Fair warning, this is probably going to seem a little bit over the top. It’s not often I dish out praise at the level I’m about to do.Advertisement
That’s because, King Karai is closing down to allow owner Babu to retire. I have almost certainly eaten at the King Karai more than I have at any other restaurant in my life.
From being a teenager and deciding the time had come to brave a Madras, returning with college friends to take on the Phal (spoiler: hot) for the first time, baffled girlfriends wondering why I love the place so much and now, just after a few beers with my Dad (Kev).
It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I’m left wondering now where I will be able to go for a curry without having to book a taxi.
So yeah, it’s been pretty important to me so far. And now it’s going, so one last visit seemed the only way to somehow get over that fact.
It’s probable that on our visit, a Saturday night, the restaurant is the busiest I’ve ever seen it. We get the last of the dining booths, but there’s people on the larger dining tables and there even appears to be extra tables at one end of the room.
On one hand, it’s pretty cool that so many people have come to say goodbye, but on the other hand, if it had been half this busy the rest of the time then maybe it’d be staying open.
The service is as fantastic as ever, though they do seem a little bit more subdued than usual. We decide to forgo poppadoms for probably the first time ever so we can avoid struggling with our mains (inevitably, this happens anyway).
My starter is Aloo Tikki, which looks unremarkable but is, in truth, the ultimate comfort food when accompanied with the usual yogurt dip. It’s simple, well-spiced and two mini potato patties is probably a little bit too filling for anyone hoping to steam through a main course afterwards. Kev gets Onion Bhaji and they’re as reliable as ever.
It’s the mains that we come for, really. The fact that you can order a main with paneer here makes not eating meat super easy and it’s pretty poor how few places do this.
My dish is a Paneer Phal, which predictably comes packed with some intense heat, but also more flavour than food that spicy has any right to boast. With that I eat mushroom rice, which has become my go-to side dish any time I go to an Indian restaurant. When I finish the food, I sit with my mouth on fire and more relaxed than I have felt since the last time I visited. And that feeling is why we eat spicy food.
Kev goes for Tandoori Chicken with a Ghaas sauce. If you’re wondering what that is, it’s like a Phal except hotter because Kev got upset when I start matching him in terms of how spicy a curry we were eating. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and it makes my eyes water.
As mentioned, there’s too much and we box it up to eat the next day. I don’t really believe the cliche that curry tastes better the next day but, armed with half a hangover, it’s easy to see why people come to that conclusion.
More: Sad reaction to closure of ‘fantastic’ King Karai
No more visits to the King Karai. It’s a hole in my life that I’m quite convinced I’m going to struggle to fill. I’ve eaten at Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best Indian restaurants in the country. The truth is that none of these dining experiences compare for pure flavour, welcome and value. The bill just creeps over £40 for two courses each and a fair amount of Kingfisher.
Enjoy your retirement Babu, your restaurant and your food will be sorely missed.
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