Khan’s of Kensington
Out west again this week, mainly due to that fact that m’learned colleague had an early evening job come in on Curry Night standing in the corner of the Natural History Museum under the Baryonyx skeleton getting paid to antagonise the very rich with that old favourite, mainstream jazz. Freed of his duties at 8pm, we arranged to meet at the station at 8.15.
On the way down, I noticed this-
It might not look like much, but then it hit me-because the Jubilee platforms at Bond Street are currently closed for what the TFL website refers to as “Station Upgrade Work”, the map has been altered to show no interchange between the Jubilee and Central line. As dull as this is in itself, its implication is huge. This particular map was one of around ten glued up near the sliding doors on the carriage upon which I was riding. That means on this one train alone, when the engineers shut down Bond Street Jubilee, all sixty maps across the six cars had to be changed. Across all 526 trains on the network, that makes 31,560 maps. And then there’s the big ones on all the stations. A few calculations in the notebook reveal that this represents around three hundred cubic metres of Evo-Stick. Maybe they should have just glued the tiles back on the walls with some of that and saved themselves all the bother. Still, it’s these little details which keep one’s affection for the tube system and its infrastructure boiling. The geography of The Gables and London’s Glittering West End means that I am a fairly infrequent user of the Piccadilly line, so it always comes as something of a treat. Being quite a lot less bendy than the other deep-level lines, it was decided in the early 1970’s to build a fleet of trains for it with rather longer carriages than before. This was in part a reflection that the line was soon to be extended out to Heathrow, and so part of the brief would be for the cars to accommodate customers (Ug) with heavier baggage. The upshot of this is that you get the roomiest ride available on the deep tube, and some rather flashy 1970’s design survives in the carriages. Just dig that crazy font on the maker’s nameplate inside the sliding door, baby!
I got on the Piccadilly line at Green Park, where, to give things a Hitchcockian frissance, North-west meets West. Anyone used to this journey will be familiar with this tunnel-
As you can see, it’s quite long, and it is lined with these teeny teeny teeny weeeeeny tiles, cutely enough in the colours of the two intersecting lines in a style reminiscent of the opening credits of “Ocean’s Eleven” (The proper one, with Frank and Dean in)
Now again, I fully accept that on the face of it, I have just served up another king-sized portion of tedium, but like the map, it’s the implication that counts. I’d say that tunnel’s about two hundred foot long, and you can judge for yourself the height and width. I’d also say that those are half-inch tiles. People called Cyril, Stan and Alf will have laid each one. I only hope that they made it up as they went along- imagine follwing a plan for that lot! Imagine drawing it!! It must have taken ages and cost a fortune. Why? Because the Underground is the greatest art installation on the planet, or rather just beneath its surface. It makes the terracotta army look like a silly collection of toy soldiers. I just hope that Cyril, Stan and Alf’s descendants, when walking down this tunnel, get a little shiver of pride. They deserve it.
Other art was available in the tunnel too. I was a bit late on the way in, so I barely registered the Asian lad having a patchy go with a tabla on the busking pitch there. Oddly, he was sat in a corner being largely ignored beneath the tiling of extreme historical interest while Callum and the chaps were up the road on the surface in a corner being ignored beneath a dinosaur of extreme historical interest. Like the tube maps, extrapolating these figures suggests that upwards of four hundred musicians were being pro-actively ignored in the greater London area at that precise moment. The reason it did register at all was that it was so different from the generic hippie with the grey ponytail and the guitar doing Wonderwall, or worse still the bloke with the sax playing the first bit of Take Five over and over again. I’d hazard a guess that if there was an “I-Spy Buskers” book, a tabla player would be worth at least thirty points. As I said, at 19.58 hours, the tabla playing was a bit patchy, sounding in the booming acoustic rather like a builder finishing off putting in a new kitchen by quickly bashing an Ike bread bin together. By the time 23.42 rolled around, I was making the return journey back through the tunnel all full of spicy niceness and beer and was greeted upon my entrance by a hail of incredibly complex Indian polyrhythms delivered at machine-gun speed. He was still there, and was very thoroughly warmed up- not only firing on all four, but with rocket boost on as well, the mildly tiddly of Green Park were treated to a virtuoso performance. I was transfixed, but I did remember to go and give him a couple of quid. A chat ensued. His name is Shif and apparently I’d witnessed the end of his show, and he was going off home for the night. Here he is, proudly displaying some rather splendid blisters earned over the evening along with the large bag of 50p’s. Those of you contemplating a boiled egg for tea might want to look away-
South Ken station offers a variety of approaches, the high level Circle and District lines, and the deep level Piccadilly line some seventy feet below. As we’d had a bit of a Victoriana orgy last time on our trip out to Parson’s Green, I’d elected to come in from underneath on the Piccadilly. As you’d expect, the upstairs bits were built first, in 1860, and the deep level stuff rather later, in 1906. At the time of its construction, areas of the upstairs station were owned by two different companies and the downstairs bit by a third, so it comes as little surprise that the South Kensington Tube experience is a bit of a mishmash dictated by changing demands over time. Downstairs we have a fine platform adorned with big tiled bands in the livery colour. These are called “Yerkes Hoops” and are named after the American mining engineer Charles Tyson Yerkes who designed much of the early deep level tube here in London. He then went on to repeat the trick in Manhattan, and inadvertently led to Billy Strayhorn writing “Take The A Train” for Duke Ellington, but that’s a story for the regular Plog, which I’m saving up for a week when the newsdesk at The Gables is running a little quiet. Anyway, here’s the Yerkes Hoops, platform, and departing 1973 stock train as they appeared yesterday evening-
Up until the early 1970’s you’d get to the street level from here by lift, and then out of a separate building to the District line bits. This was all changed by the installation of a connecting tunnel and vestibule joining it all up underground, but I sense that the troubled three-day week, power-cut ridden events of the time took their toll on the budget and that the phone didn’t ring for the artistry of Cyril, Stan and Alf. Here we see a confused mish-mash of tiles, some in the older 1920’s biscuit colour and some rather cheap shabby looking ones in classic 1770’s Biba Orange.
On the other wall we see all sorts of devices piled up, like bric-a-brac in the village hall awaiting a cubs’ jumble sale. The tiling could use a drop of that Evo-Stick left over from the night of map-sticking, by the looks of things, but by far and away the ugliest thing on display here is the advert for ugly Sky TV. Do they really think it’s on to try and earn money from trying to show us stuff like this, and worse still, to advertise it? It’ll be pay-per-view public floggings and executions next, you mark my words.
It’s odd that with South Kensington being one of the poshest bits of London that its main transport hub is this shabby, but this seems to be a pattern emerging from study of the network. The real pearls are out in the suburbs, where clear thought and concept has been left like undriven snow before the muddy foot of changing need has turned it all to slush. However, it’s really only this middle bit that looks this way. Upstairs, you get some wonderful Victorian brickwork on the District Line platform-
And once you are through the unadorned functionality of the booking hall, you rise into a pretty arcade, topped with this lovely glass roof-
Just before we leave the station, there is a further relic from the Old Days, which although not exactly beautiful, can be judged to be well worth a look. As you leave the deep level platforms, cast an eye into the big ventilation grilles which stand there from floor to ceiling. These are where you’d have got in the lift in the old days, and the lift shafts are still there, evoking all kinds of conspiracy related imaginings of a subterranean giant insect civilisation living just under London, Scooby-Doo, ghosts of Victorian engineers, underground missile silos etc etc etc. Woooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Getting to Khan’s from the station isn’t that complicated. You come out of the Arcade and walk away from the booking hall and there it is. I found the panorama function on the new camera and came up with this to illustrate the point. Khan’s is the red neon sign on the Right, the Tube on the left.
Khan’s has mixed reviews online, as I found out googling on the journey home. Most of them centre on unfriendly service and some take the food to task for being bland and geared to the tourist palette. In the spirit of proper inverstigative journalism, or laziness, we were unaware of all this when we went in. It was the one nearest the station. I have to say that both accusations, last night at least were largely unfounded. It’s fair that the older chap who I guess was the boss was just a shade surly, but his lads were polite and helpful. It’s a modern place inside, with plain walls and big arty canvasses. It smelled great, and was nice and full with the hungry of Kensington. Poppadoms were produced with chutneys as soon as we sat down. These aren’t free, but this is a night out in Kensington. It’s going to cost, because the ground rent here is astronomical. In any case, pops are going to occur anyway, it’s a curry. The menu was smaller than most places, which I took to be a good sign. We had Tandoori lamb chops, chicken tikka and prawns in salt and chilli for starters. Main course portions turned up,and generous ones too so if you’re not that hungry, go for sharing. To be fair, tandoori dishes appeared on the menu only in the main course section, slightly confusingly labelled starter/main. Given the lager which had been, er, sampled, appetites were running high, so it was all good news for your intrepid roving team. The chicken was extremely tender and lightly spiced. Although not as strongly flavoured as some others I’ve had in my time, accusations of blandness I think would be unfair. There was plenty going on here, most of it of a delicate nature. The lamb chops were heavier in flavour and rich in texture, and from premium juicy stock, and had had a twist of lemon juice applied by the chef to zing through the heaviness-very nice. These were really rather good, and conformed to Long’s First Law Of Lamb Chops, which states “There is no upper limit on the amount of Lamb Chops which can be consumed in one sitting”. The prawns were great, big and fresh, but cooked as they were in a light crust of salty spices, had a Chinese sort of thing about them. As nice as they were, they jarred a little with the heavier Indian flavours on the meats. Go for these if you need to make yourself appear gentle and sensitive.
This is what the main course looked like-
Centre stage at the front is a very nice keema nan. On the extreme left we have (yet another) pint of Cobra, and working towards the right we see green beans in garlic, a Goan green chicken curry and a Goan fish curry, made with, in this case, rather tender salmon. The menu makes quite a lot of the Goan end of things, despite the joint being Bangladeshi. When I was a kid at college, I played in a Goan wedding band, and so I got used to the milder take on things enjoyed by the Goans. The beans in garlic were pretty much what they said on the tin, which reminds me to comment that the spinach in the chicken curry was, I suspect, exactly what it said on its tin, but notwithstanding that, it had a good pungent savouriness and a welcome dark aftertaste, which reminded me of the green Goan curry that the Goan caterers used to churn out by the vat load in Wandsworth Town Hall, only with more polite tourist like levels of salt, garlic and fat. The salmon curry was light and quite sweet. Very mild, this would be a good entry-level dish for curry ingénue. Who likes salmon.
I’d say that the strengths of this one lie in its tandoor. The lamb chops were excellent, the tandoori chicken was very good and the rest was fine. A bit pricey at £50 a head, but then the starters were big, we were in a posh bit of town, and there was quite a bit of Cobra involved. Very handy for the tube, it’s fine for a dinner when working at the Albert Hall.
Khan’s of Kensington
3 Harrington Road
London SW7 3ES
Telephone: +44 (0)207 584 4114