Restaurant Review: The Sitara, N19

Tom Marshall finds that curry and jazz combo hits all the right notes at Archway’s The Sitara

When the stars of this year’s Apprentice were asked to come up with a unique idea for a restaurant - one to impress even that toughest of customers, Alan Sugar - they opted for a Mexican and a pie shop.

Raj Singh doesn’t claim to be a member of “Britain’s entrepreneurial elite”, but he could certainly do better.

He is the man behind Archway’s The Sitara, and in the business-speak of The Apprentice, its “unique selling point” is to meld freshly-cooked Indian food with jazz.

An unlikely mix perhaps, but as far as I’m concerned, these are two of the absolute best things ever created by humankind. So what could be a better combo?

Raj, the owner and head chef, set the place up with his father 22 years ago, and it has been serving up Punjab recipes and jazz vibes ever since, with live music every last Thursday of the month.

“I just have a passion for the music and I think it works brilliantly,” he says.

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When I visited a sax quartet drifted out of the stereo, helping build a real Saturday night buzz. The fact the place was packed didn’t hurt either.

The simple d�cor is a far cry from your traditional curry house, with bright red walls covered in posters of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other greats.

In the background our friendly host Raj worked away in the open kitchen.

We watched as he handled the cooker like a virtuoso playing his instrument, juggling pans with the dexterity of a jazz drummer, the sizzling food a form of percussion.

Everything is cooked fresh and he makes no apologies if this means people occasionally have to wait.

As it happened, despite the kitchen being short-staffed on the night, it did not take long for ours to arrive – but if it had, it would have been worth the wait.

A perfect plate of onion bhajis started us off, not too crisp and not too greasy.

The king prawn masala was a thing of dreams. Literally – my friend dreamt about it the next night. We also went for a vegetable jalfrezi, tarka daal and sag aloo – as flavoursome as a Herbie Hancock solo is funky.

While I love jazz and Indian food, they are two things I have failed miserably at. I can barely string a few chords together despite spending hours hunched over the piano, and whenever I make a biryani or an aloo gobi at home, the results have that thoroughly disappointing blandness of, well, homemade curry.

How on earth do the restaurants make it taste so good? Well, the chefs here certainly know the secret.

The Sitara, with its humble d�cor and understated shop front, seems to make little effort to stand out from the crowd.

But for the food and, yes, its unique selling point, it does just that. I bet even Sugar would approve.