For Pat & Susan
Break. Fast. Yet mostly lunch. (But I had dinner there three years ago it turns out.)
After an intoxicating morning at the Amber Fort with it’s mind boggling designs, raison d’etre and sheer scale we are wilted. Then there was the amazing Hinglish, witty, knowledge rich, rapid-fire delivery from our guide (who made us all cry). Need I mention it was also melty-hot. Without a bye nor leave Gilly stepped in and stepped it up a gear by deftly navigating the handicrafts emporium and easing our driver away from the regular tourist orbit. We make for a more local eatery.
How on earth we are in need of sustenance after our decadent breakfast and this climate is a minor mystery. After much persuasion we are deposited outside the Shri Ram Hotel. Persuasion? Don’t think that you get to choose destinations when you have a driver in India. Nope. They know what you want, what’s best and – side order of cynicism, table two – where they get a little kick back from. Us paying customers calling the shots is gently against the playbook here. Also, unlike anything in Europe, the kitchen at this august establishment is outside, up front, on show. You have to walk through it to sit inside. And what an inside!
Hygiene certificate? Health and safety? Try another universe.
Neat-niks? Clean freaks? Look away NOW.
With some amusement we are ushered to white upright dining chairs with their clear protective plastic on. I say white, I say clear, I mean the very definition of grubby. (Who knows when the day to remove the covers will be?! What an occasion.) The menus, the plastic tablecloths all look like they’ve spent 30 years being handled by clumsy old skool car mechanics. The whole place has the kind of patina that wouldn’t shame the underside of a motorway flyover. Only with dining furniture. At least the haphazard electrics – seemingly installed by a cack-handed surrealist – manage not to self-combust as the fan whirls overhead.
In essence? Loving it. It’s bloody brilliant.
Outside, er, in the kitchen… Is this what hipsters call street food? The gas-fuelled, charcoal topped burner is like an angry scale model volcano, the tandoor gently rumbling like a jet awaiting take off and radiating a mirage of heat. We’ve ordered various veggie curries, fried rice and a selection of tandoori breads. I shoot the (hot) breeze with the cheery kitchen staff and oggle at their cookery as traffic noisily passes.
The ingredients seem CGI enhanced. Their freshness evident, their colours vibrant. The fellas – they are all fellas – swing into action. (We were denied several choices on the extensive menu and I twig that’s because they simply don’t have the fresh supplies. I wish more UK restaurants operated thus.) Even writing here I have started salivating again. As the pans heat, the ghee splashes in and the veggies join them. I wish you could’ve smelt it. Bugger. Am hungry AGAIN.
Ask a traveller what’s grand about Indian food you might well get a seemingly odd answer.
“Bread?” [you ask.]
Without knocking the UK food and curry industry, there is something extra special about an almost too hot to eat butter naan straight out of the tandoor on an Indian roadside. I note with a smile we are all eating ravenously, appreciatively, unselfconsciously. The restaurateur is highly concerned about the mains: “it’ll be too spicy!” he exclaims with a head bobble. It isn’t. It’s flavoursome. He’s a lovely, warm chap with an easy smile and appears to be wearing clothes that haven’t been washed, well, ever. His industrious team seem to be having the time of their lives too. We eat a little more. He arrives again with more fresh, hot bread.
He hands it to me. No, no, not the plate. He hands me the bread.
‘Scuse fingers I think with a chuckle.
(Medic! A germaphobe has fainted at table three! Bring the jumbo vat of extra-strong hand sanitiser.)
We pay. It’s 1426IRP. For four. Fifteen quid with a tip.
I then realise that three or so years ago I randomly walked in here with my Mum and sister. We stayed in a hotel nearby, went for a stroll and – via an Indian wedding – ended up here by following our noses. By the power of Gilly we are somehow delivered here again at random. Jaipur is massive by the way. What are the chances?
So, Shri Ram Hotel. Highly recommended for a good value lunch if you’re passing.