THE INDIA CLUB: A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS
Think about your favourite restaurant. How many times have you been there? Five times? Ten Times? Even, if it is a real treasure, over twenty times?
Well, I have been to The India Club over a thousand times. Yep, do the maths if you want to but, it still adds up. Over a thousand times.
I was a student at King’s College way back when in the early 1980’s and used to come to The India Club for lunch and supper most every night for my years of college as it was a good deal cheaper than the canteen next door. Then, after I graduated, I still used to come at least four times a week for my usual meal of Chicken curry, rice and a puri ( all of £1.50 ) Even more recently, I would come a couple of times a month for my fix. Of late, though I have not been more than a couple of times a year.
The India Club is immutable. While other restaurants just come and go, The India Club just is. Situated on the South side of The Aldwych, it has been there for over seventy years since it was founded as a bolt hole for workers at The Indian Embassy across the road. Over that time the menu has scarcely changed, nor indeed has the décor with an assortment of mix matched chairs and formica topped tables in a small dining room close to the open kitchen churning out canteen style food for hungry Londoners from all walks of life. It is not uncommon to see professors next to cabbies next to tube workers next to city slickers. It really is the modern equivalent of the London dining hall. Egon Ronay ( I thnk ) once described it as looking like the porters lounge at Bangalore railway station. But, even he liked the food.
Tonight, I was meeting up with my best chum Paul. He had not been to The India Club for years and I, to my shame, had not been for months. So, as is our want, we decided on our usual few pints and a curry.
I had worried how it might hold up if I viewed it under the spotlight of a critical reviewing and had myself all ready to say “ well, the food is not much good but, I love it because……….” However, the moment I walked in and the waft of spices whisked me off on a Proustian moment, I realised that I like The India Club not because I have been there a lot. Rather I have been there a lot because I like it and, I really do like it a lot.
Sitting down at table 10 in the far spot around the corner where I have probably dined about 200 times, I scarcely bothered to glance at the menu and just ordered the same thing as I have for the last few hundred times. The India Club does some thiings well, some things OK and somethings very badly. By now, I know which is which.
To begin, some papadums with a fiery lime pickle and two portions of onion bhajia with a chutney of coconut and onion seed.
While we waited for these to arrive, I wandered down to the “club” below and bought two unfeasibly large bottles of imported Cobra beer. In the old days, you had to pay 70p to be a member to buy booze here or you could bring your own. Now, you don’t have to be a member but, you still have to come and collect your own beer. Which, given the size of the bottles is a job for two men.
Starters over, I ordered a chicken Do piazza ( literally, two onions ) and a bhuna prawn along side some thin dhal, some dry vegetable and a couple of puri.
Even Paul, who had not been here for ten years, said “ it tastes like I remember, but even better” And, you know what, it really did. Not just for memory’s sake but because it was really very tasty. Just doing what they have always done and doing it well.
We got the bill, a massive £30 for two. I left a bit extra, of course, for the waiters and got chatting to them as I handed over our cash. One of them knew me and I introduced him as “the new gentleman” to Paul and he smiled obligingly. It was not until I was putting my coat on and leaving that he sidled up and said “ Actually sir, I have been here since 1988, but not to worry, everyone still thinks of me as the new boy”
The India Club means the world to me. It is not to everybody’s taste and I know a few people who think of it as “dirty” or “grubby” I am well disposed towards it and would be nice about it in any event. I am delighted to say, however, that on tonight’s showing, I don’t need to be and I can justify not only having been there a thousand times before but, I am sure, many times in the future