I have always loved a curry but, let’s face it, they can be rather predictable and disappointing.
Without a doubt it’s our own fault, blindly inventing styles like tikka and masala that have never held a candle to the authenticity of Indian food.
Time and time again I set off into the nether regions of Fulham to spend yet another evening eating the ubiquitous chicken in a supposedly bona fide sauce hoping it will be different, but soon resigning myself to the fact it’s remarkably similar to one I’ve had before.
So it’s a sceptical me that accompanies my friend Alison (major plus point – she can eat considerably more than me when trying food in restaurants) to the Red Onion in Hammersmith Grove.
Opened two years ago, the restaurant is in a cute little parade of shops halfway down the Grove near Chez Kristof. The interior is well-lit, unlike the archetypal Indian with bright library lighting, and is tastefully decorated with bare floorboards and interesting murals.
It’s comfortable yet modern. From nowhere comes a surprise in the form of the owner, proprietor and spice mixer Adile Butt.
Adile is originally from Kashmir and is by his own description (this is soon confirmed by his general persona) a ‘hero’.
A hero (for those like me who didn’t know) is in Bollywood speak the lead actor in a film, and Adile has featured in many. He has about him not only a natural theatrical charm but also gives me the opinion that in his heyday he was, without a doubt, an awesome charmer.
Sitting at our table in his immaculate ivory silk shirt he proceeds to explain his restaurant is not a ‘sweet shop’ and I soon get the point that he has successfully divorced himself from the Anglicised sweet creamy curry recipes so often pretending to be the real deal.
He is passionate in explaining the difference between using sugar, colours and cream in vast quantities and the art of hand blending real spices. He takes great pride in his recipes and it transpires this is the true bedrock of his success.
Papadoms come with their accompanying dips, including a couple of wild cards: a garlic pickle I can’t stop eating (I had to bring some home) and a green chilli and coriander puree, mere glimpses of deliciousness to come.
First courses of a highlyspiced prawn puree, lamb samosas and the moistest fillets of chicken murgh are outstanding. We’re struggling to leave room for the main course – but Alison simply can’t stop.
Main courses are a house special saag machi, a meaty fish (some cousin of the monkfish) cooked with spinach; burra rassli, crispy pungent baby lamb chops from the smoky oven; a chicken korma, succulent chunks of chicken, blissfully light and different and how it should be; some delicately spiced dry vegetables and a makhni naan stuffed with cheese and green chillies.
Everything is spiced with Adile’s secret concoctions from faraway villages in Pakistan and India, from the fabled coast of Bengal to the alpine meadows of Himachal Pradesh and the sandy deserts of colourful Rajasthan, all deliciously magical and exciting.
Customers are coming and going and the takeaway and extensive delivery business is robust. No white plastic carrier bags here but a customised cardboard box in the shape of a house, easy to carry and insulating for the food.
Everywhere is attention to detail – which never fails in my book in preparing and producing the most honest food.
Thank heavens Adile gave up acting and has now come to roost as our very own local hero.
Red Onion, 103 Hammersmith Grove, London, W6 ONQ
Call: 020 8741 9797
Open Monday to Sunday 6-11.30pm
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