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Sunday, March 8, 2009

London Sizzles...sort of

Saturday night, I joined a group of local Houston Chowhounds for dinner at London Sizzler, an Indian restaurant in the Southwest part of Houston. I guess I am reviewing the dining experience, which actually falls into three parts: the company, the ambiance, and the food.

1. The company of the local Chowhound group is convivial, at time riotous, always educational, and funny. In short, thumbs up. If you like food, and happen to live in the area, get thee to a HouCH event some time. And you'll get a group of people who will happily order every other item on the menu just to try it. Whee!

2. The ambiance of London Sizzler is meant, I suppose, to reflect a higher end pub feel. In that sense, it worked - the place has a sizeable bar, and a good attendance of people who seem to be having a good time. And that all comes a lot of promise to the food, as I overheard one group enthusiastically tucking into their order.

3. When asked what he thought of the food so far, local food explorer Jay summed things up very nicely : "Did you want me to be honest or tactful?"

And in all honesty, the food at London Sizzler was at best a mixed bag. Our appetizers ranged from pretty good (lamb samosa) to a little odd (vegetable samosa with cinnamon) to just bad (onion bhaji ). In general, items that came out of the tandoor (oven) were rather nice - the tender tandoori chicken, and the nicely baked breads. But the stewed items, like rogan josh or the vindaloo, were just hot with a capsaiscin burn, but no underlying complexity of spice. Or perhaps the hotness overwhelmed whatever more subtle masala there. The chicken tikka masala was pretty bland, though - in all likelihood, properly reflecting Anglicized Indian cuisine.

But is this a failure? I actually saw the food as the ultimate reflection of adaptation - first, transplant Indian food to England, where the meats become overcooked, and the spice level has to be brought down. I've experience this eating in a pub in a rural English countryside, where the "fearsome" chicken curry was so bland, I could have probably rubbed it on raw wound without flinching. Then bring that cuisine to Texas, and the locals will demand that be doctored up with lots of chili. But in the process, that complex mix of Indian spices and herbs, that melange of flavors forming the bedrock, is lost.

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