We are very much creatures of habit, my wife and I. I sometimes think how nice it would be to be exciting; to be able to just think, on the spur of the moment, let’s go and see this friend or visit that theme park/zoo or take a last-minute trip to Copenhagen for the weekend (let’s assume for a moment that money isn’t a forgotten luxury). Part of our attachment to routine is down to the parent thing of course, but that’s not the whole story. To illustrate my point, my wife, without a flicker of irony, once made a New Year’s resolution to be more spontaneous. She failed.
So when we are in the happy position of having some time to ourselves and choose to spend it in a restaurant, we invariably return to one of a small handful of places that we know we can trust. We have lived in Nottingham for closing on ten years and in all that time we’ve probably only been to twenty local restaurants, and would heartily recommend only half of those. We view it as a positive thing when the owners and staff start to recognise us in an eatery; expansion of our horizons occurs most frequently when one of our favourites happens to open another venue. Conversely, when we discover one of our hit list has closed, we take it very hard, and that happened a couple of months ago when I was compiling my eating out guide.
Nottingham, like most UK cities, has a good collection of Indian restaurants, and there are half a dozen or so in very close proximity on Maid Marian Way (yes, really) to the west of the city centre. I’ve always liked open kitchens (less opportunity for staff to take disgusting revenge for perceived slights) so was attracted at first sight to the inaccurately-named 4550 Miles From Delhi, not least because of the autorickshaw embedded in the wall; having visited Calcutta a few years ago and travelled in one of these “vehicles”, I can confirm this is a reasonable representation, as I certainly spent most of my journey expecting to end up embedded in something.
Our first visit coincided with my wife taking on two new staff members just before Christmas and deciding, in an uncharacteristically impromptu manner, to have the office (all three of them) Christmas party at 4550. The evening that followed wasn’t quite out of the little book of good management’s chapter on inducting new staff, but was an utterly hilarious evening punctuated by tequila slammers and very forgiving waiters. Somewhere through the haze of the following morning we recalled very tasty food and excellent service, and vowed to return.
Since then under its roof we have collected many happy memories. My brother-in-law, celebrating his birthday just before Christmas, and I regretted having played who-can-eat-the-most when the waiter, accompanied by the discordant harmonies of a hundred Yuletide revellers, brought over a large and unexpected birthday cake, which we felt obliged to eat. On another occasion, I added to my portfolio of quotable quotes with my work colleague’s horrified and now oft-repeated assertion that “you should never have to pay more than a fiver for a curry”. And we made my best friend cry minutes after he claimed to lack sentimentality (“we’re going to name our son after you”).
So after hearing that this establishment was “closed for refurbishment” recently, and knowing what that often means in the context of the currently fragile economy, we genuinely felt like we had lost a friend. But on the way to eat nearby before a visit to the theatre last weekend we walked past 4550 and lo – it was open for business. We hastily amended our destination, advised the manager we were going to a show in a little over an hour’s time, and within fifteen minutes our order was on the table, accompanied by a complimentary side dish. The food and service have suffered not a jot from the temporary closure, with my wife enjoying a fresh and spicy dish with the slightly amusing name of Tak-a-Tak, and my choice being a jalfrezi with beautifully succulent chicken.
I’ve been to half a dozen other Indian restaurants in Nottingham and none match 4550 for the combination of quality food, immaculate service, pleasing environment and bubbling ambience. Memsaab comes a creditable second place but I fear we may now be barred: it was to there we were originally heading at the weekend…