The Indian Princess, Margate
PUBLISHED: 18:19 30 July 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013
Tucked away in Margate is some of the most extraordinary gourmet Indian cooking you're likely to encounter - meet The Indian Princess...
Fancy some ostrich for dinner tonight? Or maybe a spot of zebra perhaps, or python? No, I've not been sent on safari to bag my latest meal to review, but I did travel cross-county to Margate to investigate what is definitely the most exotic meal of my life - right here in Kent.
Near the seafront and set in a former pub dating from the mid 18th century, The Indian Princess is pretty unprepossessing from the outside and simply decorated within - floorboards, wooden tables and chairs, cream and terracotta walls, soft Indian music.
It's all about the food here - and the people. We were early, so the highly enthusiastic Hungarian manageress Adrianne Jonas entertained us beautifully until the arrival of the impossibly handsome chef owner, Dev Biswal, who is straight out of a Bollywood movie - all gleaming white teeth and lustrous black locks.
Accompanied for the first time by My Reasonably Senior Mother, I was starting to panic about the exotic selection ahead, but Dev made it easy by presenting us with a feast of six starters and six mains instead.
But first, a word of explanation - what one earth is he doing serving zebra in Margate? "The curries and chicken kormas that the British love don't exist in India," Dev tells me.
"Here we're offering authentic, gourmet North and South Indian cuisine, using fresh ingredients, and everything is home-made on the premises - literally 'Made in Thanet' - even the sauces and chutnies."
Another bombshell follows: "We don't have poppadoms on the menu, and we tend not to serve rice - it fills you up too much."
And indeed, what we did experience was so far from the average high street Indian that it was literally in another hemisphere. Although it sounds like a huge amount of food, the portions are delicate and the absence of rice (it's served if diners insist) means you can enjoy the subtle flavours and beautiful presentation at their best.
The headliners are, naturally, the 'wild and exotic' meats, which I was delighted to find are not only a healthy low-fat and low-cholesterol option, but are also offered as part of the EU welfare and conservation policy.
I can report that pan-grilled zebra served on fried aubergine is gorgeous, sweeter than beef but still with a gamey flavour, and that hunting takes place at game farms with a surplus of Burchells stallions, the only type of zebra that can legally be hunted.
Just as delicious is ostrich, which we enjoyed as a starter on a bed of sweet potato - it's a close grained, red meat with a subtle flavour, and meltingly tender. Closer to home, Dev offers wood pigeon from Godmersham Game, locally sourced Kentish pork and Romney Marsh lamb, fresh fish and seafood from Fruits de Mer at Broadstairs, and vegetables from local farm shops - all given the special Indian Princess touch with the subtlest of authentic spices - 'curry powder' naturally being non-existent in any true list of Indian condiments.
MRSM's favourite dish, perhaps because it was the most familiar, was the wonderfully succulent breast of Gressingham duck accompanied by a fresh orange and cinnamon sauce, while I particularly loved the tiger prawns on garlic potato mash served with a seafood cake and black caviar: great taste plus bags of eye appeal.
Presentation is raised to an art form here - each dish is individually styled across the centre of white oblong plates, a refreshing change from ladling dollops out of a communal pot, and then failing to finish.
The final revelation for me was the puddings - no sooner had I protested 'no I couldn't possibly', than I found myself diving like a woman possessed into rose-flavoured vanilla crme brle, to-die-for hand-crafted chocolates and home-made coconut ice cream. Now, when did you last eat a pudding in your local Indian?
This is gourmet Indian cuisine at its finest and I urge you to make the trip to Margate and find out for yourself. It will also be a much-deserved entry in the next Michelin Guide. At the time of writing, Dev was waiting anxiously to learn his rating, but it wouldn't surprise me if Margate's 'Princess' becomes Kent's first Michelin-starred Indian restaurant.
The Indian Princess
44 King Street
01843 231 504