Saturday started in the usual way, with a lie-in, cups of tea and, eventually, the traditional question “What about breakfast?” The answer arrived at was “Kentish Town”.
I used to go to Kentish Town a lot; in fact, nearly every day because my place of work was situated there. That place of work is long gone and many inhabitants of the area are probably unaware that it ever existed although the building is still there, converted to other uses. On my infrequent visits these days I see the area through different eyes.
Kentish Town was always a cosmopolitan area but has become even more so. It also looks a little more shabby than it used to or is this a case of memory enhancing images of the past? Half-way between my old workplace and Kentish Town station, on the left-hand side, is one of those “Mediterranean” cafes, whose name escapes me for the moment. We found they did a very acceptable vegetarian breakfast which we ate with relish as it was now going on for lunchtime. After breakfast, we had a quick look at the shops and then took the 214 bus home.
At home we had more tea, a bit of a laze: after all, as we go to Margate every alternate Saturday, we see nothing wrong in taking it a little easy on the other Saturdays. Having passed the afternoon and early evening in dolce farniente, we had to consider the evening meal, having had nothing since breakfast but a Marmite sandwich.
We set out. I didn’t ask where we were going. I suspected Tigger had a plan. I was right; she did. We made our way to St. Katherine’s Dock. Once a thriving commercial dock and still sporting signs of its ancient glory, such as the elephants on the gate, the Dock is these days home to a few plush yachts, the huge Tower Hotel, a number of boutiques and various eating places, including the famous Charles Dickens pub. However, our destination was not the pub but the Mala.
The Mala is an Indian restaurant. I had been there once before, some years before, but I could see that it had been enlarged since then. By now night had fallen and the illumination of St. Katherine’s Dock favours a romantic penumbra, so the lights of the restaurant seemed particularly inviting. We entered and were amicably received and shown to a table for what turned out to be a very agreeable experience.
The staff treated us with the polite amiability usually reserved for regular customers. The head waiter in particular contributed to the pleasure of the meal by striking exactly the right note. Maybe he was a little intrigued by us (this often happens, for some reason) and asked us a couple of personal but not intrusive questions. Hearing that I was a vegetarian he remarked that he had tried vegetarianism but had only lasted three days because “It’s all so tempting!”
I assumed that he was referring to Indian cuisine which, I agree, is “so tempting”, even if one is a vegetarian. In fact, I would say that Indian is the best vegetarian cooking in the world. Well, they have been at it rather a long time.
The Mala‘s menu has a section for vegetarian dishes but many of the other dishes are also acceptable to vegetarians and even vegans. We started with Muligatawny, probably my favourite soup. Every restaurant does its own version, some fiery hot, others cool and creamy. Our soup was delicious, a light chocolate brown with a hint of cream, with a slice of lemon on the side. A squeeze of lemon in the soup is like a pinch of salt on your boiled egg, the finishing touch. There were a few rice grains in the soup which, for some strange reason enhances the pleasure of the soup. I think I would go the that restaurant again, just for the soup!
For the main course we ordered Maharajah Kofta Curry, pulao rice, nan bread and some raita. To drink we had lassi. Once known only to enthusiasts of Indian food lassi is now so popular that you can buy it in plastic bottles in the supermarket. It is a regional drink so not all restaurants serve it and of those that do, some make it badly. The Mala‘s was not the best I had ever had but it was very acceptable. One of the virtues of lassi is that, being made with milk and yogurt, it is excellent for cooling the taste buds if the chef has been a bit enthusiastic with the chilli.
The Kofta Curry consisted of dumplings made of goat’s cheese, chopped vegetables and spices in a thick orange coloured sauce. I am not a chef so I can’t tell you the ingredients in detail or how the dish was made but, as an eater, I can tell you it was delicious. In fact, if you want to describe it in a single word it would be “gorgeous”. The rice was basmatti, my favourite, and the nan bread was done to perfection, thin and crisp.
I don’t know about you, but I find that good food increases my appetite. As I started on my Kofta, my mind rushed ahead to dessert. In the end, though, a desert was neither needed nor possible: what we had eaten was enough. We sat a while savouring our meal, then called for the bill. Given the location, the efficient and friendly service, the size of the portions and the quality of the food, I think the cost was reasonable.
It remained to take a romantic stroll through the softly illuminated darkness back to the streets of night-time London and a roller-coaster ride on a bus whose driver was evidently in a hurry to finish his shift. Then, as Samuel Pepys would say, “And so to bed.”