Saturday night and my gig got cancelled – a financial kick in the tits. My boyfriend, Mikey, honed in on my curdling mood like a lovely shark and suggested we go out for food.
“But! If you’re losing money,” I cry, “why go and spend more money?”
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a comedian try and have a Saturday night in. It’s somewhere between one of those shows about Battersea Dogs Home and The Descent.
Ever romantic, we set about Googling where we could get a massive discount, using Mikey’s Gourmet Card. We settled on ‘curry’ and ‘near’, which meant Dartmouth Tandoori, in Forest Hill.
We dressed up. We were the only ones there. That lasted all night. It was darkly lit and the kitchen smells were dazzling. Intimate perhaps, if only the waiter hadn’t stood five feet away, staring at us, all night. I felt less uncomfortable when, aged 16, I saw my Mum give birth to my sister.
We ordered poppadoms just to get a few minutes unattended. Then our drinks. The menu boasted three different flavours of Aftershock. There was no wine listed, but our man explained the red wine was ‘marmot’ and the white wine was ‘pinott gringott’. Rodent or Harry Potter money. Mikey braved a glass of red and I stuck with a risk-free Cobra beer.
We sat, smirking in deathly silence and chose our food. We were laughing then, but the novelty would have worn off pretty sharpish had the food not turned out to be special. The giant tower of enough-poppadoms-for-eight came with spectacular lime pickle and mango chutney. Home to big chunks of fruit and plenty of heat.
The way the Gourmet Card deal worked was ‘2 for 1’ on everything, so, assured we could take leftovers home, we ordered loads. To start we had a ‘king prawn butterfly’ and a ‘prawn puri’. The butterfly looked like a giant escalope. It was tasty, if somewhat indistinguishable. Inside was a mush of prawn, lentil dhal and lots of herbs. The puri was more distinctive. Bigger, juicier prawns sat atop the puri: a warm, oiled flatbread and tasted of tamarind.
Our waiter took our plates away before we’d finished. What was he thinking, rushing his only two customers? Even the layout of the place was baffling. The tables were in two rows, pushed up against the walls, as if they expected less customers and more impromptu fashion parades.
Mikey went wild and had Pheasant Tandoori Masala. Full of cream and ground almonds. Too sweet for me but he loved it. I enjoyed how crunchy and fresh the peppers in it were. He doesn’t like peppers and picked them out. For a couple, we’ve got surprisingly incompatible mouths.
I had Prawn Biryani. Fluffy rice full of tasty veg and prawns. Beautiful flavours, all helping each other to stand strong, like a good team. And so aromatic. Hot sultanas and charred, bitter onions. There were mystery spices in there too that I couldn’t place.
The sag aloo was the lightest we’d ever eaten. No oiliness. Creamy, earthy spinach with onions that still had bite and silky potatoes. It was a masterpiece of dainty spicing. The onion bhajis were the best I’ve ever had. Three rusty whoppers. More onion than batter. Hot, crunchy and valiantly heavy on the turmeric. Fit. So fit, in fact, that when I bit it, I made a noise like a car revving.
Once I’d finished making those noises, then, the waiter put some music on. Imagine the background music to Miami Vice and then replace the saxophones with kazoos. Calm it, I told myself. ‘Think of the food.’
Confounded still by the serene smell of my biryani I asked the waiter what the spices were. “Your food’s amazing, I’m keen to learn.” He smirked “Chef will never tell.”
Who has he got cooking in there? Colonel Sanders? The Mum puppet off the Dolmio adverts? Annoyed, I sipped Mikey’s ‘marmot’ merlot. It was like a fourth flavour of Aftershock.
It was cheap. £29.15 and we took enough home with us to have another enormous meal each.
But, it turned out, I should have checked the google listing before we went. The Dartmouth Tandoori describes itself as “a delivery restaurant where you can order takeaway.” There you have it. We should never have eaten there. It was the equivalent to buying picnic food in M&S and then sitting down by the checkouts and tucking in. More fool us.
Address: 61A Dartmouth Road, London, SE23 3HN
Tel: 020 8291 6607
Mon-Sat: 12-14.30 and 17.30-23.30
Disabled Access: Step-free into and throughout the restaurant. No access to toilets and no disabled toilet. All toilets are down a flight of ten steep and narrow steps.