North Punjab Indian Restaurant with a Kenyan slant – That’s Brilliant!
When a restaurant is called Brilliant it’s opening itself up for criticism. Fortunately, this famous Southall curry house, specialising in the cuisine of the North Punjab with a Kenyan slant, lives up to its name. I probably first went to Brilliant 30 years ago but the restaurant’s roots go back to Nairobi, Kenya in the 1950s when Bishen Dass Anand opened the first Brilliant restaurant along with a nightclub and hotel.
The family relocated to the UK In 1973 and two of Bishen’s sons, Kewal and Gulu opened the UK’s Brilliant in Southall as a 30 seat restaurant. Now able to cater for 220 covers the restaurant also has a private banqueting suite, an outside catering business, a cookery school and its own brands of pickles and chutneys. With the restaurant now being managed by the 3rd generation of the Anand family and celebrity fans including Gordon Ramsay, Prince Charles and Tina Turner it seemed like a great time to return to Southall and review Brilliant.
On a cold, rainy October night I was happy to find my way to the restaurant. It’s changed since my last visit and is now much bigger, though still intimate with low ceilings, wooden floors, granite tabletops, comfortable seating and mirrored panels. The menu was reassuringly familiar with the Brilliant greatest hits still present and correct.
We drank a cool pint of Indian Kingfisher Beer and a glass of a serviceable Sauvignon Blanc whilst munching on crisp, spiced poppadums served with a fiery selection of homemade pickles and chutneys. My favourites were a deliciously sweet mango chutney, pickled carrots and a sweet and sour tamarind and onion chutney.
We had 3 starters. Brilliant’s signature Jeera chicken, infused with roasted cumin and black pepper, was rich and fragrant. I took some home to my son (a student and a pretty ace chef), and with a bemused look on his face, because the dish was conceived pre-Instagram, he declared that it was the best chicken that he had ever eaten.
Mildly spiced Tandoori salmon came char-grilled with chilli flakes, chickpea flour and a hint of dill. The fish was moist and mildly spiced with the smokiness of the Tandoor oven not overwhelming its flavour.
Papri Chaat is one of my favourite Brilliant dishes. Robustly spiced chickpea and potato served topped with crispy savoury vermicelli, sweet-sour tamarind and cool yoghurt. It’s a classic plate of food that always makes me happy with a terrific mouthfeel, a collision of textures and a satisfying layering of flavours.
After the generous starters, we are a bit daunted by the thought of the mains courses to come. But I loved the masala fish, simmered in a spicy masala and finished with the bitter notes of carom and the sweetness of coriander. This was a deeply flavoured dish with roots. You could taste its heritage. It was the essence of umami.
Dal Makhani is another favourite dish – creamed black lentils tempered and seasoned with mild spices – it has an opulent earthiness and is extremely moreish!
I’m a big fan of okra so the dry bhindi curry was a must-try. Cooked up with sliced onions and flavoured with ginger and raw mango this was a delicious combination that was new to me – and there was no sign of okra slime!
With side dishes including a refined pilau rice, studded with peas, fresh ginger, garlic and cumin, a buttery, flaky Tandoori Lacha Paratha cooked in the clay oven, and a tangy cucumber salad this was a fabulous Punjabi feast with outstanding flavours and textural combinations.
A simple kulfi ‘ice-cream’ flavoured with ground pistachio and almonds was a cooling coda to the meal after all the heat and spice!
Brilliant Indian Restaurant broke new ground in the UK when it opened in 1973. The quality of the food offer allowed the restaurant to stand out from the too often generic competition. There have been some great Indian restaurants in London since those days some of which have won Michelin stars with food that looks as good as it tastes. But there is an authenticity and honesty about Brilliant that makes it still stand out from the crowd.
72-76 Western Rd,
020 8574 1928