It’s not everyday that a life long vegetarian is able to walk into a local restaurant and find a meal that leaves their palette so eclectically ecstatic that they can eat two entire dinners at once. Nor is it everyday that a sixty-seater Asian Fusion steakhouse opens its kitchen to a veggie blogger and bravely prepares a vegetarian curry from scratch. But that’s exactly what The Grill in Aylesbury did for me, and boy oh boy was it an experience!
I have eaten in many a restaurant, and I hold my hands up that curry is easily my most favourite dish of all time. I am a huge fan of spice, texture and passionate flavour. I love contrast and a crispness to my food, to be able to bite into each mouthful and hear it crunch, taste each flavour and absorb every last delicate detail of a dish. I like to feel content without sickly after a good curry, licking my lips and contemplating more. So it is safe to say that a steakhouse has a lot to live up to to match my almost vegan dietary needs.
I have never seen an Indian curry made by a true chef before, and in restaurants I often wonder how they get their sauce so thick and glossy, the rice so light and fluffy and the naan so soft yet crisp at the same time. If I could recreate it at home I would easily have curry for breakfast, dinner and tea everyday for the rest of my life, as a good curry is testament to a chefs abilities. A curry takes skill, time, dedication, patience and knowledge of flavour and heat. To combine the ingredients, balance the dish and ensure the spices are toasted to perfection without going over and turning bitter takes split second reflexes and the ability to master and maintain several dishes cooking together at once. A curry chef is a black belt ninja of the kitchen, as this is a dish that can all too easily go wrong; from being too greasy to sickeningly sweet, stodgy or bitter, it is every foodies dream to test a commercial kitchen in its third year with an open invite of a meal. Not their house special or best selling locally sourced Eaton Bray steak, an already proven winner, but a completely new and uniquely tailored dish as a test of the chefs ability, versatility and skill.
I was first asked by the chef which flavours and ingredients that I like most. I love to taste my food, to have a kick of heat, a crunch of vegetables, a light sauce and a good depth, and so it was decided that he would make a Veggie Karahi. And there wasn’t a jar of paste, freezer or packet mix in sight, as the chef explained that all ingredients used in the restaurant are fresh and prepared daily. The curry is created in two main stages, firstly by preparing the sauce and then the ingredients. To make the sauce he fired up the flames and gradually added onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, paprika, salt and fenugreek to the pan. The smell was incredible as the spices toasted, the flames crackling and flickering, and the chef shaking, tossing and stirring the pan to evoke all the juices, ensuring that each part was cooked evenly and preventing it from catching. He explained how the vegetables cook in their own juice to keep the flavour true before adding the spices. And after several minutes of sizzling until tender so that the spices could infuse, the chef put them into a blender with some raw onion and blended it all into a thick paste. He returned it to a new pan so that the spices wouldn’t turn bitter, added a tin of tomatoes, cooked it in and then blended it once more until it was smooth and even.
He then moved to the vegetables, slicing and dicing mushroom, green, red and yellow peppers, asparagus, green beans and belvedere sweetstem broccoli which he added to a hot oiled pan. The second it touched the oil it sizzled and squealed, lightly charring the skin of the vegetables and firing off sparks into the flames. He then covered it with a lid to steam the dish and keep the vegetables sweet and succulent. I love my vegetables al dente, to keep their form, texture and flavour so that when you bite into a mouthful you instantly recognise what you’re eating and this was a very effective way to achieve that.
The chef then added the vegetables to the curry sauce and whilst it was cooking in, hand rolled and cooked a naan bread in the clay oven before serving it up with pilau rice and a stilton and camembert cheese dipping sauce. For my first experience of a commercial kitchen I was incredibly impressed at how patient and able the kitchen is, as I humorously had preconceptions of Gordon Ramsey shouting and swearing, burning hands on pans and panicking that food is cold or overcooked. However, whilst I filmed the entire process from alongside the chef, he armed me with a spoon to taste how the flavours develop and change, answered all of my questions and explained what he was doing and why throughout; all whilst also preparing several dinners for tables of diners who continued to arrive throughout the time that I was there. Wow.
We then took a seat in the restaurant amongst earthen coloured walls, shining stones, floor to ceiling natural slate and twinkling candles where he showed me how to eat the curry in the traditional way with my hands. From my very first mouthful to the last I was ooh’ing and ahh’ing as the flavours exploded in my mouth. It was absolutely out of this world. Dipping the light and fluffy naan into the strong stilton, a pinch of crisp asparagus and generous coating of spiced sauce was electric. I’m instantly drooling again now as I write this. I have never tasted a curry like it, and it was testament to the chef that I ate two entire plates, yes two.
What really surprised me from my visit to the steakhouse was my preconception of a ‘meat kitchen’ where you can easily focus on the ethical farm-to-fork steak with a choice of sauces and sides, and totally overlook the vegetable mains. However The Grill surpassed my expectations, they not only provided me with one of the best tasting one-off curries that I’ve ever had, but also welcomed me into the heart of their restaurant, the kitchen, for a rare insight and masterclass into traditional cooking techniques and fresh ingredients. I would never have visited a steakhouse for dinner in the past for the simple fact of my vegetarian diet and not expecting them to cater properly for veggies; but The Grill certainly went above and beyond in every way possible. The chef explained that they can cater for a wide range of dietary requirements, using separate pans and oils to ensure that their fresh locally sourced ingredients are prepared exactly to suit every need. He gave me a guided tour of the three storey restaurant, with dark wood tables, crisp white linen and sparkling cutlery and wine glasses; explaining how they personally hand set thousands of stones into the wall to create the signature earthen style of The Grill. What I will take away from my visit to The Grill today is not only the knowledge of preparing a traditional curry from scratch, but the satisfaction of working alongside a chef who is so entirely passionate about what he does. It is very rare to find a business where the staff have such a genuine interest and flare for their work, and this is exactly what fires up The Grill.
75 Buckingham Street, Aylesbury HP20 1LD
Here is a video of the chef making my Veggie Karahi from scratch: