Decent food, friendly service, a clean dining area – good, but unspectacular. It offered pleasant dining without veering into the territory marked ‘memorable’. And my friend, a veteran of curry houses around the world, was spot on.
The Lamp specialises in Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine and has won its own bodyweight in awards, over the years.
It was successful in the Curry Life Awards in 2015, winning Chef of the Year, before winning gongs from the Good Food Awards in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, it was further decorated by the Restaurant Guru Awards, for Best Restaurant, while in the same year it was awarded by the BCA at the London College.
Much of the credit goes to Chef S Islam, who was headhunted from a five-star hotel in Bangladesh and travelled to Britain to give diners the taste of authentic Bangladeshi and Indian food.
He’d spent more than 15 years refining his skills as well as cooking for a number of dignitaries, including Bollywood stars. His food, however, has humbler origins: “My mother is an amazing cook. If I can make other people feel about my food the way I do about hers, then I will be a happy man.”
Located a short drive from Kidderminster, in the picturesque market town of Cleobury Mortimer, it has all the ingredients for success. Dishes are sensibly priced and amid the regular starters and curries, there is a selection of house specialities, which gives the chefs the opportunity to express their creativity.
It’s the sort of place that’s been kept afloat during the past two-and-a-half years by the goodwill and support of locals.
As the hard times of Covid bit and as the catastrophic energy price rises of this autumn and the inflationary pressures on households bit, The Lamp has been able to count on loyal customers.
Having built up strong relationships with locals and a good reputation over a period of years, regulars are reluctant to cut it from their expenditure. And that’s a good thing, for our hospitality sector has been overlooked by the Government since the onset of Covid and during the equally hard times that have followed.
Their survival has come down to preserving reputations that have been hard-earned over a period of years and that have ensured a steady stream of loyal customers.
Cleobury Mortimer is a small town, with a population around 3,000, but it supports a small number of restaurants.
The Lamp is set back from the road, on High Street, where the key challenge is navigating through ever-congested roads before finding a parking space. Keep your fingers crossed – that ain’t easy.
It’s an archetypal restaurant, with an unprepossessing exterior and with an interior that’s bright, clean and modern, if not a little garish with bright lights redolent of the side of a theatre stage. When my friend and I visited, service was good. There had been no need to book a table and we were offered a choice of seats by a friendly, polite and amiable restaurant manager.
The two waiters were good: a youthful, tall waiter was a little unconfident at times while an older waiter was diligent and dutiful, making frequent visits to the table to top up drinks or enquire whether the food was to our satisfaction. Both did a good job and were a credit to the restaurant.
It was all about the food, of course, and a selection of plain and spicy poppadoms were served with the relevant dips and onion salad. They were fine, and enjoyable, if not unremarkable, and we quickly proceeded to our starters.
My friend had a king prawn that had been butterflied, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried, before being covered in a yoghurt and mint dip. The prawn was plump, tender and had bags of sweet-salty flavour. With plenty of crunch and the cooling mint dip, it made for happy eating and was soon dispatched.
My chicken chat was delicious. Wrapped in a roti, it featured delicately spiced pieces of tender chicken and a wedge of lemon was used to drizzle sweet acidity over the meat. A side salad provided a cooling balance while the chicken was tender and eminently enjoyable.
Our mains were similarly good. My friend ate a king prawn balti served with a garlic naan. The naan was light and fluffy, like a bread pillow that was piping hot and offered small explosions of steam when it was ripped apart. The garlic butter added bags of flavour and it was used like a bread spoon to scoop up the mild balti and the tender prawns.
I opted for one of the chef’s specialities; chicken mashur. Cooked with fresh mango, plenty of coconut and drizzled with cream, it was a fabulous fusion of sweet and warming flavours.
“Is that a pudding?” asked my friend, as he leaned across the help me finish it off.
It wasn’t – I’ve eaten some recently adventurous food, though I’ve yet to find a chef who sticks chicken fillets in a dessert. Even so, it made for good eating.
The mild, creamy coconut and pieces of sweet mango were a happy marriage while the chicken was generously served. Scooped up with a plain naan, it made a welcome change from the usual and provided interest and no little deliciousness.
The fat lady started singing and it was time to wrap up and pay. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening; nothing flash, nothing sensational, just reliably good and with consistency through the cooking.
Such local restaurants as The Lamp need our continued support – and into the New Year, when things will get really tough. They are survivors for a reason. Providing good quality food, great service and affordable dishes has long been the recipe for success.