphasis on high-quality ingredients, detectable notes of individual spices – oh the ginger! Yes, it really was rather good.
I really hope Amirah’s Kitchen is able to nurture and cultivate its street food promise. There are so many ‘curry houses’ doing great curry very well. It would be a crying shame for Amirah’s to have to directly compete with them. I look forward to seeing a menu that is refined as the weeks and months pass. Street food and fast feasting really are in vogue in the foodie scene so I think they should make the most of it.
Old York Road in Wandsworth feels like a very homely place, and somewhere I would like to unearth in future. Fortunately I will be returning much sooner than I had anticipated thanks to the Old York Road Unplugged Festival which is happening this Sunday (16 September) between 11am-5pm. If I may put the plug back in for a second just to let you know that, as its name suggests, it’s a street festival with an emphasis on music. But don’t let the three music stages distract you from the tens of stalls, cask ale, street food and entertainment that will be lining this small south London street. I’m assisting with the event, and despite having to set my alarm for 4am, I am ecstatic to be part of such an occasion. Please join the Facebook group or visit Old York Road’s website to discover more.
I was a guest at Amirah’s Kitchen.
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