Two black granite-top tables are joined together for us; the tables drag their feet across the tiled floor, leaving skid marks. We help put six chairs in place. The waiter doesn’t meet our eye as he shuffles about.
He places a bowl of mango and lemon pickle along with a pair of salt and pepper shakers, their openings are clogged, the salt moves up and down but doesn’t fall out. He also brings a set of multicoloured menu cards – the tikkas and dals are bleeding neon.
We order a round of Kingfishers and two plates of masala papad.
I’m sitting with my back to the big window – where suburban traffic jams build up and melt away in a puff of exhaust fumes. Instead I look at the walls decorated with cheap plastic flowers and posters of what I’m guessing are the restaurant’s best sellers – an overweight samosa dripping with mint green chutney; dark brown kebab rolls served with thinly sliced onion rings and fresh coriander; chicken curry and naan, drizzled with butter. The room smells like fresh ground garam masala.
After he brings our first order, he opens a flip-book and waits for us to order. He doesn’t ask, suggest or advise. We order.
The tables around us are taken. I pull out conversation threads when our table slows down: the most common stories making the round are the latest film releases – Taare Zameen Par is getting a particularly good review; the recent Cricket scores, reasons for the loss and winning strategies for the next one; and the political situation in Pakistan. Over the Bollywood soundtrack, the waiter shouts out an order to the kitchen: “Do garlic naan, ek dal tadka, ek butter chicken, panch par*.”
It’s such a familiar setting: it’s easy to forget that this is London.
* on table five
This is an old post from my first visit to London, tinkered and re-published.