ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Thursday, January 17, 2019

When Porky met Curry

What's the best option when eating out? Indian, right?

What's the best roasted meat? Pork, right?

Why can't you get curried pork in Indian restaurants? That would be the most amazing thing ever, right?

It is, however, even in this age of every-conceivable-fusion, still remarkably rare. Never the twain shall met. Which is a bit odd. I know there is a cultural and religious explanation, but it's a lazy one, and under scrutiny it doesn't  really make a whole lot of sense.


Our long search is over!

For a start, the dishes served in British 'Indian' restaurants are seldom faithful recreations of those in India and the surrounding countries. 'Westernised Tandoori' has become an International cuisine in its own right, as authentically Bradford or genuinely Southall as it is legitimately Karahi.

Alcohol: Proudly sold by British Muslims since 1810?
Secondly, restaurants owned, run and staffed by, say Bangladeshi or Punjabi Muslims typically serve alcohol. Even the dry curry houses probably do a fair whack of their business serving already-drunk people.

Despite studying Religion at Uni a long time ago, I'm no expert on the Islamic faith, so forgive my ignorance here, but is pork really so much worse than alcohol? There may be no tradition of curried pork in their culture, but then there is no tradition of eating Tikka Masala or drinking Cobra Lager either.

Anyway, Praise the God of your choice, for I have found a contemporary Asian restaurant that does pork, and does it extremely well. And that's a big fucking deal for me.

Karnavar is located towards the Southern end of Croydon's restaurant quarter, and is so unassuming you'd easily walk straight past it, blinded by the brighter signage of the myriad other restaurants in the area. They're in the Michelin guide, but don't shout about that either. They don't even make a big deal about the fact that this is an Indian restaurant with pork on the menu. Which they justifiably could.

Curried porky goodness!
The dish is Pork Coorgi, with its origins in the Karnataka region of Southern India, apparently. A strongly Hindu rather than Muslim area, though pork consumption is still uncommon, even if not expressly forbidden.

So, what's so good about it? Well, you get a decent hunk of pork belly, nice and thick, with a light crackling on top and a pleasing hug of chilli and cumin on the underside. It's slow-cooked and fantastically tender, as pork should be. So far, so good, but nothing that out of the ordinary.

But wait - there's a sort of mustardy curry sauce dolloped bang on top of the meat, and it's absolutely fucking glorious. Creamy, tangy, hot and delicious. It all comes up on a bed of spiced crushed potatoes with an apple chutney which brings with it a nice gentle sweetness that complements the saltiness of the pork without being overpowering.

The combination is strange - it's a really well-executed modern roast pork dish and yet, it clearly feels very much like you're having a curry too, so there's no sense of 'missing out' at all. One of the best plates of food I had (twice, in fact) in 2018.


The pork isn't the only thing on the menu, mind. I just struggle to try other things at Karnavar because it's so damned tasty.  Decent value at £14.50 too.
 

What else?



Mixed appetiser platter
The Dal Makhani (£5.50) is an excellent side dish. Lentils can so easily be bland and tiresome, but these are rich with tomato and judiciously spiced. A spoonful of this stuff and a piece of naan bread is the only thing you really need to add to the pork

Yes, the naans are good too. Light and fresh, the plain naan has a lot of butter soaking through it, while the garlic naan is garlicky enough to satisfy, without wrecking your palate. This is the kind of place that pays attention to such things.

For starters, the Keema Pao is a very filling and comes straight from the streets of Mumbai; meaty and wonderfully spiced. The homemade bun looks odd but is light and buttery, and while I don't personally like peas, I'm well aware that most people actually do.


Continuing the policy of specialities from all over the region, they also do a bit of Goan-style seafood which is fresh and tasty though less unique. We tried the Sacremento (£15.50), with Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Squid and Sea Bass, all sensitively seasoned and cooked, though, well, it's not crispy pork with a mustardy curry sauce, is it?

That pea-y, bunny thing I was telling you about
But then few things in this world are!

Salmon and Cod Pakora are a lighter option - a bit too light, really. Tasty, but even for a starter, I'd want a bit more for my £7.90

On Sundays a Special Brunch is served. Happily, the pork is one of the options, but there are also numerous cold appetisers and a 'live cooking station' where fresh dosas (pancakes) and Indian-style omelettes are cooked.

Personally I find the whole 'live cooking' trend just a bit of a gimmick - as if all other food is some sort of a pre-record! Good restaurants really shouldn't need to convince customers that their stuff is freshly prepared, and getting up and down to get ones plate refilled is a bit of a faff.

That said, you can go at any other time and just order from the regular menu, so it's not a huge issue.

It's also one of the few restaurants I've found serving King Cobra - the 7.5% bottle-conditioned, super-premium lager that is, trust me, a whole world apart from regular Cobra. It's £10 a bottle, but the bottles are big and the beer is strong.

Possibly too sweet to drink on its lonesome, it is a decent accompaniment to both pork and curry generally. I also reckon you could do worse than a pint of cider here. If you're having the pork, obviously. And if you're not, why aren't you?

Essentially, this would be a very good, contemporary Asian restaurant even without the Pork Coorgi on the menu, though there are plenty of good ones around these days.

A pork-based meal for two will come in at around £65-80, towards the upper end for the local area but not unreasonable.

Overall, one of the very best dining experiences in Croydon, or indeed anywhere!



Where to find it...

Karnavar
62 South End,
Croydon,
CR0 1DP (map)
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1 comment:

  1. There's a huge difference between serving pre-packaged alcohol and actually cooking dishes with pork. Think of it like expecting a vegetarian restaurant to serve meat dishes.

    ReplyDelete

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