I'm sure you guys have gathered by now that I LOVE my food - I'm more likely to get excited about a pasta dish or some Mexican spice than I am about a pair of perfectly fitting jeans or some new perfume. I love to try foods from all different countries, and I love that about travelling - it opens you up to trying certain cuisines you might not previously have had on your radar. This isn't just true of those adventuring across the Moroccan desert or holidaying on the Italian coast - how about all those times you go away for the weekend and eat at a new restaurant? Sometimes it's great just to venture out of your home-town and to try a new restaurant in a brand new city. I know whenever I go away, whether to Brighton, Oxford, Norwich or London, I always make it my business to try different and new restaurants that either open me up to a different culture's food, or I like to try brand new dishes I haven't come across before. For me, it's all about pushing boundaries and testing your taste-buds with new flavours and making life, and your palate, just that little bit more exciting. So, as you can imagine, I was very excited to be invited to review an already critically-acclaimed Camden restaurant - conveniently when I already happened to be visiting London.On Saturday, the boyfriend and I went along to Namaaste Kitchen, a grill and modern Indian restaurant in the heart of Camden Town owned by chef Sabbir Karim, winner of The Best Chef Of The Year 2012. As I'm sure you'll agree, after reading a bit about the restaurant on their website, I had high expectations and was keen to try their authentic Indian and Pakistani grills. As a half-Tamil girl, who has been raised by a Mauritian father on a diet of authentic curries, biriyanis and plenty of spice, I'd argue my expectations were a lot higher than those of the average curry-lover. After growing up eating the real thing, not just these over coloured and over oily sauces they sell in the supermarkets, I am a hard woman to please when it comes to a good curry. But I was excited when I saw the chic little restaurant tucked away on one of the main streets just a couple of minutes' walk from Camden Town tube station. We were given a warm welcome by the staff, who took us to our table and settled us with some drinks. Now wine in restaurants is a big deal-breaker for me, it's so hard to choose from a list on a menu and often the ones listed can be a bit of a let-down. These were anything but, Mark tried the Sauvignon Blanc while I tasted the Pinot Grigio and both were delicious and smooth, perfect accompaniments for the food.We were brought those well-loved Indian hors d'oeuvres, poppadoms with a selection of sauces and dips - something so simple, but very effective if served with the right combination of flavours. I was impressed to see something slightly different to the standard offerings of most Indians - these had a trio of a spicy tomato chutney, a fresh green chilli and coriander dip and a mango chutney. All three were delicious and complemented each other well - I also loved the table-wear the restaurant served the food on. All of the plates and dishes were really nice and I loved the slate the starter was served on. Speaking of starters, we tucked into the rather tasty dishes - Mark had the Jungle Style Char Grill Lamb Kebab (Hunters favourite grilled lamb escalopes served with fresh mint sauce) which was a fabulous dish that started out fresh and left your taste-buds tingling with the chilli after-taste of the mint sauce. I ordered the Tandoori Aatish-e-Jingha on Grilled Pineapple (Jumbo prawns marinated in English mustard, carom, yoghurt and special spices) and oh my goodness it was good. So spicy and warming with the zingyness of the mustard and prawns, but the sweetness of the pineapple - which is one of my favourite fruits and not one I have tried alongside savoury dishes before. Both dishes were really delicious and were presented beautifully on the slates.Between dishes, I have to say there were one or two things I wasn't so keen on - the music selection in the restaurant was pretty dire with some kind of Crazy Frog Christmas song being played not once, not twice, but THREE times during our meal. Something a bit more chilled would be much better for the ambiance. But it certainly didn't detract from the food or our enjoyment of the meal. I was slightly disappointed to see that the hand-dryer didn't work in the ladies loo, things like this either need fixing straight away or there should be towels left for those dining. But, these were just very small issues within an absolutely delicious meal in a great little restaurant. The meal continued as our mains came out, and again we tried different dishes to get a taste for the menu. This time, I ordered the Tandoori Rubiyan Duck with Roasted Tiger Prawn (Glazed with pomegranate and star anise, served with tossed garlic baby spinach salad) which was beyond anything I expected. I love eating duck in Indian dishes because it is always so meaty compared to Chinese or Asian dishes, in which I can often find it fatty. The meat was beautifully cooked and the tandoori spices really melded well with the richness of the meat, combined with the freshness of the salad it really was a delight for the taste-buds. I ordered some Basmati rice to accompany it and we shared a Peshawari naan as well - both perfectly cooked and the naan brought a lovely sweetness to the meal that wasn't overpowering at all.Mark's dish came out and I think I saw a little flicker of fear cross his face, mixed with serious determination as his eyes fell on his Dumpukht Biryani (Famous recipe from Delhi, finest basmati rice cooked on Dum - sealed with a pastry lid - with Welsh lamb, served with raita). It was by no means a small dish, and even the waiter said it was not a dish that was supposed to be finished, but he gave a valiant effort. I know from experience that every single time my dad has every cooked biryani we have spent the next week eating it, or it has filled the freezer - you just can't cook a small one! The flavours again were amazing and the lamb was so tender it almost melted in your mouth, and the rice was so tasty. While I polished mine off, Mark's was very much the kind of dish you are desperate to finish because it is so delicious, but your body just physically can't do it. In the end he had to give in, but he gave it a damn good go and we finished the meal with smiles on our faces and full bellies. Sadly we were too stuffed for a dessert, but they had a great selection which was far more extensive than those I have previously found on the menu at Indian restaurants.Overall - pretty bloody impressed. This is more than just your average Indian restaurant, this one packs a good punch full of flavour and spice. You get all those authentic flavours that are sometimes lost in Indian restaurants in favour of the greasier, over-spiced and tomato-heavy dishes, but with a modern twist that looks pretty spectacular and really colourful on your plate. This is a great place to go on date or with a small group of friends, being a small restaurant it could get pretty loud with a big group - although you would be very well looked after by the attentive team. I would love to go back and check out the food being cooked live in front of the diners, which unfortunately wasn't on until the evening. I think this would be great entertainment, and how much fresher can you get? I would really recommend you check this place out next time you're in London and fancy a meal with a bit of a kick.
Have you tried out Namaaste Kitchen - what did you think? What are your favourite Indian dishes to eat out and have you got a favourite one to cook?
It's been a full three years now since I finished university. That's 36 months since we packed up our shot glasses, binned all those piles of notes and said a tearful goodbye. It was a hard goodbye for my group, most of us had been together from the very beginning of first year and we were very close. We shared everything, from drunken nights out, to stresses over exams, to boyfriend troubles and across two houses, we even lived together. There was no escape, and yes we annoyed the hell out of each other at times, but there was also a lot of love there and I knew these girls would always have my back.Three years on and I was right to think that, because they still have my back and still mean the world to me. I'm lucky to have such a brilliant, beautiful, fun and smart bunch of girls as my friends and I love that no matter how far life takes us away from each other, we always know where to turn when we are in trouble or need advice. These girls have helped me through some of the hardest times, and have celebrated with me through some of the best - but the fact that they have been there throughout is something that means a lot. When you leave university, particularly when you are scattered across the country, it is hard to keep in touch. You all get jobs, have partners, set up new homes and generally live very separate lives. It takes a certain amount of effort in order to maintain the friendship, and yet at the same time, you all have to be happy to often not speak for months and then catch up loads over a weekend. I love that with these girls, we are all so close that when we see each other after a long time has passed, that feels like we have never parted ways.So why is a friendship forged at university such a different one to those from back home? Well in many ways they are much the same, but the fact that you are thrown in with complete strangers and forced to live together from the start always forges a different kind of intimacy that you often won't have with those from back home. But what is it about these friendships that make them so long-lasting?
Of course it isn't all sunshine and roses for everyone, and I know a few people who have hated the "friends" they made in first year. I know of times when people have struggled to make friends because of circumstances or things have turned and they've found themselves alone. It is horrible when things like this happen, and knowing these stories makes me all the more grateful that I met such a fantastic bunch of like-minded girls. Yes we all have our similarities, and that is what brought us together, but we also have our differences and I think that is what has made this a lasting friendship. Last weekend, we had our most recent reunion and once again it was like no time had passed. A weekend spent in Camden, where one of the girls is now living, wandering around the market, sitting on a roof terrace and then dancing the night away with plenty of cocktails. Just what we all needed - plenty of chance to catch up on all the amazing things everyone is doing and enough time to plan another meet-up.
Why do you think you have such long-lasting friendships with those you meet at university? And do you still meet up with your pals from uni or have you guys drifted apart?