Cafe Society: Indian without tears

The Raj has had a far-reaching effect on the British way of life, even if it's rather different from the one originally envisaged. The Nabobs can never have thought they were building a homeland whose cornerstones would be tea, kedgeree and the lager-vindaloo diet. The Brits, genetically programmed to be suspicious of unfamiliar foodstuffs, would still be languishing in Brown Windsor Hell if it weren't for the Indian sub-continent: our array of foreign eateries can be traced back to chips with curry sauce.

Curry is as British as football hooliganism. Or not. We tend to forget that the French had an equally long and noble history of subjugating other races, and had their own presence in India, though the wide-flung and relatively tiny territories they held - Chandernargor, Yanaan. Pondicherry, Mahe and Karikal - would suggest that they were as much there to annoy the British as anything else. La Porte des Indes, a very swish restaurant in the southern reaches of Marylebone, specialises in Franco-Indian cuisine.

This is the kind of place to take your parents to show off just how sophisticated you've become since your mum used to spit on Kleenexes and rub your face with them. They will love it: from the wonderfully draped lady who greets you at the door, through the absurdly ornate frieze-covered bar (with excellently deadening acoustics), up the fashion-parade stairs where water trickles over a wall of black-and-white marble two storeys high, through the cupola'ed dining-room to the orchid pressed into female hands at the coat check, they will be wide-eyed with delight.

And they won't be wrong. The food here is to the Bolton Balti House what the Greenhouse is to the Little Tea Shoppe: subtle, clever, and presented with a flourish and elegant twiddly things on the side. Where your average curry is a kind of comfort food for slouching in front of the telly with, this is grown-up gear that really deserves sitting up to table and concentrating on: shellfish that's juicy not just rubbery, meat that melts, choices of rice that don't just look different but taste different too, some of the best breads in town. Of course, it comes at at grown-up prices, too. Cheapskates can try a lunch buffet at pounds 15 a head, but expect to pay something between pounds 40-50 in the evening. But it's worth it.

La Porte des Indes, 32 Bryanston St, W1 (0171-224 0055)


Four other Indian restaurants suitable for impressing visiting parents. Expect little change from pounds 40 a head

Red Fort 77 Dean St, W1 (0171-437 2115) Despite its positioning in the middle of chromeland, this plushy red-and-pink palace with its ornate gilded wall decorations is pleasantly restful. Staff are punctilious and well-turned-out, food a bit on the rich side, but very "occasiony".

Malabar 27 Uxbridge St, W8 (0171-727 8800) Plain decor, small tables, posh clientele; good for indecisive parents, as the thalis (small quantities of mixed foods) are excellent. Deservedly popular Sunday lunch buffet: book in advance, as you've not a chance of walking in off the street.

Cafe Lazeez 93-95 Old Brompton Rd, SW7 (0171-581 9993) "Modern" Indian brasserie with minimalist decor and the odd touch of ornately carved wood; grilled foods to die for. Great for snacky things, busy late at night as it also functions as a popular bar - though the weekend live music might not suit everyone.

Star of India 154 Old Brompton Rd, SW5 (0171-373 2901) or "Asterisk of India" as it's locally known, due to the supernova emblazoned on its facade. An old restaurant, probably the campest in London, with fabulous starters and formal knife-and-fork main courses. Get a table upstairs if you can, where a nice man will serenade you with torch songs.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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