I left home at 5.45 am today; a really, really early start at work. The day's been rough and I didn't manage to get more than a banana for lunch. (And, as some of you know, a hungry FussyVeggie is a grumpy FussyVeggie).
I cheered up immediately though, when my dearest friend D, offered to buy me dinner and walk with me on my 8 mile trudge home. I hate the gym and I definitely need the exercise given my foodie habits, so I walk home from work a couple of times a week (8-odd miles). It makes me feel so virtuous, that rather contrarily, I often stop off on the way home and reward myself with a nice, healthy (and preferably small) meal, so that I don't have to start cooking dinner when I get home just under two hours, after I've left work.
D's keen to eat something Indian. I suggest Govinda's, the little restaurant on Soho St that's run by the people from ISKCON (the Hare Krishna people). [The Hare Krishna temple and a giftshop are in little rooms above the restaurant]. D's not too convinced. He's been there before with his wife and they thought the food tasted a bit weird, he says. I know what he means. Many years ago, I used to volunteer at a soup-kitchen type charitable venture run by the committed volunteers at the temple. (For those of you who want to know; the charity is called Food for Life, they cook their own food in the restaurant kitchen plus take any excess from the restaurant and serve it at Lincoln's Inn Fields most weekday evenings to the cold, hungry and homeless) . Another set of volunteers cooks the food for the restaurant itself. From what I understand, these people believe that they are cooking the food as an offering to Lord Krishna and that customers at the restaurant are then receiving it with the Lord's blessings after He has been served the first portion from all the big pots of cooking. From what I recall, (and this may have changed since), I suspect that different sets of devotees cook the food at the kitchen at Govinda's every day, although, they do have a few regular volunteers who turn up on specific days. Consequently, because the volunteers believe they are preparing food for offering to Lord Krishna, they make a particular effort to use the best ingredients they can and they also tend to prepare the food with utmost sincerity. However, the quality of cooking does vary to some degree on a day-to-day basis because although they try and prepare certain standard dishes to standard recipes, the volunteers' cooking styles differ slightly from person to person. So D's experience of what I think was really an "off-day" at the restaurant, is plausible .
Since D doesn't seem too convinced by the place, we decide that we'll pick up a small take-away from Govinda's for my flatmate, and we will head into Soho for dinner. But when we get to the counter, D takes one look and caves in.
For £8.50 each, we get an "all-you-can-eat thali". A thali is a typical Indian plate of food consisting of an assortment of curries, rice, bread and so on. It is basically similar to a mixed platter in a main-course sense.
The Hare Krishna man at the counter serves us a hugely laden plate consisting of rice, two lentil dishes, 2 vegetable dishes, a poppadom, salad and a roll of bread. D kindly pays and we head back to the table. We also pay for a small extra portion of the special veg of the day - a paneer dish made with Indian cottage cheese.
The dishes on the counter are definitely all vegetarian. It's a Hare-Krishna, strictly vegetarian policy. No eggs are used at all. But for the vegans among you, take care because a number of the dishes include dairy products, an experience you have no doubt confronted at many Indian restaurants where ghee (Indian clarified butter) is used in most dishes .
D & I stagger to a corner table. It's a real miracle that someone as clumsy as me survives the Ikea-looking-furniture obstacle course. That's one of the problems with this restaurant. The tables are set too close. D & I are intrigued by the Hare Krishna devotee fervently trying to explain his faith to his dinner partner at the next table. We are then distracted by the hippie-ish woman at the next table who's having a discussion with a chap who sounds like he's helping her get a movie produced. Eavesdropping is dreadfully easy, given that the tables appear not more than a foot-and-a-bit apart from each other.
D and I tuck into our meals. D regales me with stories of the scrapes he (and a few of our friends) got into when they first came to London. I'm drawn in by gossip from old friends and D's wonderful story-telling ability. But occasionally my attention wanders, to the yummy food on my plate. The two daals (lentils) are cooked really well and taste fantastically and authentically Indian. The curries too, are perfectly seasoned and very tasty. The food isn't too spicy; but is so authentically Indian I wonder how that is. I then realise why. This is my grandmom's style of cooking. Not too much spice, but a flavoursome gravy for the curry which highlights the original flavours of the main vegetables rather than drowning it in chillies or other spice combinations. No wonder it tastes like home food.
D too is very impressed. He keeps thanking me for suggesting we came to Govinda's . He's changed his mind about this place. "Maybe the wife and I came on a really bad day last time, or maybe I had my expectations set too low as a result this time; but the food is really good. I can't resist this even though I am so full" he says. I know what he means. I am now bursting at the seams and my plate still hasn't been licked clean. No chance of using that all-you-can-eat facility whatsoever. I can't and indeed shouldn't eat another morsel, let alone re-piling stuff onto my plate.
It's finally time to head out; D and I roll out and I feel obliged to walk for at least another half hour to digest the fabulous meal we have just had.
I'm a happy, stuffed mock-pig. So I decide to update this blog and allow you to partake in my gluttony.
**By the way, if you're not religious / interested in the Hare Krishna stuff, don't get too put off . There is no preaching / proselytising inside the restaurant except for the Hare-Krishna's tapes running on stereo through the restaurant at a low volume. But, if any devotee does approach you to spread the word, feel free to be straight and tell them you aren't interested. It's as easy as that.
Govinda's, Soho St, Off Soho Square (nearest tube : Tottenham Court Road)