Motijheed Restaurant, 53A Marchmont St, London WC1N

It’s good to be able to revisit one of the old style Indian restaurants of London. Marchmont St, where intellectual Bloomsbury, the social housing of the Brunswick Estate, and a newish Islamic presence overlap, is full of character, and this restaurant, which opened in 1969 and where the food is still brought up from the kitchen in the basement by pulleys to waiters who are not particularly chatty and deliver it to tables that are dangerously close to each other and hug the walls, is very old-school. The papadams you are encouraged to order while waiting for the main dishes come with trays of sweet and savoury condiments (raw onion among the latter), the way they traditionally do in Britain, and the samosas, full of diced peas and carrot, are accompanied by a big dollop of sweet tamarind sauce. The dahl tadaka is spicy, but to a safe level; the cauliflower dish is a bit cool when it comes to the table, although Indians do such wonderful things with this vegetable that all is easily forgiven, while the okra is pleasingly unctuous as you stir it into your rice. Such food is made to be washed down by a pint of lager.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had a quick meal at the Motijheed while working at either the old or the new British Library, and turning off the street while a gentle London rain is falling and climbing one step before squeezing into one of the old seats takes me back to earlier stages of my life. There are better Indian restaurants in this part of the world, but none for which I have such affection.  I salute what it does, and the society where it has flourished for so long.

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