What’s in a name? I’m in Southall to review Brilliant restaurant, and my greedy fingers are crossed that it’s as brilliant as it says it is. Apparently, both Prince Charles and Boris are fans, and with “Curry Queen” Dipna Anand at the culinary helm of this Ealing landmark, my hopes are high.
When Anand isn’t walking around Southall with Mary Berry on BBC2, cooking up a curry storm with James Martin, or teaching at her own School of Cookery in west London, you’ll find her in the kitchen of her family restaurant which has been a local foodie institution since 1975. It serves up North Punjabi cuisine with Kenyan flavours, and includes prized recipes handed down from Anand’s grandfather. She’s the fresh face of the curry empire, but her father Gulu is still very much in the house, and he appears to be loved by those who stream in and out of the restaurant.
First things first, let’s get the tiresome Covid stuff out of the way. The staff take our temperature on arrival, and there’s a sanitiser station at the entrance to the restaurant. The waiters all wear masks and gloves, and in case you’re wondering, the loos look very clean.
We’re greeted by a handsome Ganesh, a resident at Brilliant since Gulu brought him over from Kenya all those years ago. I’ll admit the ground floor décor could do with a colour facelift (and a few candles wouldn’t go amiss). We go for a mosey around the first floor, a newer space and much brighter despite an absence of windows.
As we pore over the jam-packed menu, we tuck into a stack of warm papadoms. These are crispy and dry, without a trace of oily veneer. These come with all the usual condiments: pickled carrots, sharp lime pickle, and mint and mango chutneys.
We opt for a pescatarian menu, and as I am gluten and dairy-free, we steer away from anything with paneer, cream and yoghurt. Brilliant Restaurant has a full allergen menu, and it’s easy to pick a good selection of dishes on which I can happily munch. The manager is anxious to please, is knowledgeable about all the ingredients and checks with the kitchen when he’s not sure. I feel safe in the knowledge I am not going to eat something unwelcome tonight.
We start with the tandoori tilapia fish, a Punjabi dish cooked with carom and cumin. It is both salty and spicy and leaves a pleasing burn in the back of the throat. The chili mogos (cassava) are a little chewy. I prefer them crispier, but we still manage to clean most of the plate. We also opt for some traditional onion bhajis which are moreish and full of intense oniony flavour.
Onto the main event, and we order some succulent jumbo Karahi prawns. The crustaceans are swimming in a thick masala sauce with a base heat that teases and tickles.
No curry night would be complete without a serving of tarka dal, and I am happy to report that the lentils haven’t been pulverised, so the dish has an intense nutty texture. The pulses are soft and warm and deliver a serious chili kick. A naan for my husband, Mark, is cooked to crispy perfection, which sits happily in its own creamy puddle of butter.
The saag aloo (recommended to us by our friendly manager) puts the brilliant in Brilliant. It’s a flavour parade of irony spinach, mustard leaves, coriander and melt-in-the-mouth potatoes.
You could go with rasmalai, gulab jamun, kulfi or a warm chocolate brownie for afters, but these two tummies were as stuffed as a cheese paratha by the end of this gastro curry marathon. It’s a wrap in just over an hour for this Brilliant restaurant: a real diamond in the rough.
In a Nutshell
Verdict: an excellent authentic local Indian with Kenyan undertones. Just don’t expect any bells and whistles on the décor front.
Where it’s at: Southall’s busy Western Road, in the London Borough of Ealing.
You’ll thank me for this tip: try the moreishly delicious saag aloo. If your eyes are bigger than your stomach, ask for a doggy bag.
Address: Brilliant Restaurant, A72-76 Western Road, Southall, Middlesex, UB2 5DZ
I was a guest of Brilliant. As always, views and opinions are my own.