Thursday, 12 January 2017
You'll often hear the word "authentic" used as a badge of honour for (I hate the phrase but I can't think of anything better right now) ethnic restaurants in London and the UK. "Authentic", we're to assume, is shorthand for "just like they do it back in Mumbai", or Bangkok, or Mexico City, or wherever cuisine originated from, as if the only valid aim for any non-English restaurant is to replicate exactly the experience of eating thousands of miles away, with the exception - we would hope - of being allowed to pay in the local currency.
Of course, this ideal is neither practically possible, nor even particularly desirable, because what diners in London expect from an evening out is rarely going to align with the expectations of a diner anywhere else. I mean, it's hard enough translating a restaurant concept from Manchester to London in terms of style and levels of service, portion sizes and so on, and that's barely a few hundred miles. What hope would a Bangkok street stall have if they tried to lift their entire operation wholesale halfway across the world and drop it on Coldharbour Lane? Even if you secured replacement supply chains, obtained local health & safety certification, trained local staff (or found somewhere for your immigrant staff to live) and so on, what if the miserable London climate meant your dumpling dough didn't rise properly? Or your idiosyncratic queuing system leaves local Londoners baffled? And - perhaps most importantly of all - what on earth do you charge?
So if true authenticity is a fiction, all we can hope for is that the very best of our immigrant cuisines can master the practicalities of operating a restaurant in the UK without sacrificing too much of the spark and spirit of the homeland. And though I have a grudging respect for anywhere going to the effort of importing, at great expense, rice from Kyoto for their sushi bar or a particular type of tomatillo that only grows in the foothills of the Popocatépetl mountains for their taco joint, what I appreciate far more is a sensitive treatment of local ingredients to imported techniques, and not having to worry about whether or not service is included.
With that in mind, Kricket is probably as authentic an Indian restaurant you'd ever want, if by "authentic" you mean "great fun and great value". In this bright and buzzy room with its attractive open kitchen and cozy booths they serve a menu of interesting Indian dishes (and spicy cocktails such as this "Old Narangi" pictured involving cardamom-infused bourbon) for a very reasonable amount of money and in that particular London 2017 "small plates" vibe.
Bhel puri is a bowl of rice crispies in tamarind sauce and yoghurt, a familiar staple of South Indian cooking that was done very well here. There's not much you need to do to bhel puri really but chunks of raw mango were an interesting addition, giving the thing a certain extra freshness and vibrancy.
It's impossible to compare Kricket's "Grilled Lasooni Langoustine" with the langoustine dish at Kiln - in fact if I didn't know better I'd say they were both from the same supplier - but I was just as taken with the earthy, chargrilled treatment of the little beasties at Kricket as I was with the cured, chilli-spiked method at Kiln. Both I'd happily order again, even bearing in mind that with premium seafood you necessarily don't get a great deal of meat for your money.
The most universally admired dish on our table at Kricket was the "Kichri" (kedgeree), a fantastically powerful mixture of smoked fish and egg with a genius addition of pickled cauliflower adding acidity and crunch. If Kricket ever start doing breakfast or brunch, this will be their signature dish, a clever and skillful illustration of where Kricket's strengths lie.
Butter garlic crab is a dish I was lucky enough to previously try in their shipping container home at Pop in Brixton, and I'm happy to say it's every bit as good here, a generous mound of white meat bound with garlic, herbs and dairy. Oh and if you're disappointed by the lack of poppadums as a snack item (as I was), then you'll take some comfort from the fact they come as a vehicle for the crab. But really, Kricket, allow us to order poppadums as a snack please. Everyone likes poppadums.
Keralan fried chicken comes crisply fried with a delicate thin coating and a really impressive - and colourful - curry leaf mayonnaise. I always enjoy fried chicken where the emphasis is on the chicken itself and the coating takes a second seat; Tonkotsu have the same approach to their kara-age and that's a must order for me too. If you want your chicken to be surrounded in an inch-thick cement of grease and bread then fine, but to me it suggests a worrying lack of confidence in the product within.
Both breads were fantastic - light and bubbly, one of them seasoned with masala spices and one slick with bone marrow and cep mushrooms. Even the fanciest Indian restaurants can occasionally slip up on the bread course, or try and cut corners by making them in advance, so it was great to see the bread here being as good as it could be.
Duck leg "kathi" was sort of an Indian sausage roll - in fact that was almost exactly what it was, except with nicely spiced duck meat instead of the usual pork. It was also every bit as enjoyable as a good sausage roll, which of course puts it firmly in the "must order" category. It came with a peanut sauce a bit like a satay dip, and some nice sweet pickled cucumber.
And finally, "lamb haleem", rather unappetisingly described as lamb porridge by the staff but which nevertheless turned out to be a soft, savoury stew, rich in fat and flavour, and bearing certain comparisions to the Tayyabs' dry meat. Which as anyone who's ever had Tayyabs' dry meat will tell you, is praise indeed.
I say "finally", but actually there was one more course - "Jaggery Treacle Tart" - that my friends managed to order and eat while I was distracted chatting to owner Will downstairs so its delights will have to remain unknown to this blog for now. They said they enjoyed it, though, so I'm very happy for them.
With regards to service I should probably say that while generally pleasant it suffered from an over-keenness to chuck everything out and clear it away as fast as possible (I think all the above was sent and in about 30 minutes flat), which has the (unintended I'm sure) side-effect of making one feel rather unwelcome. Also, there was one particular member of staff to whom I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume had been given some very bad news before service that evening began, which surely accounted for the fact she treated the whole business of bringing things to our table as a giant inconvenience.
But, despite these things, and the not insubstantial bill (for 3 people, 3 cocktails and a bottle of wine, £45 a head), I had a blast at Kricket. In the fine recent tradition of London-Asian small plates it holds its head up very well next to the likes of Kiln and Hoppers, and perhaps while not quite in the league of those megastars it certainly punches above its weight; an attractive, youthful place that treats good local ingredients to an Indian aesthetic, producing dishes generous of heart and flavour that you'll want to go back and try again and again. So let's leave it to others to worry about nebulous notions of authenticity - it's a slippery slope to nowhere good. Instead, just enjoy Kricket for what it is, yet another fantastic place to eat out in London.