The Bengal Clipper in Butlerís Wharf, London SE1
11 -12 Cardamom Building
Tel: 020 7357 9001
Curry enthusiast Jo Grobel liked the cut of their jib
Having lived in Tooting, the curry capital of London, for the last five years, I have made it my business to visit every single Indian restaurant on the high street, purely to improve my local knowledge, you understand. (For those interested, the best restaurant by far is Radha Krishna Bhavan South Indian restaurant, followed closely by Mirch Masala, both of which are situated five minutes from Tooting Broadway tube).
But back to the task at hand: when an invitation to sample the new £15 celebration menu at Bengal Clipper appears, marking the 15th anniversary of its opening, I jump at the chance. How will it compare to the Tooting curries I have come to know and love, I wonder?
Bengal Clipper is aptly situated in the Cardamom Building in Londonís Shad Thames, which in the days of the Empire was a bustling depositary for spices from the subcontinent. As we enter the restaurant, we are immediately struck by its nautical interior, with the long curved side walls, columns, spot lighting and dark-panelled ceiling. A pianist playing gentle jazz also reinforces the impression of being onboard in a shipís lounge.
The theme continues as we are led to our table by one of the very gracious waiters, who, dressed in dark trousers and tailored maroon-coloured jackets, look as if they could work in the restaurant of a smart cruise liner. The walls are adorned with paintings by two British artists, Christopher Corr and Brian Greenwood, whose brightly coloured paintings of scenes from around the globe enhance the sense of the historical comings and goings of ships into the port.
As we wait for our drinks and poppadoms to arrive, we notice how civilised and relaxed the clientele is. For some reason I associate Indian food with large, sociable groups of friends often celebrating a birthday or event of some sort, however, the majority of the tables here consist of groups of twos and threes of all age groups.
The restaurantís owner, Mukit Choudhury, who also owns two other Indian restaurants Ė Bengal Trader in East Londonís Spitalfields, and a second Bengal Clipper in Weybridge, Surrey Ė tells us that being located so close to London Bridge mainline station and therefore easily accessible from outside London, the restaurant is often visited by customers from the home counties.
My guest and I both opt for the new £15 Celebration menu, which includes three courses and a glass of wine of soft drink. For starters we choose Mushroom Lollipop, which consists of button mushrooms stuffed with cheese, onion, ginger chillies, fried with a breadcrumb coating, and Malmali Shish Kebab, which is made from minced lamb seasoned with exotic spices coated with finely chopped onions and capsicum, chargrilled on a skewer.
Both starters arrive with a beautifully presented salsa of carrot, lettuce, tomatoes and several fresh lime wedges. There is no doubt that both of these starters, like the rest of the food that follows, are freshly prepared on the day. It is certainly not, dare I even mention it, one of those Indian restaurants that mixes sauce A with B to get sauce C, and sauce B and C to create the D version. The sauces all taste extremely fresh and are certainly not variations of each other.
For mains we choose Prawn Dansak, which is cooked with lentils; and Hass Jalfrezi, a duck curry cooked with onion and green chillies using ďchat spiceĒ, a mixture of black pepper, pomegranate seeds, cumin, mint, and ginger. These both arrive with the freshest Pilau rice Iíve ever tasted, homemade baby naan which I am pleased to say are much less greasy than the factory-made version and Chana Massala, or chickpeas cooked with wild lemon.
As an extra I also order Saag Bhaji, spinach cooked with garlic and aniseed, since I have a mild obsession with it and cannot eat an Indian meal without it. Dal Makhani is another addition and consists of black lentils cooked over a slow fire with various Indian spices and fresh cream and, according to Choudhury, is a real Bengalese speciality.
Quantity-wise, we definitely did not need the extras, however, for a fair review I thought we ought to go slightly off-piste and try some dishes that were not on the £15 menu. Since reviewing the restaurant I have already been back again for a second visit, this time with a larger group of friends, to celebrate the brief visit of my brother-in-law from the US. Oh, how I hope our rowdy laughter did not taint the otherwise civilised atmosphere of this first-class restaurant.
The cost of your meal: starters £3.50 - £6.95; mains £9.50 - £14.95;
puddings £4-5. House wine from £12.50 a bottle.
The three-course £15 Celebration menu is available for a limited period of time and offers a good selection of starters, mains and desserts, together with a glass of wine or soft drink of your choice.
Bengal Clipper, 11-12 Cardamom Building, Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf, London, SE1 2NW
Tel: 020 7357 9001
Opening times: Monday to Saturday: Lunch: 12pm to 2:30pm; Dinner: 6pm to 11.30pm.
Sunday Special Buffet: 12pm to 4pm; Dinner: 6pm to 11pm.
Public transport: Nearest tube is London Bridge.