Very funny night last night. Slightly disappointing meal at Sitaaray, the Bollywood themed curry spot in Covent Garden. The gig at Sitaaray is a fixed price menu of grilled goodies and curries that - in theory - keep on coming till you've had enough. I've been once before and enjoyed it: the meats and fish were nicely grilled and well spiced. At under £20 for as much as you can manage, the prices were good; there was a full range of veggie options running alongside the meats and fish and the staff were enthusiastic and helpful, explaining the dishes as they were presenting them and offering us extra portions of anything we'd particularly enjoyed when we'd completed the full gamut of around a dozen standard morsels. All that and some jolly Bollywood dances running on a few tellies - what's not to like?
Last night, alas, was another story. The staff were interested only in finishing up as soon as possible. No explanations about what we were eating. No offers of extra courses. No joy. We made the best of it, pointedly ordering a second bottle of wine and some more of the very good mixed chicken tikka and the excellent paneer. But we were left with little doubt that all of the staff were desperate to be elsewhere, quite possibly working in another restaurant. And the price has gone up. Shame.
No matter: we finished the night in some style with a visit to CellarDoor, a funky little bar down by The Strand that glories in both its quirky address and its location in a converted public toilet. It's a great little bar, made to feel less little by mirrors on most of the surfaces. Excellent cocktails and a decent wine list mean you're sure of a pleasant tipple even if you struggle to find yourself somewhere to perch. Last night we did OK on that front, even bagging ourselves a table by the time we ordered a second bottle. Again.
When we arrived, brushing our way through the looping Casablanca projection (one of many quirky touches) a cabaret turn was in full swing. A camp singer was belting out tunes from Oliver! accompanied by a second chap on an electric piano. They later treated us to a clever segue from London Pride into London Calling, the Noel Coward delivery never slipping. It's amazing that somewhere so tiny can turn itself to live music so effectively (they do something clever with one of the booth seats apparently) but open mikes and more professional turns are a regular feature. Good stuff.
We left a little while after the final number, a raucous rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, complete with lots of "turnarounds" deftly executed on a swivelly stool. And we felt flushed with success at having rescued an evening from mediocrity by simply spending a few pennies in what I'm afraid we still insist on calling "the toilet bar".
Sitaaray, 167 Drury Lane Covent Garden, WC2B 5PG 020 7269 6422
CellarDoor, Zero Aldwych, Wellington St London, WC2E 020 7240 8848