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Food

Review: 4500 Miles from Delhi

Jack Rayner normally finds it very difficult to frequent South Asian restaurants, due to his bizarre and frustrating allergies; here’s how he coped at 4500 Miles from Delhi
"Dishes are prepared from scratch, and aren’t thrown together using jarred sauces"

As the name of this Park End Street restaurant suggests, Oxford is indeed around 4500 Miles from Delhi – or as Google Maps reliably informs me, 4,910 miles on foot: an easy four and a half month stroll.

If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, then 4500 Miles is slap-bang in the centre of the city, so on balance, you’re probably better off staying where you are if you’re looking for some fresh Indian cuisine.

4500 Miles’s PR spiel claims that the restaurant’s motto is “Atith Devo Bhava”, which roughly translates as “The guest is equivalent to God”. In most establishments this might sound like cringeworthy hyperbole, but the level of skill and attention to detail from the front-of-house staff here would make it difficult to argue. The staff manage to walk the impossible tightrope of remaining no further than a glance away at all times, yet never intruding on your evening.

Now, your faithful correspondent here normally finds it very difficult to frequent South Asian restaurants, due to my bizarre and frustrating allergy to nuts, lentils, chickpeas and other obscure and outwardly non-threatening legumes. But once again, Atith Devo Bhava – the waiters and chefs made sure my choices were prepared with military precision and were free from the unassuming pulses that would guarantee my impending doom. This point shouldn’t just assure those of us with allergies – it also shows that the dishes are prepared from scratch, and aren’t thrown together using jarred sauces. My surreptitious glance into the kitchen confirmed my suspicions, revealing a brigade of chefs assembling all manner of fragrant curries, tandoori meats, dosa and shashlik, using what are clearly fresh herbs and spices. The aroma is enough to drive a man to tears.

Given that many of the dishes in this brigade’s repertoire are, by definition, packed with ingredients that would send me to the emergency room, I left the judgment on dishes such as the lentil flour-dredged fish amritsari and garlic and cumin-powered tarka daal to my equally discerning (but far less pulseaverse) dining companion. Across the menu are relatively unusual ingredients that are seldom seen this side of Goa, from kokam fruit to ajwain seeds, and the chefs use these to full effect. Far too often, an Indian restaurant’s offerings will all taste of essentially the same thing, but at 4500 Miles it’s clear that the idea is to provide a more authentic experience than just knocking out tikka masalas for the rowdy university crowd.

As for me, seafood is simply irresistible in all forms, so I ordered the Goan mussels, which was the best decision I’ve made in months; the fat, meaty bivalves arrive steamed in a velvety reduction of ginger, garlic and turmeric. Next to arrive was a mixed tandoori grill of salmon, chicken in malai, lamb seekh and paneer, all coated with a punchy glaze of cumin, bay, cardamom and black pepper. A mixed grill can easily become one-dimensional and overwhelming, but once again 4500 miles add that extra step of care and attention that lifts the flavour above your expectations.

Even the dessert menu manages to steer clear of the predictable array of banana fritters and bought-in ice creams, with highlights including gulab jamun milk balls, served warm with cardamom; gaajar ka halwa carrot pudding, punishingly rich and topped with cream, and rasmalai cakes made using cottage cheese, garnished with saffron.

There are countless Indian restaurants across Oxford and beyond, and it’s notoriously difficult to deduce which ones will leave you feeling satisfied. 4500 Miles From Delhi, however, truly breaks expectations across almost every measure, with a level of service that you might expect at a French place charging perhaps three times the price for a similarly sized meal. Recommended.

- Jack Rayner

 

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