People tend to look at me very strangely when I say I don’t like Indian food. Partly this is because a statement like that makes about as much sense as saying ‘I don’t like food from Europe’ as if you can condense such vast culinary geography into one phrase without sounding stupid. But mainly it’s because going for a curry is now so much of a part of British culture that people can’t imagine not doing it.
Therein lies the problem for me. It’s more that I don’t like what’s deemed Indian food in the UK in the style of generic curry house dishes and I’ve put two and two together and inadvertantly insulted a whole subcontinent.
So when a friend and I went to Pop Brixton on wet Wednesday night and the only place she wanted to eat was Kricket, my heart sank a little bit. I had visions of a curry house meeting generic street food but because I’m nice like that, I agreed to go in, especially after catching a glance of goat on the menu.
And I’m so so glad I did, because there wasn’t a duff dish on our table. We literally ordered everything on the menu except the wood pigeon and we barely left a trace of any of it.
We started with a smoked aubergine dip with gram flour crisps to scoop it up. Rich and with the bitterness that many aubergines have had bred out of them, it was tempered with creamy labneh and an earthy turmeric and peanut crumble. When the crisps ran out, we dipped the samphire pakoras that arrived next. Beautifully fried, they were light and greaseless with the salty kick of the samphire itself.
A dish of kichri arrived next. Spiced moong dal with smoked haddock, pickled raw cauliflower and a raw egg yolk on top it was kedgeree modernised. Surprisingly light, it converted even me who usually dislikes kedgeree intensely but was so busy eating it, I almost didn’t notice the garlic crab with seaweed papad come the table.
If I had missed it, I would have cried. A huge dish of both brown and white crab meat in a rich garlicky butter with a hint of chilli, we heaped it onto the seaweed infused poppadoms and allowed them to soak up every scrap of the luscious butter and we were both rendered silent in pure seafood joy.
An excellent bowl of crisp sour bhel puri with raw mango and tamarind helped cleanse our palates and get us ready for that goat shoulder raan. An extraordinary bowl of slow cooked goat with smoky caramelised edges to the shredded meat, the spicing of cinnamon, cumin and ground almonds worked really well with the farmyard flavour of the goat. This is the dish to make anyone a goat fan.
The food arrived in no particular order and as it was ready. I normally find that particular trait a London food scene affectation but with small plates like this is worked well and allowed for genuine surprise when the Kerelan fried chicken we’d forgotten about turned up.
You know a meal is good when you forgot you ordered fried chicken…and then that fried chicken is so exceptional, it puts everything else in the shade and renders both of you silent as you eat it. The incredibly light crunchy coating was as well fried as the pakoras and spiked with whole cumin seeds and the sweet sharp tang of mango powder to make this the best fried chicken I’ve eaten. Despite having practically eaten the whole menu, we were tempted to order a second portion of it as we didn’t want it to end.
Our meal did end with very clean plates and a surprisingly small bill for so much food. Seven small plates and one cocktail came to £25 each including service and without skimping on the expensive ingredients like crab or samphire.
Both decor and service are basic and we could have lived without them turning the speakers up gradually as shipping containers don’t have great acoustics and with all the tables full, we ended up having to shout at each other to be heard that made me feel like an old fogey. My only other quibble is that there’s not a huge amount of vegetarian choices for a full meal and they could only offer me tap water when I wasn’t drinking.
These are minor issues when the food is so good. If all Indian restaurants in the UK could feed you like this, I’d probably never eat any cuisine again. It’s not a surprise that Kricket was the only place in Pop with a queue outside midweek. If you’ve been craving good Indian food in Brixton, look no further.