Little Inns of Soho – the Koh-i-Noor

From a small book Little Inns of Soho (1948) this review of one of the few London Indian restaurants at that time.

The book is by Penelope Seaman (daughter of Owen?).

29 Rupert Street
Telephone GER. 3379
Closes 11 p. m. Open on Sundays till 11 p. m. Unlicensed.

From vegetarianism to Indian food seems rather a long step. But many delicious Indian dishes are made with a vegetable base, such as dhal (of lentils, onions and curry sauce) and, of course, all the various accoutrements that go with a good Indian curry. Pickles and chutney are difficult to obtain nowadays and one substitute used consists of strips of onion flavoured with red pepper. One very delicious chutney is made from onions and mint. Bay leaves are also frequently used for all flavourings.

There are some four Indian restaurants in the West End of London; and the Koh-i-Noor is one of five run by the brothers Vir in Great Britain. Krishna Vir, who comes from Delhi, looks after the London, Cambridge and Brighton restaurants and his brothers run the ones at Oxford and Manchester.

The Koh-i-Noor has been in Rupert Street since 1932. Mr. Vir is very conscious of its war shabbiness but this does not strike the visitor so much, for its wall decorations give the appearance of sunlight, high peaks and deep, green valleys. The candelabra is ornate in the eastern manner and the restaurant consists of one long, narrow room.

The biggest part of the clientele consists of English people, largely those who have travelled and who like Indian cooking, although an English menu is also provided. During summer months numbers of Indians on vacation come in. It is they who demonstrate the correct way of eating chapatis, a form of unleavened bread, with your curry. The English cut them up but the Indian rolls them in his fingers and dips them in the sauce.

Soyaghetti** now replaces the ever-needful rice; and Puri (a fried bread), and stuffed Paratha (a bread ball filled with minced meat, vegetables and spices), are appreciated by hungry people. Bhajee is another Indian dish, of vegetables braised and specially flavoured. Kofta curry is prepared with meat-balls, and Bhuna Ghost is the name given to curried roast meat. Kebab, an Asiatic dish popular also with Greeks, consists of specially skewered and grilled meats.

There are not a great many specifically Indian sweetmeats from which to choose but one known as Gulabjaman looks like a small sausage and tastes rather like a dull semolina. One, however, that has an entrancing taste and is a great favourite is Jalebi. Resembling an English brandy-snap, it loks intricate but in reality is simple to make. From a large bowl of fermented flour-battter the cook takes a spoonful and forces this in ringlets through an icing tube into a pan of smoking fat. Within a minute or so it is cooked and is then served luscious with warmed syrup.

The Koh-i-Noor is one of the few Soho restaurants that are open on Sundays.

**'Soyaghetti' (1943) was a soya bean meal compressed into small grains as a substitute for rice. It was almost tasteless, but fairly popular until rice again became freely available.

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