Finding dinner for under a tenner in London is a challenge. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare to come by a restaurant that isn’t a fried chicken joint and can offer you change for a £10 note. Certain cuisines always pop up when on the hunt for cheap eats, and a good curry house often makes an appearance. Sticking to Indian cuisine but with a slightly different take on the style of dining, last week some friends and I headed to the Indian YMCA in Euston to try their canteen.
I read about the YMCA in a Time Out review and since having returned from Sri Lanka last month, I’ve missed my daily dose of dahl and rice. The Indian YMCA canteen is open to the public, who are required to buy a dinner (or lunch) ticket before eating. This ticket is then handed over at the till before serving yourself from the small buffet selection of currys on offer, accompanied by a green salad, rice and roti. As long as you finish your plate, every guest is welcome to fill up as many times as they want. I wanted to try it all first round, so loaded my plate with the three curries on offer: chickpea, cauliflower and fish.
In true school canteen style, dessert is the very old school sweet of tinned fruit – not quite a pudding in my book, yet the idea of dessert mixed with school memories left me longing for a jam roly poly in bright yellow custard. Still, the unlimited warm milky tea on offer was well received.
As pudding is more of a novelty gesture than a real dish, more time can be spent exploring the savoury dishes on offer. The chickpea curry had a great texture; the chickpeas had retained their bite while still absorbing the subtle curried spices. The cauliflower curry was a favourite with my friends, although in my opinion it passed into quite a generic curry genre for me – vegetarian with not enough spices or interesting flavours to write about. Not bad at all, just not as strong a contender compared to the fish curry, which had meaty white fish fillets with the skin on, bathed in a thick, slightly sweet tomato sauce. This made the perfect filling for my hybrid fish roti burritos rolls, which I feel could surely be the next big food fusion trend.
Comparing Sri Lankan and Indian cuisines may seem like a sweeping racial generalisation, but they do share a lot in common. Dahl, as an example, is a traditional dish to both countries. On this account, though, it’s safe to the say the Sri Lankan versions I had tried were far superior. More of a soup or accompanying sauce than anything, the YMCAs dahl is liquidy without much bite.
Is the Indian YMCA going to be the best curry of your life? No. Is the Indian YMCA a great place for a cheap dinner, with a nice friendly environment and generally good curry? Absolutely. So go, fill your plates and stomachs with some Indian canteen food for less than the cost of two London pints.