Over the years the Rais have wooed their regular clientele away from the more obvious Kormas and Tandooris with a succesion of yet more adventurous menus. Their new summer menu is no exception, combining a respect for authenticity with an exuberant and creative flair for innovation. Because the occasion was a lunch party to show off their new menu, we were treated to champagne as we arrived, and this prompted a discussion of the perennial question, what to drink with spicy food, and Indian food in particular.
I shall discuss this later, but suffice it to say that well chilled sparkling wine with good acidity certainly did go very well with the pre-starter papadoms and dips, (an English peculiarity?). I have no reason to doubt that the champers would not have complemented the delicate fish curries that were the curtain raisers to our lunch: barbecued monk fish en brochette accompanied by a moistly filled cheese pakora -home made soft cheese in a fine pastry case- the two contrasting dishes cleverly integrated by the use of the same green herbs, especially the fragrant fenugreek.
The main fish course was the strangely named Easy Goin' Halibut, but it turns out to be a recipe from Goa (geddit?). I really enjoy fish curries which are all too rare, the Natraj in Charlotte Street introduced me to such delicacies back in the early 70s. The green herb theme was picked up again with a green massala chicken cooked with a puree of herbs including green chillies and lime juice, delicious.
The main culinary style of Nayab is metropolitan Delhi, and the Footpath Hotel Curry we were offered is made from cubed lamb, with minced lamb reinforcing the tomato rich sauce. I particularly enjoyed the accompaniments, especially the salad made from tandoori baked aubergine pureed with onions, tomatoes, garlic and petit pois which gave it a creamy green flavour that cut the richness perfectly. It has often been said that you should judge oriental cuisine by the qualty of the rice. None of those grisly technicolor monstrosities here. We were offered plain basmati rice, with a nutty texture, crunchy cumin seeds and perfect separation of the grains.
Selection des grains nobles as the Alsatians say of their best Gewurztraminer. Some pundits recommend gewurz as the perfect accompaniment to spicy foods, on the grounds that it is rich and spicy itself. Not this pundit! I belong to the complementary school of matching food and wine, that is, wine should complement food by being a foil for it. Because of the powerful flavours of the curries, it would be plain stupid to drink very complex wines. Wines that can refresh the palate and clear the mouth are best. Good natural acidity is needed, some residual sugar works well, young fruit and tannins, all of which would overpower more delicately flavoured food, are neatly complementary in this context.
The Brown Brothers Muscats, both the regular and the late picked went down most agreeably on this occasion. In fact I preferred the late picked even with the savoury foods. Best of all, and for me a real discovery, was Brown Brothers Tarrango 1994, served quite well chilled. The fresh fruit and keen tannins cleared the mouth perfectly. A good fresh, cherry cool Beaujolais would do the trick equally well.
I don't usually bother with desserts in Indian Restaurants, but one of my colleagues gave me the nudge that I shouldn't miss Praveen's kulfi. It's a sort of ice cream, but then again it isn't; but a reviewer should never give away the ending, so the way to find out is to go there yourself and try it out. You won't be disappointed.
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