- Food & Drink
The best thing about leaving London, even for a few months, is the number of farewell drinks and meals you can have. 2 and a 1/2 weeks to go and I’m up to 6 farewell parties, with a few more ‘quick drinks’ to slot in around packing, sleeping and taking antacids.
Last night was farewell meal number 2 (we’ll skip over the Black Velvet, beer and kebab based meal number 1): a curry in Tooting with Sister Number 1 and Kung Fu Alix. In contrast to the first bon voyage meal, it was in Al Mirage, a Pakistani restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol and markets itself with the slogan The Healthy Choice.
Al Mirage is housed in an almost glamourous, chandelier-lit glass building on Upper Tooting Road and, opening the door, I was embraced by the meaty warmth of the grill and the noise from a giant screen showing cricket (farewell glamour). We huddled as close to grills as possible and, having starved ourselves all day, ordered a feast.
Poppadoms came with a pot of sweet mango chutney, the chunks of mango caramelised and chewy like good-for-you sweets. We could’ve got through double the amount they gave us and I had to hold myself back from snatching the pot up and shouting: “Mine, all mine!” Friends will forgive many things, but chutney hogging isn’t one of them.
Our mango lassis arrived next and I expounded on the importance of not drinking the whole lot because it would fill us up and we had serious eating to do. I then drank the entire glassful in under 5 minutes, only pausing for brief gulps of air as I sucked at the straw. Sweet mango gave way to a rich, creamy aftertaste and the kind of dairy mouthfeel that explains why it’s very important we keep cows lactating.
For starters, we’d ordered chilli paneer, fish tikka and lamb chops. The chilli paneer was tender, my teeth sinking through it with barely a squeak of protest. Brushed with a mild, dry chilli marinade and charred black at the edges, it was good, but not the best version I’ve ever eaten (Hot Stuff, I salute you).
The fish tikka had been expertly cooked, the aromatic coating flecked with chilli seeds encasing slabs of moist, flaking white fish. It had a whiff of fish and chips about it. In fact, with chips, curry ketchup and cumin laced mushy peas, it could make its way onto a fusion menu for an optimistic but ultimately debauched and doomed restaurant.
The big test was the lamb chops. Would they be as good as the legendary lamb chops of Tayyabs? Of course not. The were juicy and the soft, yielding meat was lightly spiced but they lacked the bone-chewing lickability of the Tayyabs’ chops. The problem lay with the lightness of the spicing – all three starters had been perfectly cooked but no flavours sang out of them. They were timid.
For mains, we’d ordered chana daal, bitter gourd masala and aubergine masala, along with some basmati rice and 2 plain naans (although they bought 3, apparently believing that no one could possibly want to share naan breads).
The break out hit was the aubergine masala, mostly due to the slippery soft, silken texture. A little sweet and with similar spicing to the lamb chops and tikka fish, it was good piled up on naan bread and devoured in great, sliding mouthfuls.
The bitter gourd masala was genuinely bitter with a wash of zinging lime that gave it a bit of nasal clearing zip. With a rich meat dish this would give you the palate clearing, digestive settling break you need to carry on eating more and more meat.
The chana masala was garlicky, with a husky, slightly harsh final note of coriander. Our least favourite dish, we left about half of it, which the waiter offered to wrap for us with the remaining naans (they were huge and a bit bland, we really did only need 2). We took the naans and left the rest.
The bill, which also included a fizzing fresh apple juice, came to £34, not including service. Everything we ate had been really well cooked, but the flavours were lacking in places. A bit more swagger in the kitchen would turn Al Mirage from a local restaurant you can depend on to a London restaurant you’d take the tube to.