Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Soho?

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The Independent Culture
The ultimate thankless task for an artist must be performing in restaurants. Because, although most diners enjoy the added value of entertainment with their meal, they rarely show it. I'm one of those people who always tries to start a round of applause in restaurants, and ends up looking like a pillock.

The Red Fort, an Indian venue in Soho, is featuring excellent musicians and dancers as part of their Southern Indian Festival (till 14 March). Not that the diners when I visited seemed to care much; the performers could have been playing cover versions of Bucks Fizz for all the response they got. There was a smattering of applause at one point, but those who took part looked so shocked at their daring that it was not repeated.

I have a feeling that Radha Marar, Marie Elangovan, Chandra Shekar et al are going to meet with deathly hushes for the rest of the season. The food, you see, is so distracting. Red Fort has imported two chefs from the Taj and Appeejay hotel groups to oversee a stunning spread of dishes from the coastal territories of Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadhu. Although these states have a reputation for violently hot cookery, this is, of course, a generalisation.

We over-ordered massively, sharing battered okra in pepper masala and dry roasted spiced lamb, followed by a dish of extraordinary Karawar scallops. The scallop is a sensitive beast, but these stood up courageously to a coating of spice and chilli, remaining firm and juicy. This we accompanied with an interesting duck masala roast from Cochin, aubergine curry, an exquisite dosa that had about 15 quiet flavours in its crispy squidgy heart, a perfect parota, and a dish of rice and lentils that we were scarcely able to touch.

With drinks, excellent desserts (have the rice pudding), coffee and so forth, we're talking pounds 35 a head, but the lunch buffet at pounds 14 per person should satisfy the more careful wallet.

Red Fort, 77 Dean St, London W1 (0171-437 2525)

HOT PROPERTIES

Gopal's of Soho

12 Bateman St, London W1 (0171-434 1621)

Delhi Brasserie

44 Frith St, London W1 (0171-437 8261)

Soho Spice

124-126 Wardour St, London W1 (0171-434 0808)

Gaylord

79-81 Mortimer St, London W1 (0171-636 0808)

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