If Paneer Poutine doesn't exist as a thing yet , please can someone make it exist on Vancouver Island. A quick search suggests I am not the first to think of it, though, so I have hope. Paneer is the cheese used in Indian cuisine, made quickly by adding an acid to milk, which separates it into curds and whey. Instead of taking this mixture to a tuffet, the curds are separated, drained and chilled, making a simple cheese. I guess the whey is used to make terrible tasting protein drinks for body builders. The resulting cheese is simple, tasting not unlike a cottage cheese with no watery run off. And it works very well with a curry sauce.
In the case at Amrikko's, the curry sauce was a creamy sauce made with peas, ginger and garlic. And a combination of Indian spices with some bite, but not enough to draw blood. A little nip or two to remind you it was there. This Mattar Paneer was the highlight of the dinner we had. And it made me think it would do well draped over a bed of hand cut, fresh fried potatoes.
Though it went just as well with a pile of a naan breads (Garlic and Plain). Cooked thin, with doughy centre and crisp, bubbly outer layer, the bread was a throw back to my twenties. The cheap, fast and good curries after hours in various places in the United Kingdom. The Lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance even had a bottle of Kingfisher beer to seal the image in my mind. This curry though was at a more stately 6pm, after a day digging in an allotment garden. Not after five pints and an argument about whether the Madchester scene was better or worse than the new wave of Britpop.
At the junction of Helmecken and the Old Island Highway, Amrikko's is unassuming from the outside, and functional inside. Neat and tidy booths and tables. No flock wall paper, just clean paint, simple decoration and big octagonal windows. A light space, not dingy. It's for feeding the family not for boozed up students. The smiling owner seated us and talked much about his association with the UK. A place he seemed to have a lot of time for, though he'd never visited his relations there.
We ordered drinks and a round of Onion Bhaji's to start. The bhaji was chips of onion, battered bright orange and a flavoured with turmeric. Not the small round balls I was expecting. But damn fine, with a yoghurty mint sauce, the initial hunger pangs were staved off.
We went vegetarian for the main courses, sharing naan, some basmati rice (done how it should be, so not much to say about it... it's rice, a food I love and can only really say much about when it's wrong), above mentioned Mattar Paneer and Navrattan Korma. The last dish was disappointing. Partly, I suspect, ordering two creamy dishes was a mistake, but also because it lacked the same punch of flavours, or the snap of the vegetables. Lumps of potato were mixed in with carrots and mini corn and yam. It wasn't bad, it just didn't inspire me, and was really all about the mouth feel, rather than the mix of flavours and aromas I love about a curry. The Brunette liked the korma more than me, but was the one who suggested two creamy dishes might not have been the best choice.
However, I miss a good curry. And considering the good sides, the excellent Paneer and the overall ambiance, I will be going back for some meat based curry, and more half remembered nostalgia of breaking naan bread after nights dancing to jangly guitars records.