I often see events on Twitter, think ‘yes, I want to go to that’, then either forget or put off making plans, only remembering when it is too late and the pop up or exhibition is long over. This nearly happened with Asma Khan’s residency at The Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho. Nearly, but not quite. A glowing review popped up on my Twitter feed early last week, a week that was fortunately due to end with a Friday afternoon off. So I invited Sean, and his visiting-from-America boyfriend Adam, to come along with me and booked a table. And I am very glad that I did.
Asma’s takeover of the pub kitchen is part of a series, has run since February and is due to end on Friday. It’s mainly a lunchtime thing, although she does serve up early suppers to post-work punters. The food is specifically from her hometown of Calcutta, in Bengal, a fact that she is keen to emphasise. The more I learn about Indian food, the more I realise how unhelpful the term ‘Indian’ actually is. Each region has its own distinct flavours and personality – the food we ate in Rajasthan was quite rich, oily and meat heavy, whereas Bengali cooking is a bit lighter, with more fish and fruit, and coconut based curries (I also learnt about Goan cuisine here).
With just Asma working front of house and heading up the kitchen, service was, understandably, slow (I wouldn’t recommend going during a tight lunch hour). But the food was worth the wait. We almost burnt our fingers in our haste to dip the potato patties, puffing steam from their piping hot insides, into the accompanying chutneys. The onion fritters were beautifully crisp, and the papri chaat (one of my all time favourite streets foods) sat happily in that playful area between spicy and sweet.
As Asma put down our mains, she apologised for the delay and explained that the main reason was that the prawn malaikar is made fresh for every order, as reheating kills the seafood. The plump prawns swam in a mild coconut milk curry, and were served with a pulao rice, topped with caramalised onions. The chicken chaap, may have been described as korma-esq, but the freshly ground garam masala, mace and nutmeg elevated it far above the takeaway order of the uninspired. It was served with delicious lachedar paratha, which we pulled apart to reveal the multiple layers that give it its name. And finally, our sirka gosht was lovely tender pieces of lamb in a deep, rich sauce of onions, spices and vinegar.
Asma’s food may not be fancy, but it is the sort of food that comforts, heals, and restores, and doesn’t hurt the wallet either. Split between three, our bill came to £12 each. A bargain. Asma cooks from the heart and the home, her home, and you can taste her love of Calcutta in every bite. The pop-up only runs until the end of this week (the 11th April), but she frequently hosts supper-clubs. Follow her on Twitter (@asmakhancooks) to find out more.
As I was walking back to the tube, I passed the Royal Academy, and was reminded of another thing I had wanted to go to but not got around to, Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined. So I decided to once again seize the day and go in. It was lucky I did as the exhibition ended on Sunday, and was one of the best I have been to in recent years. I’ll apologise now if you didn’t get the chance to go, but at least I don’t feel bad about spoiling it for you with photographs. The exhibition explored how physical spaces provoke emotional reactions, and how we can perhaps learn to create more rewarding environments. In one installation you moved from a room where thick grey hanging concrete slabs sap the light, to one where white blocks pull the light in and give the space a warm comforting atmosphere. Another replicated the feeling of walking through a wood in the snow, with an up-lit floor, and pathways lined with regimented dark brown branches. Yet another brought you up into the roof of the neo-classical gallery through a chunky, roughly hewn, structure, changing your perception of the original space. It was a clever, thought-provoking, and fun exhibition, and one that I really enjoyed.
And so the moral of this post? Make an effort to go see / eat stuff before it is too late! In this spirit I have just booked up to see What’s the Point of it? by Martin Creed at the Southbank Centre on Saturday. I’ll tell you all about it next week, when there will still be time to go!