Ah, Ventnor. Yes, the magical town where unicorns roam across the sparkling beach; and pixies giggle behind every corner. Or something.
The Guardian pronounces “the place feels apart from the Isle of Wight, let alone the UK“. The Telegraph dashes up to claim “Ventnor has got its va-va-voom back“. Every street is cluttered by rubbernecking DFLs clutching cuttings from Sunday supplements. Locals waft by in clouds of patchouli and wind chimes, distinctive in hand-tooled sandals and flowing garments. One thing has long been missing from this idyll: a curry house. But now the picture is complete – Chutney Express has opened on Ventnor High Street, providing not only a take-away service but a small restaurant too. Matt and Cat, keen Indian fans, paid it a visit.
Chutney Express is a shining new establishment, with a few little tables positioned overlooking the High Street. M & C were the first customers of the evening, and the cheerful lady behind the counter leapt to her feet and enthusiastically welcomed them. Chutney Express hasn’t yet got its drinks licence, so the diners settled for iced water as they studied the menus. Standard Indian fare was on offer, with a few unexpected surprises – give 24 hours’ notice and you could order Chutney machli for two. For £55 you’d get ‘a whole fresh Bangladesh fish marinated for several hours with a secret combination of herbs and spices‘. Intriguing. But Matt and Cat were intent on something more immediate and, perhaps, more predictable. Cat chose chicken tikka biryani, and Matt went adventurously for nariyal ka gosht – lamb and coconut. To share, a side-dish of bindi khumb – okra with mushrooms and green beans.
There was plenty to watch whilst the diners were nibbling on some poppadums and waiting for their main course. Locals trotted in to order takeaways with obvious delight – being a new place there were quite a few passers-by just looking in. The cheery assistant at the counter was chatty and welcoming, and seemed to be doing a great job in persuading casual visitors to place orders. One very well-to-do lady who tottered in was obviously unsure about the whole thing. “You don’t deliver, do you?” she demanded. But they did. “But you won’t deliver late, will you?” she continued. They would. “But you can’t deliver to Niton, though.” she asserted. They could. “Of course you won’t deliver to Upper Niton…?” she almost pleaded. But naturally, they would. The lady left her address, and, unable to resist the Chutney magic, placed an order to be delivered later that evening.
2 x poppadums £2.90
Chicken tikka biryani £8.10
Nariyal ka gosht inc pillau rice £12.50
Bindi khumb £4.50
Soon enough, the kitchen door opened and out came the main courses. Cat had to ask for the vegetable curry that came with her biryani, and it then arrived almost immediately. Otherwise the presentation was pretty good. The biryani was offered on a plate of shredded iceberg lettuce, and was a colourful sight. Cat dug in and found it packed with plenty of chicken tikka pieces – and pleasingly, the tikka bits for this dish were smaller than the usual ones, which was better than just normal chicken tikka bits with extra rice. Matt’s nariyal ka gosht was a subtle and creamy dish with a mustardy tang. There were simply piles of succulent lamb chunks in the tasty, smooth sauce. Most satisfactory.
The bindi khumb was also a cut above the normal bindi bhajee. Okra with mushrooms and green beans has a more complex and pleasing texture than just okra by itself. Matt and Cat often like to supplement a straightforward main dish with some vegetables, and this dish achieved that goal very well.
It was time to pay, and so Cat made her way up to the counter and chatted to the friendly lady again. She was a little abashed when Cat pointed out that on the restaurant’s receipt was a big typo: ‘Chutney Expres‘ was apparently the name of the place. But worse was to come: on the credit card receipt the establishment was entertainingly named as ‘Chunty VENTNOR’. So, Chunty it is then. Now M & C will probably always call Chutney Express ‘Chunty’. It’s such an endearing moniker, bringing to mind perhaps the loveable sidekick that accompanies the less earnest brand of superhero: ‘Tune in next week for more adventures from Pruneman and Chunty!’
M & C sat replete in the window seat, watching the world of Ventnor go by. Gaggles of teenagers ambled past, fiddling clumsily with cigarettes. Old couples strolled purposefully along, taking the evening sea-air as holidaymakers have at Ventnor for generations. A big convertible car drew up and disgorged some young professionals in sunglasses and unlikely outfits. The driver was seen to fix a crook-lock to the wheel: wiseacres M & C nodded sagely to each other. Londoners.