Have you ever been disappointed because a restaurant was, well, a little nicer than you expected?
I have, on this business trip.
I was out walking in the early evening, stretching my legs and tired from a travel day after having flown all night and most of the morning/midday in a Houston→Amsterdam→Edinburgh route.
Before my trip, a friend and I had been talking about ‘street food’ being fabulous, and with that in mind, I was seeking not-fancy, down-home, someone’s-grandmother-made-it Indian food. I really like to have Indian food when I’m in the UK. I knew I wouldn’t find Indian street food in the area near my hotel in Edinburgh’s Old Town, but was hopeful that I could find a tiny, been-here-forever, hidden gem of a place.
I walked along the high street somewhat aimlessly, and then I thought I had found it. There was an unobtrusive doorway with a small sign that pointed to a Thai and Indian restaurant upstairs, requiring a climb up a steep, narrow staircase that forked, leading one way to a tour agency and another to the restaurant. Shamoli, it’s called.
I think you would agree that it didn’t look fancy, which is why I was intrigued. I trudged up the stairs, tired, hungry and anticipating a great, casual meal that would seem like I was at someone’s home.
To my surprise, the restaurant was very well-appointed, attractive and not at all a hole-in-the-wall. It could have been a dining room in a hotel.
I was disappointed, which was probably exacerbated by the jet lag. I almost left to continue my search, but the waiter was already at my table and I didn’t want to be rude.
So I perused the menu and ordered vegetable samosas to start, taking the waiter’s suggestion on an inexpensive glass of red wine. It turned out to be dry but smooth and a perfect complement to the food.
The samosas were delicious, and really, large enough to be a main course. They were served with a piquant tamarind sauce and a spicy, creamy mint and cilantro chutney, along with a fresh little palate-cleansing salad.
Warming to the place, I took several pics of the samosas, to get them from “their best side”. I like this overhead shot.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘red stuff’ is catsup, no sir, no ma’am! As I mentioned, it was a tamarind sauce, nicely spicy-sour-sweet.
I ate everything but the lemon rind.
The next thing to arrive was the garlic na’an.
And then, my second course, Kathmandu Chicken Tikka, which I had never heard of. I ordered it because the waiter said it had lentils, garlic and ginger in addition to the chicken, and that sounded like a winning combination. I’m quite familiar with Chicken Tikka and even learned how to make it at a cooking class recently, but the Kathmandu / lentils part had me curious.
Shamoli’s web site describes Kathmandu Chicken Tikka as: “Boneless pieces of barbecued chicken prepared with lentils, spring onions, fresh ginger, and garlic, garnished with coriander and a squeeze of lemon.”
I would simply describe it as: YUM! Take another look.
It was truly delicious. The lentils were pureed into the sauce rather than whole, but the spring onions and ginger were in discernible chunks, which, along with the chicken, created a nice diversity in the textures. The flavors were rich and spicy, but also fresh and bright.
So, after my initial disappointment with the ambiance and decor at Shamoli being way too nice (I know that sounds weird!), I was very pleased with the meal. It was not at all fussy or expensive, just really, really good. It definitely fit the definition of ‘hidden gem’, just in a different way than I thought.
But I’m still in the mood for street food. The best street food I ever had was in Piedras Negras, just over the Texas / Mexico border from Eagle Pass. My brother and I popped over during a weekend trip for a wedding I was in, years and years ago, just for the fun of it (to say we’d been in Mexico), and bought beef tacos with Cokes from a teenaged street vendor. The tacos were spicy and greasy (in a good way) and the Cokes were in glass bottles — and each meal was less than $1. Good times.
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