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You - 2021-10-10

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EATING OUT

TOM PARKER BOWLES & OLLY SMITH

I’ve been looking forward to Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen for a while. Ever since I first tried its at-home dishes, in lockdown, as was once the way. Hyderabad was the furthest outpost of the great Mughal Empire, a city where lavishly scented, courtly cuisine – with its fragrant echoes of Persia and Turkey – meets the thrilling tang and heat of the Andhran south. This was love at first bite. An easy stroll from Reading Station, the restaurant is small and softly lit, busy even past nine. The walls are painted a gentle terracotta, plants hang from the ceiling and there’s a cracking wine list from my old mate, Zeren Wilson. The only problem is the menu. We want it all. Every chat, pakora and pepper fry, each kofta, bhuna and daal. Now, Bill and me are serious eaters. I would go as far as to call us elite athletes in our own particular way. We certainly put in the training, and once managed ten different meals, ranging from tasting menus to tacos, in one particularly glorious (albeit ultimately dyspeptic) 12-hour Baja California bacchanal. But even we can’t break the entire menu. There are salty cabbage pakoras that wear their fragile batter like exquisite wisps of crisp silk, dunked in a green coriander chutney of bracing verdancy. And grilled jumbo prawns, the very essence of sweet succulence, lavished with mustard and ghee. Pork belly, the fat artfully rendered, is cooked in a thick chilli jam, the sweetness tempered by a sharp tamarind kick. Andhra-style chicken fry, heavy on the fresh chilli, curry leaves and seasoned salt, is Indian fried chicken on an almighty, epic level. These are just the starters. ‘Village style lamb’ is baked in a dough-sealed clay pot with onion, ginger, lots of chilli and a whole bulb of garlic. It tastes of love, and a life well lived, richer than the Nizam of Hyderabad, and every bit as mighty. Biriyani, also cooked in that clay pot, uses lamb loin, served pink. Each luscious grain is swelled with spiced, fecund delight. Even more remarkable is that chef and co-proprietor Sharat Syamala does all this alone. One man! Damn, he can cook. His wife, Nandana, runs front of house with warmth and charm. I cannot tell you how much I love this place. And there’s still half the menu to discover. Hey ho. Any excuse to return. About £30 per head. Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen, 45 London Street, Reading; clayskitchen.co.uk

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