My ideal for the perfect naan is one that I tasted on a business trip to Bangalore a few years ago, at the then Taj Residency hotel. The subtleties of air-fare pricing meant that it was cheaper for me to stay for an extra couple of days and come home on Sunday, even allowing for the cost of the – for India – extremely expensive business hotel. So I had a Saturday buzzing round the sites of Bangalore on a tuk-tuk – including the famous Nandi temple, Botanical Gardens and a crowded market. Exhausted at the end of the day, and faced with a 4 am alarm call the next day, I collapsed in the hotel buffet and feasted on hot, cooked-to-order naans and a selection of curries. Their naan, in my memory, had the right balance between lightness and doughiness, absorbency and firmness: a perfect vehicle for a spicy curry.
Before then I had always preferred chapatis, probably based on my introduction to Indian food at the Chakwal restaurant in Leeds, where a bowl of curry and three chapatis cost less than a pound, with a second bowl half price if you still had room – perfect for a hungry student.
The local, Shooters Hill, curry restaurants frequently come close to my ideal naan, but never quite meet it. The Star of Spice in Herbert Road is our usual destination, and I always enjoy their curries: not over-cooked or over-spiced, but with distinguishable spicy flavours and al-dente vegetables. And of course a cold beer or two, usually Kingfisher in memory of holidays in the Indian sub-continent where the bottles informed us that it was “Most Thrilling Chilled”.
For the sake of fairness, and variety, it was necessary to visit the Ruchita on Shooters Hill as well, and that was equally enjoyable. It has recently changed hands, and name: it is now called the Jasmine. The new chef seems to be as good as the previous one, based on our first visit. Their Cauliflower Bhaji was just about perfect and their Chilli Masala Chicken made my lips go numb, in a nice way. The naan was good as well, but still not meeting the perfection of the platonic ideal naan.
The other Ruchita, the take-away on Herbert Road, is handicapped in the naan stakes by the foil bags that keep the bread warm during delivery: however quickly you open the bag it seems impossible to avoid that little bit of condensation that prevents the naan achieving perfection. Their portions however are very generous, and there’s always some left over for the freezer.
My favourite Indian restaurant isn’t in Shooters Hill, unfortunately. It’s a South Indian vegetarian restaurant over in Stoke Newington called the Rasa. The starter selection, of different and unexpected types of poppadom and vibrantly flavoured pickles, alone is enough to justify the journey through the Blackwall Tunnel from time to time. However, since I find their Dosas irresistible – especially the Chilli Onion Rava Dosa – they are exempted from the search for the perfect naan.
So the quest continues. If nothing else it’s a good excuse to eat more curries.