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Monday, February 13, 2012
When he last visited it was like stepping back in time and the food was terrible. Finally prompted to revisit SIMON PARKIN finds The Clipper is an Indian restaurant that has the wind in its sails.
I’ve walked past this St Benedict’s Indian restaurant every day on the way to work, and always thought it would be handy if we ever fancied a quick, near-at-hand meal out.
However when I last paid a visit I was sorely disappointed. From the outside, with its darkened glass windows allowing only glimpses of the interior, it had always appeared to be slightly upscale in the curry house pecking order.
Sadly, once through the door, I discovered it was totally undistinguished. In fact, in the days when city Indian restaurants were going for a modern, slick appearance, it was positively a throw-back to the days of flock wallpaper, wicker furniture, swirly carpets and sitar music.
Since then I’ve seen the place undergo a major revamp including a name change from Bengal Spice to The Clipper. However the aftertaste of that disappointing first visit had lingered long, putting me off venturing back inside.
However a last minute decision to eat out mixed with January temperatures putting us off heading too far finely conspired to lure us back inside hoping that things had improved.
I’m pleased to say it immediately became apparent that the restaurant had joined the 21st century. Gone are the rickety seen-better-days furniture and gaudy oily paintings depicted days of the Raj, replaced with a clean and modern decor. It’s perhaps lacking in character, but it’s a major improvement.
Similarly the service has come on leaps and bounds. The lethargic detachment I remember from my last visit has been replaced by welcoming friendliness and quiet efficiency.
Guided to our tables we ordered from the pretty standard selection of lagers while munching on the obligatory pappadums and spices (some things never change, though they do include the more unusual tamarind sauce).
Another of my moans on my last visit had been the sheer scale of the menu. It was vast. Pages upon pages of dishes. It left you with the clear impression they weren’t actually preparing and cooking anything from scratch.
The new menu has thankfully been pared back. It’s still not short but it’s tighter, more focussed and includes some more unusual dishes, such as the starter chotpoti, a spicy chick pea mixture, flavoured with tamarind, and garnished with slices of boiled egg and green chilli.
And though they do the usual curry variants, it is well worth checking out the Chef’s Special part of the menu where you’ll find more exotic delicacies like Captain Patil, chicken cooked in tamarind, mint and yoghurt with a special roast blend spice, and Murgh Nihari, a traditional slow cooked spicy chicken curry, that’s speciality of Delhi and Lahore.
Determined to finally rid myself of the memories of last time I ordered what I’d had then: chicken jalfrezi and pillau rice. Back then the chicken had been tough and tasteless and in a strange tandoori style, which had unlike any jalfrezi I’d had before (or since).
Happily — sound the trumpets — this time it was unrecognisable from that culinary monstrosity. Piping hot it was actually proper, moist, succulent chicken that packed an agreeable spicy punch and wasn’t too oily, which is a frequent failing for this dish.
Wanting to go for something different, we also ordered the lamb xacuti, which is a Goan curry flavoured with fennel seed, ginger, garlic and cloves. It had plenty of complex flavours without being overly hot. The only criticism was that the sauce was a tad greasy.
To complete a welcome transformation the rosune naan bread — which last time had the texture of cardboard, being tasteless and totally devoid of any garlic flavour — was much more appetising, freshly baked and packing plenty of flavour.
We left with a warm glow that that restaurant just down the road — while not exactly earth shattering — was now worth a visit anytime the last minute urge takes hold.
St Benedict Street
Prices: Starters from £2.95, house speciality mains from £6.95, set menu for two people £24.95 (£4 extra for king prawn)
Vegetarian options: Lots
Open: Mon-Sun 12pm-2pm and 5.30pm-11pm
Wheelchair access: Yes