James Dahl is a restaurant which takes itself very seriously. There are house rules on the inside of the menu, which we’ll get on to later. There are not only speciality dishes, but connoisseur choices, which presumably were ordered by the likes of Craig Revel-Horwood and Ross Brawn who fill up the testimony pages on the website. A previous version of that very website had an inspiration page which featured Christopher Nolan, John F Kennedy, and Hans Zimmer. Yes, really. You get the feeling that had Celebrity Balti not been a mile up the road they would have taken that instead of naming the restaurant after an ancestor.
JFK still adorns the wall alongside Marilyn Monroe, whose inspiration is hopefully down to some liking it hot. So as not to contravene rule seven of staying more than one hour and forty-five we set to work with ordering. First poppadoms and a pickle tray we’re happy to pay the two quid for (it’s default with poppadom unless otherwise stated) given the impeccable quality of the chutney and sauces. We set to work on a singular bottle of Picpoul ensuring decorum in our overall behaviour (rule 5) and keeping noise to the minimum (rule 2).
Starters aren’t great. Actually, scrap that, the starters are dreadful. Both ‘special starters’, there is a nondescript white fish coated in a nondescript blend of powders tussled in a nondescript mess of onion, garlic, and pepper that crowds out everything except for a fishiness that likely indicates it wasn’t the freshest. Murgh Mirch, a dish reliant on a big whack of pepper, is tasteless. For one of my favourite things to eat it’s as underwhelming as the ending of The Prestige. Both come with a spiralised salad that makes about as much sense as Tenet.
It’s a connoisseur choice for the first main. The Original Harsa is likely for the OG’s who were inspired way before Harsa went commercial. In all fairness it’s the best thing we eat all night; a new dish to me, the sauce is a tomato based gravy with plump prawns and good chicken. I went for the Scotch Bonnet and Naga curry, a wise choice that I travelled back in time to order given how tasteless the starter was. The sauce is as big on spice as you would hope, maybe too one-note and lacking in complexity, but it’s fairly enjoyable. The egg fried rice is good, the breads not. I simply can’t believe something so doughy has been cooked in the tandoor fresh. As much a metaphor for the restaurant itself, they need to lighten up.
The bill arrives in a treasure chest along with two mint chocolates, which must make for the most disappointing find in history. It’s £87 between two, including a service charge which defies their own rule number 6 of applying it to tables of five or more. Strip the rubbish away from telling people how to behave, what to wear, or how the man who wrote the Star Wars music inspired your chicken tikka, and what you have is a semi-decent curry house a stone’s throw away from the brilliant Glee Club. But the other stuff, it’s ridiculous and unwarranted. We finish with nine minutes to spare before they presumably would have thrown us to the streets, leaving a tip as we walk out. Good job that’s permitted.