Kennington. An unassuming, even dull part of inner London. But among the quaint Victorian terraces (and the not so quaint branches of Costcutter), political intrigue is rife. It was here, after all, that David Laws paid thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in rent to his secret lover. Ken Clarke lives just to the west of the main road; Lord Ashdown’s London gaffe stands to the east.
With the gentrified streets and squares hemmed tightly in by council blocks, there are limited options here for a bit of discrete parliamentary conniving. And one place has cornered the market in political machinations: Gandhi’s is an Indian restaurant where plots are formed over papadums, and coups and kormas go hand in hand.
Politicians have been lurking here for years, and in 2010 Gandhi’s hit the headlines when it provided the backdrop for Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt’s botched scheme to overthrow Gordon Brown. While there were no scheming politicos when my friend and I visited, the restaurant isn’t shy about its reputation as an unofficial extension of Westminster Village. Its website has ringing endorsements from Sir John Major and Ashdown, among others, and lining the front window are faded pictures of various grandees, including Jack Straw and Clarke. There’s also a bizarre photo of Neil and Christine Hamilton and Jerry Springer posing with the owners. Maybe it was pantomime season.
But how’s the food? For my starter, I opted for the panir fry, which was dry, meaty and a bit too chewy. It didn’t feel like the best way to enjoy this homemade Indian cheese and definitely benefited from a squirt of lemon, which gave it a kick and some much-needed moisture. Meanwhile, my companion had the shami kebab (two lamb patties), which she found succulent and pleasantly spiced. We also shared some juicy, crunchy and extremely tasty okra. Nothing healthy can be that delicious, so I suspect its success had something to do with the devilishly fatty ghee it was cooked in.
My friend followed up with more lamb, cooked with spinach and aromatic spices as sagwala gosht. Apparently it was delicious: tender with a deep flavour. My main was a garlicky, creamy dhal, accompanied by some brinjal bhaji (aubergine slices cooked in a spiced sauce). The latter dish came very close to being delicious – the aubergine was soft and seemed to melt on the tongue – but unfortunately it was salted to the point of being pickled.
Some say the food here has gone downhill since the restaurant’s heyday. Whether or not that’s true, Gandhi’s still guarantees a decent curry and more than enough political intrigue to spice up an otherwise workaday part of London.