I’m on my second bite of samosa when the thought strikes: do the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire ever send out for a takeaway curry?
If so, and they choose the right day, I’ve got a recommendation they might like to follow up.
Only trouble is, this place doesn’t do takeaways but I’m sure they’ll make an exception for Stoker and Amanda Cavendish.
You see, they own the place.
On a balmy, sunny evening we’re at the Devonshire Arms, Pilsley, so near Chatsworth House a chicken tikka masala wouldn’t have time to get cold on a delivery.
When we booked the pub held a curry night on the first Tuesday of the month but since then it’s been reduced to quarterly, so the next is on October 7, but might I suggest that when you finish reading this you pick up the phone and reserve a table?
Now we’ve all been to pub curry nights (and restaurants) where the flavouring has come courtesy of Patak’s commercial curry paste or spice mix and your tastebuds groan that they’ve seen it all before.
Curry nights at Pilsley are nothing like that.
The spicing and cooking here is so spot on, so precise, so fresh that you want to summon the chef and thank him profusely for adding to the quality of your life that evening.
So I did.
The man I thanked is flying chef Indunil Upatissa, head man at the Noel Arms Hotel in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, but so good with his curries he gets called upon to cook in pubs all over Britain.
“I go around the country doing curry nights: London, Bath, Bristol and here,” he says at the end of service.
Now I’ve not had one too many pints of Cobra and I’m not trying to curry favour (sorry) with Chatsworth but the meal really was that good. And so it should be.
Indunil, Indy for short, was voted the Morning Advertiser’s Curry Chef of the Year three years in a row from 2011.
Indy, aged 43, who started cooking at 17, is from Sri Lanka and as well as cooking his way around Britain has also cooked around the world: first in his home island and then the Maldives, Cyprus and Dubai before coming to Britain.
“He spends all day in the kitchen prepping,” says front of house manager Helen Bown-Brownridge, as she collects our dishes.
Indy doesn’t bring anyone with him but uses the pub’s kitchen brigade. I should imagine they relish the chance to get the lowdown on curries.
Curry night costs £19.90 for two courses. I checked and when he’s back home in Chipping Campden Indy’s curry nights cost £13.95 and they throw in a pint of beer. Put Pilsley prices down to the Chatsworth Effect
It’s a short menu: the starter is an assiette of four dishes followed by the choice of any one from four mains. A beef vindaloo, Thai red curry with king prawns, chicken tikka masala and a Sri Lankan egg and potato curry, all with accompaniments.
The starters were splendid and came from all over the sub-continent. There was a crisp, meaty minced lamb samosa in a filo jacket, a soft Punjabi pea and potato pattie on a green minty chutney, a crispy ball of tuna and green chilli ( a Sri Lankan cutlet) on a tomato and coriander salsa and a shot glass of warm South Indian-style spiced beetroot rasam soup.
This last was glorious: the beetroot gave it earthiness and tamarind a depth of flavour, let alone all the other spices which went into it.
By now you get the message that the chef really knows his onions and his spices. In fact, Indy is keen to point out that he doesn’t have any truck with the one pot spiced onion sauce of most Indian restaurants. You can tell that from the taste.
I was nervous about the vindaloo since my last experience nearly put me in intensive care.
This was hot but not so hot that you couldn’t relish the flavours: fenugreek, pepper, cumin and, of course, vinegar.
“It’s more the spices rather than chilli hot which you want,” he says afterwards.
Chicken tikka masala is a dish invented for the British market but this was the best we’d had, the sauce getting an extra texture from ground almonds.
Both dishes came with exquisite pulao rice using whole spices and cashews, a slice of flat naan (there is no tandoori oven to produce the proper thing) and a good fruity chutney.
You know your meal has been good when you use your last piece of bread to wipe your plates clean AND the serving bowls.
Frankly, this knocked spots off almost all the Indian restaurants I know in Sheffield: perhaps their chefs should book at the Devonshire to see how it’s done.
Sadly, the Indian meal only runs to two courses. We had the pub’s sweets, a stodgy, far from crisp rhubarb crumble and an average lemon and lime cheesecake £4.95).
But that shouldn’t detract from Indy’s super cooking so five stars for his food. We paid £49.80 for food and £10.55 for drinks and coffee.
Devonshire Arms, Pilsley, Derbyshire DE45 1UL. Tel: 01246 583258.
Next curry nights October 7 and January 6. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Car park.