There are two stories behind this review, the first being that we were not intending to dine at the Gurkha at all, but at the Shepherd and Dog in Romford, inspired largely by its good local reputation among the Essex crowd. However, I looked at the menu online and saw essentially pub grub being sold at stupid prices. I mean, what do you have to do to shepherd’s pie to make it worth £18.95 or bangers and mash £13.95? That’s London fine dining prices for average dishes.
Presumably there are mugs with more money than sense prepared to pay those prices, but the inflationary spiral is not justified unless, for example, they were making their own sausages from very special rare breed pigs and cooking every single dish from scratch. Even very decent English bistros which make a real effort to serve excellent and innovative dishes from fresh seasonal ingredients would typically charge £4 or more less for comparable menu items – and I’ve reviewed many such.
Alas, no such evidence on the website, so on principle I cancelled the booking and sent the S&D an email inviting them to explain why ordinary food is being sold at extraordinary prices. If there is a reply I shall post it below. I did however get a text on my landline (the sort with the robotic voice, which demonstrates that they only expect mobile numbers to be used for contact details) telling me our reservation was cancelled.
Meantime, another venue was called for. My mind instantly sprang to a restaurant I’ve known about for a long time but never visited – The Gurkha. Why? Because it reminds me fondly of dining in Nepal, and also with my mother in another Gurkha restaurant in my home town of Wilmslow (see review of Ayo Gurkali.) It was such a successful evening, and unlike S&D, offered excellent value for money. This was an experience I’ve long wanted to repeat, though I’m unlikely to be back in Wilmslow for a while yet, so Chelmsford it had to be.
For the uninitiated, Nepalese food bears a strong similarity to and shares dishes with North Indian grub, but with sufficient variants to make this a novel taste for our jaded palates. None of the “boiled buff” eaten in Kathmandu but nonetheless some great and unique dishes, as discussed in Wikipedia’s article on the topic (see here.)
The other aspect of Nepalese that remains intact is that service is innocently enthusiastic and charming. You’d hope this was always the case with any ethnic variety, but losing the slightly cynical edge of other establishments makes for a welcome change – and I’m happy to report that the Gurkha was no different – barring one appalling mishap, of which more anon – but note that over the course of the evening we ordered one bottle of Gurkha beer, one large and one small glass of white wine and tap water, and nothing else.
The ambience was perhaps rather more 1990s English than Nepalese in character, though the only real issue was acoustics. My hearing is not great, so in the high volume from other tables I struggled to hear what my companion was saying from two feet away. This was definitely one of those occasions where a volume switch on the wall would have been very handy.
Eschewing some esoteric dishes in the process (tandoori scallops and a special comprising lamb, chicken, king prawn and salmon fish, for example) we chose for convenience the most expensive set dinner. This is not my habit in these cosmopolitan times, but it did provide a range of Nepalese foods for my companion, a Nepalese virgin (so to speak) to try. This comprised starters:
GURKHALI MOMO A popular delicacy, steamed lamb dumplings served with special chutney.
ALOO CHOP Mashed potatoes mixed with green peas, onion, ginger garlic and herbs. Covered in golden breadcrumbs and deep fried.
CHOILA Very popular starter of West Nepal. Grilled, diced chicken seasoned with Nepalese herbs, green chillies and mustard oil. Served cold.
Everyone knows an onion bhaji, and this was an excellent example, freshly cooked, judiciously spiced and very tasty. Aloo chops also proved delicious, though Choila was the unexpected hit, being very like some examples of chaat in the form of a cold, spiced Asian salad.
You may or may not be familiar with momo, though having eaten them since first trying at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Durbar Square in Patan, sadly damaged by the 2015 earthquake, I can report they are a distant cousin of the Japanese steamed gyoza dumpling and are delicious. The smell of the minced lamb filling was truly divine, and well matched by the orange coloured, mustard-tinged yogurty relish reminiscent of harissa that accompanied the dish.
So to the mains:
KUKHURA TIKKA Tender chicken pieces marinated in yogurt, herbs and spices, an original recipe from Pokhara.
STAFF CURRY Ghurkha’s own home style lamb curry, medium spiced. A famous Nepalese dish.
JIMBU DAAL cooked with Nepalese herbs and spices and treated with the Himalayan herb known as Jimbu.
Steamed rice and garlic naan.
Not much different to the chicken tikka, lamb in a curried gravy and tarka dahl, rice and naan you might get in any Indian, but each was high on the quality list, thus avoiding brown gloop syndrome. Chunks of chicken tikka arrived on a sizzler, reclining on a bed of sizzled onions, a far better than average rendition of what has sadly become a commoditised dish, courtesy of the catering industry. Luckily this version was freshly made, and all the better for it.
What I noted about Ayo Gurkhali was the careful spicing, such that the flavour of each came through separately, something that only occurs when you use very fresh spices in particular combinations. I’m happy to report that the Staff Curry (not made from slow-moving members of staff, so I am assured) achieved the same distinction, such that the ginger contained within came through late and very distinctly.
All well and good. Well – apart from the fact that Gaelic coffees arrived unannounced and certainly not ordered. Since they appeared we consumed them, assuming these to be on the house. Alas, when finally we got the bill (proving once again Millward’s theory that when you want to pay staff are never in evidence or at least are looking in the other direction, in this case to clear up a broken glass), there it was – we were being charged £8.50 for something we never ordered, nor were ever invited to order! In fact, I suspect we were given liqueur coffees requested by another table, in which case inefficiency is to blame.
Further investigation revealed further errors: we consumed only one beer, not two, but two were charged. Why did we not complain, you may ask? Simple – the other error was to charge for just one set dinner, not two, so overall we benefited from £10 of under-charging, but made up by leaving a decent tip.
My message to the restaurant is that you need to get your act together or you may find yourselves reported to trading standards very soon, not to mention out of pocket through a litany of errors strewn across a fairly simple check. I hope the party sitting opposite us checked their sizeable bill very carefully.
But this does not detract from what was a pleasant evening with good food, and in spite of the disastrous reckoning, still pretty reasonable value for money. I hope the Shepherd and Dog is paying attention.