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Monday, 26 July 2010

Kadiri's, 26 Willesden High Road, Willesden

Cecil Rhodes once claimed that to be born an Englishman is to have won the lottery of life. While that was possibly true when he wrote it, and may even be true now to a degree, it has never applied to food. I’ve always thought that to be born Italian is to have won the lottery of eating. But even the Italians, with all that olive oil, all those tomatoes, and all that pasta, even the Italians don’t make curry.

One day, I’ll write a book about curry houses I’ve known and loved. From Tamarind to Tayyabs, The Painted Heron to The Lahore Kebab House, if the answer isn’t curry, then the question’s wrong. Whether it costs 80 pounds and boasts a Michelin star or sets you back a tenner and lets you bring your own booze, this food is always the right option.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of curry houses in London. The very best fall into two camps: the cheap, cheerful and sizzling, and the expensive, refined and subtle. Geographically, the places to go are out East, or Wembley way, or in Southall (which is so far West it’s not even really London). There are a couple of crackers in town too, in Mayfair and Soho. In my experience, West London and slightly North West has always been a little bit of a curry hinterland. Yes, there are restaurants. Some of them are fine. But I’ve never been to a really brilliant one.

So when I heard positive things about Kadiri’s in scruffy Willesden, I wasn’t expecting too much. The menu looked the part, but still, it was in Willesden.

So how was it? Good. Very good.

We couldn’t decide what to eat, but after the obligatory popadums – thin, delicate and not at all greasy – we decided to go for broke. It’s a sign of a really good place when the menu inclines you towards the vegetable curries, and with chana daal, paneer with spinach and coconut (palak paneer), and aubergine curry, we were so inclined. But limiting yourself is no good either, so we also ordered a ‘small’ mixed grill and the house speciality, mutton biryani, just to ensure we had enough. Oh, and pesharwi naan too. And mango lassis.

They came together at our request, but I’ll deal with them in the order, roughly, that I tried them. First, the grill, where lamb chops were explosively flavoured with ginger and garam masala, tandoori chicken was colourful and lamb mince kababs were juicy and chilli-heavy. For a small portion, it was enormous - £11.95 for ten large, beautifully cooked pieces of meat. I always think you can tell a lot about a curry restaurant by its lamb chops. Kadiri’s, while not in the same league as the best I’ve ever had (The Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel), were great. Probably in the top five.

The other litmus dish for a curry house is daal. And boy, this daal was good - garlic and burnt garlic, salt and turmeric, spilt chickpeas and all sorts of other goodness. On the thin, sweet peshawri naan, stuffed with mango, the daal was truly wonderful, though you'll taste the garlic for days afterwards.

The aubergine curry was less exciting, but also perfectly cooked. Often, aubergine in curry disintegrates. Sometimes, it’s too greasy. Occasionally, it gets lost in the other flavours, all the onions and cumin and paprika. This did none of those things. It was a relatively unambitious, well-executed and no-nonsense dish. It was delicious.

I’ve never liked paneer. I’ve always lumped it in with halloumi as a cheese that is invariably badly cooked. If I want to chew rubber, I’ll ... um, perhaps not. But a visit to Greece earlier this year taught me that I was wrong about halloumi. And Kadiri’s taught me that I had misjudged paneer too. This was glorious. The spinach and coconut sauce was not too sweet, though it felt creamy and indulgent. But the revelation was the texture of the cheese itself, soft but coherent, and with none of that horrible squeaky texture I used to dread.

Lastly, there was the house special, complete with kitsch earthenware pot. In a meal with many highlights, this was the highest lit. The mutton was so slow cooked as to be melting. The surrounding rice was cardamom and saffron heavy. The ensemble was luxurious and slightly fatty – so rich and yet, still, so clean. I’ve never had one like it, but I will have it again.

Unfortunately, there were just two of us, and my wife, Cute Letts, had eaten some chips after work so hadn’t brought her A-game appetite. We had lots left over. The excellent waiting staff barely batted an eyelid when we asked them to box it all up for us to take home. I’ve had it twice since. We spent £60 pounds on this meal, including service and a before unmentioned large bottle of sparkling water, and it was worth every penny. If we’d have ordered sensibly (i.e., just the paneer, daal and mutton), it would have been less than half that.

They also do feasting dishes – one family had an entire leg of lamb come out while we were there. It looked great, and they devoured it in about 10 minutes. Perhaps the only thing to note is that the restaurant does not sell alcohol, and it doesn’t let you bring your own – no great problem, but worth knowing before you go.

I live in NW10, and now I have a restaurant locally that sells excellent curry (and delivers it). So I’m happy.

Phil Letts' take: 8/10

Kadiri's on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review, we definitely have to check out the place some time, still haven't made it there.

    I'm no expert in curry places but there is another one closer to our place (by the Willesden Green tube station) called Spice6 which you might want to try out as well.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Glad you liked the review. I'll definitely check out Spice6. You can never have too many options when it comes to curry!

  3. Well it sounds flippin great, even if it is, as you say, in Willesden. I mean, Willesden!! Absolutely agreed on the dahl - it's one of those benchmark dishes.

  4. Thanks Helen. I feel like we're being a little harsh on Willesden. It's not that dull. Just a little grey.

  5. Dont waste your time (& money) with Spice 6 their dishes are way too greesy and its all too pretentious! Kadiri's is where real food is which is why its been at that same location for over 35 years while many other restuarants have tried and failed! Truely a polished gem in "scruffy" Willesden! NB...

  6. Afer reading the review "Dont waste your time (& money) with Spice 6" I took a chance and went there with my girl friend, Thanks to that anonymous reviewer to introduced us such a lovely place. what a great food and excelent service and decor which you can not compare to kadiri's in any way.....I wish spice6 also complete their journey of success. we need a place like that in our area.
    9 out of 10 for spice6

  7. Ok people, I'm calling time on suspiciously positive/negative comments from 'anonymous' writers who happen to feel very strongly about Kadiri's/Spice 6. Keep it for the playground, children, or at least disguise your employer better.

  8. I'm an indian living in NW London and this is my favourite Indian restaurant. A bit expensive, but the food is fantastic. Too often with Indian restaurants the place is really loud, a bit unhygienic, too busy; Kadiri's is none of those things. Classy but understated too. Staff friendly also. I go with my family at least once a month. Went for a birthday dinner there last month with friends and they were very accommodating (cake/candles etc.) I'm not a very adventurous eater and I can't handle hot dishes - the shame! - so their butter chicken does it for me. Awesome!