I live in Petts Wood, up until recently a pretty unremarkable suburb on the Kent, London borders. A commuter district full of 1930s semi-detached houses, a railway station and the usual array of estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops.
Things brightened up a few years ago with the opening of Micro pub One Inn the Wood. Since opening OITW has won Bromley CAMRA’S Pub of the year twice and Regional Pub of the Year. A great place to go for a beer or two, the focus is on local produce and community.
Just a couple of hundred yards from OITW is Indian Essence. A contemporary Indian restaurant which has Michelin star winning chief Atul Kochhar as an investor. Also award-winning, Indian Essence has been given the Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
I must confess, I wasn’t familiar with Atul Kochhar until I went to Indian Essence, but a quick look on the internet tells me that in 2001 Atul was the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star whilst Head Chef at Tamarind, London. He later opened Benares Restaurant & Bar and was awarded second Michelin star in 2007.
I have been to Indian Essence a few times for the fixed price Sunday Lunch which is excellent value at £19.95 for three courses. The selection varies but is always comprehensive with popular choices such as Khasta Murg – Chicken Tikka pie, served with Spiced Prune compote as a starter. For main course my favourite is Nariyal Gosht; cuts of lamb cooked in a sauce of coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves which comes with a tasty lentil pancake. And for desert, I would highly recommend the Peanut Butter chocolate fondant – but watch out as the pot is hot so you must be a little patient.
I normally go to Indian Essence with my family which spans three generations and all of us with our various requirements love it. My parents who don’t generally do spicy food often pop along for a mid-week lunch and my youngest nephew raved about it for months after his first visit – when you’ve got a twelve-year-old raving about your food, you are doing something right. On our last visit our party included a vegan, a pescatarian, a sufferer of lactose intolerance as well as two teenagers. We all went home happy.
If you have read my previous blogs you will know that as well as loving beer, I LOVE food and in particular love a cookery course. As well as enjoying learning new dishes to cook I like finding out about the traditions, regional variations and culture surrounding food. I find this fascinating, so my interest was triggered when I saw Masterclasses with Atul advertised on the Indian Essence website.
I had a birthday coming so dropped a couple of subtle hints to my husband who very kindly booked me on the Masterclass held last Sunday.
So, after a light brunch , I skipped off to Indian Essence for a spicy Sunday. Note book in hand I left my Husband at home anticipating or should that be dreading watching the football- Everton playing his beloved West Ham on the telly.
The Masterclass consisted of twelve people. We were given samosas and wraps filled with a mildly spicy filling before we even got as far as the kitchen.
Once in there Atul talked us through five different curries from his new book ’30 Minute Curries’ . We were given a little bowl of each to try.
First a chicken curry using thigh meat, followed by King Prawns from Brixham, both delicious. Then an unusual egg and Potato curry. I’ve had egg curry before but hadn’t been too keen but Atuls’ Egg and Potato curry was really good made more interesting by the different textures of the hard-boiled eggs. Atul told us that a good option was to soft boil the eggs, so the yolk would pour into the curry sauce. I was intrigued by this and want to give it a try; looks like I’ll be getting our trusty egg boiling machine out to experiment.
Atul finished with two vegetable curry’s, one Okra and a Beetroot curry containing coconut milk. I really liked this and plan on giving it a bash too.
Atul made the experience an absolute joy. His friendly nature set us all at ease as he told us about the dietary requirements of different sects as well as how regional diets of India vary. I didn’t know for example that different regions use different oils. Furthermore, the oils varying smoking points affect the way the spices react giving different results – if you’re a foodie like me you’ll understand why I find this all fascinating.
It was a really friendly class and I was surprised how far people had been prepared to travel. One guy had come all the way from Cardiff, and I got talking to another couple from Essex. They had a real passion for food, and especially liked Atuls’ work.
All the way through Atul was happy for us to take photos, cheerfully posing with each of us after the class – what a gang of chef groupies!
He also answered our questions throughout the class. I had to ask the question that had been burning on my lips; Why invest in a restaurant in Petts Wood?
The answer … simple, family connections.
The Masterclass finished, and we were treated to a three-course meal which my husband joined me for, obviously he hadn’t realised the meal would clash with the West Ham game…I had consoled him beforehand by saying that it was probably for the best that he’d miss the second half…
The starter was Tandoori Rattan, a platter of Fennel Scented Lamb chops, Lehsuni Malai Tikka and Lime Scented Prawn. Very tasty and just the right size. The main course was an equally tasty selection of Murg Makhni, Kosha Mangsho, Malabar Seafood Curry, Saag Corn, Garlic Coriander Naan and rice.
Finally came the dessert platter of Raspberry Bharat Doi, Pista Kulfi and the obligatory Peanut Butter Infused Chocolate Fondant.
We washed this all down with a couple of large bottles of Cobra which was perfect! Cooling down the spices and refreshing my palate which had been well and truly indulged all afternoon.
If I am eating curry at home my choice would always be beer, but I would avoid the robust American Style Pales ( APA’s) opting instead for lighter beer styles such as Pilsner Lager or Pale ales.
If I was sticking to local brews Old Dairy’s Gold Top Pale would be a good choice as would Westerham Brewery’s Bohemian Rhapsody Czech Style Pilsner or their fabulous Summer Perle Extra Pale Ale. Another great beer to accompany curry is Wimbledon based By the Horns’s Rye Blond Ale, Samba King. If you fancy spreading your wings to an overseas number you can’t go wrong with Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Lager.
I asked Atul how he felt about beer with curry? He answered ‘it’s great’ adding however that it depended on the day, sometimes he fancied wine and, on another day,he’d have a whiskey.
Taking his example, we finished our meals with Indian Whisky Amrut Single Malt. Despite a powerful nose which packed a real punch, the whiskey itself was incredibly smooth. The perfect end to a wonderful afternoon oh and West Ham won 3-1 so we were both happy.