As any fule kno, this country is scattered with hidden restaurant gems. Admittedly the concentration gets better as you approach the larger major cities and there are still vast swathes of the UK where "locally sourced" means "we picked it up at Iceland this morning". But it is getting better and, happily, my latest discovery Roz-Ana is only a little removed from the centre of London and a relatively short stroll from Norbiton station.
I was invited down by Oni Banurji, one of the owners and a friend of a friend. The message I received was that they reckoned a high proportion of Kingston / Norbiton locals were commuters and, as such, have probably had experience of more original, more upscale Indian cuisine al Tamarind or Veeraswamy et al. Why not, therefore, give them a similar smart and modern experience on their doorstep?
My local mate, the curry-addicted Pete, put it more succinctly. "Roz-Ana? It's a very good curry house, far more upmarket than your regular place but not up its own arse."
While Oni's comments are more likely to make it onto the posters, Pete also had a point. This is Indian cuisine elevated by excellent ingredients, a classy well lit setting, a decent little wine list and, most of all, by an exceptionally talented kitchen team - executive chef Deepinder Sondhi, formerly of Chor Bizzarre, Sitaaray and Tamarai, and Satya Jena, formerly of assorted five star hotels across India, Tamarind and Imli. I commented recently that Imli had gone substantially downhill. I think I've just found out why...
Roz-Ana translates as "come back every day" in Hindi. That works as both their philosphy and a neat summary of diner reaction. I recently went to Tamarind with my editor from 1 Degree and we had an excellent lunch that rattled, without any great effort, past the £200 mark. It was superb but value for money? Debatable. We ate like kings at Roz-Ana, with four starters, four mains, lots of bread, the best damn Dal Makhani I've had for many a year and some excellent, well-matched Pinot Noir and two puddings and only just broke the £100 barrier. Value for money? Hell yes. We only achieved that through blatant piggery. Had we been sensible, we could have brought lunch in at £30 a head and still have taken a doggy bag home.
Starters were beautifully presented, an artistic flourish before the more "family style" mains. Pete got quite poetic - Indian food'll do that to Pete - describing the starters as "summer - all light and clean" while the mains "gave way to autumn, with more robust portions and spicing."
So, the highlights. Seared scallops with lotus root crisps were exquisite
ditto coconut soft shell crab and Shahi salmon: the latter, in particular, was soft, moist, perfectly spiced and deceptively robust.
But then there were the lamb chops. I like Tayyabs' lamb chops, really I do, but these? So much more meaty, so much more tender, so lip-fizzingly spicy. When I get to this year's inevitable top ten dishes consumed, these bad boys will be up there.
On the main front, the breads - particularly the seeded sour dough naan - and the Dal could have kept me very happy. But the whole lambshank?
The Goan prawn curry? Both were superb. Even so, they were possibly trumped by the crackling-topped Pork Belly Vinha d'alhos (reminiscent of Simon Majumdar's excellent Portuguese-inspired recipe)
and... fanfare please: the Chicken Tikka Masala.
Sorry if that's made you splutter, and I'm fully expecting a backlash / the rescinding of any foodie rights I've earned over the years but let me finish. The dish is actually billed as Chicken Tikka Laphroaig Masala as Deepinder finishes the dish with a flambee of that bordering-on-the-medicinal Islay classic. You're left with a smokiness, an underlying peatiness that takes this often flabby Anglicised dish and shows its full potential. Come back everyday? With the promise of a couple of lambchops and a Laphroaig Tikka, I probably would if I lived any closer.
Even the puddings, generally never a strong point with Indian restaurants, impressed. Chocolate samosas - like chocolate fondant encased in the lightest of pastry - oozed comfortingly across the plate (with the Malibu cream adding a neat, charmingly retro counterpoint) but were just overshadowed by the Darjeeling Creme Brulee.
I usually subscribe to the "don't bugger about with it" school of thought re brulees, but this was a pleasing twist, although it took the accompanying cardamom cookies to really kick it into orbit.
Interestingly, as Oni had earlier promised, even with our quantity of ordering, there's a lightness to the food that doesn't leave you feeling sluggish. We wandered away replete and re-energised, our tongues still giddy with excitment.
A one word summary? GO.
4-8 Kingston Hill
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT2 7NH
Tel: 020 8546 6388