Friday 2nd December 2016.
As the year races to its conclusion, and life to its end, momentarily, here we found ourselves.
I mean, in location – Butlers Balti. Not, of course, suggesting anyone ‘found themselves’, which, let’s face it, is just flimflam straight out the funny pages. From what I’ve heard, having ultimately learned there was no one there to find in the first place, so-called self-finders are quite the opposite. A curious irony worthy of further investigation, some other time perhaps. What I mean to say is, before I vanish, everyone there was there and, probably, none of them knew who they were exactly, but, at minimum, they knew of their whereabouts.
Another concrete certainty was Butlers’ prescriptive ’mixed starter’ selection, established unequivocally on their set menu pdf’s. (Even a feature of the ‘Choice Menu’, oddly enough.) Which brings me to the subject of Chicken Lickin. You see, when it comes to Indian dining, I’m with Chicken Lickin: intrepidly open to new experience (yet sometimes, no Doubt, guilty of knee-jerk misjudgement). I wilfully welcome an acorn assault, so to speak: an attack of fried liver tikka; an onslaught of squid moilee even.
Despite its multiple conflicting endings and moral standpoints, the Chicken Lickin folktale seems to endorse my view, whichever way you look at it. For instance, in versions where Chicken Lickin is not consumed by the predatory Foxy Loxy the moral seems to advocate courageous, devil-may-care, self-assertion. In the versions ending in an avian massacre (Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey et al), though the moral turns volte-face (‘one shouldn’t believe everything one’s told’), the message remains: ‘think for oneself’. Which left me reflecting – grabbing a sizzling chicken wing amidst the undignified freeforall – whether pre-set menus will be the death of us, never mind the sky falling in.
Disappointment compounded as the meal unraveled. The pickle tray reduced to just four dips instead of the a la carte eight. No lime pickle nor mango chutney. The service, brisk, soulless and unfriendly. Requests for water, and then glasses, going sloppily unheeded. Even dinner plates had to be petitioned. Food-wise, the mixed starter was just about acceptable: seekh kebab, onion bhaji, chicken wing and tikka morsel. But the mains were found wanting, notably, my tame balti lamb barucchi and Andy’s underwhelming rogan josh. Kunal and Anil, our Indian visitors, were not challenged by the phall (pictured), lacking any tongue-numbing, anaesthetic properties. The stack of naan segments, the worst bread yet – limp, mildewed dish wipes.
A tortuous ascent to relieve oneself, if one conquers it, offers some rewards. Palatial upstairs nooks revealed whole dining rooms, long corridors of mysterious doors went unexplored. Solitary confines for erring waiting staff, gulping down their muted sobs? Summiteers mostly enjoyed the views of clean cut, moody decor… Back at base camp, don’t expect a whoop or cheer, or flying flags: nor hot towel, brow mop, snot rag. Merely an icy shard in the gob (in the shape of a mint imperial).
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Anil Kumar Singh