Saying good-bye to the son with a curry

A couple of weeks ago Jay Rayner started off his Sunday restaurant review in The Observer with him labouring in the smallest room in the house and suffering the blow back from the very good Thai meal he had had the previous evening.

The same review finished with a half paragraph promoting the merits of another Thai restaurant, Janetira, and its formidable curry made from the fermented guts of a mackerel.

I had my second go at the Super Duper Hot Mackerel Curry on Saturday evening as we bid good-bye to the only son as he disappeared into the depths of Camberwell Art School (along with one of my more colourful shirts).

It is fair to say that the consequences that Jay Rayner went through were nothing to the indignities I suffered 72 hours after having had my fill of the 6 chilli sign hot mackerel curry the effect of which appeared to be so powerful that various parts of my gut tried to make an escape to a better life. It took the probing of a gentle doctor who announced “piles but I have tucked it back in” to bring it home that I may not be trying the mackerel curry again.

The evening had started well as we drank our way through the most expensive round of drinks I have bought outside of Scandinavia in the sort of bar where you have to queue for a table, gold glitters from the ceiling and you bump into Jarvis Cocker walking in as you are walking out.

We the made our way to Janetira and sat at the same table we had sat at eighteen months ago. We also seemed to be using the same papers menus which had become thin and yellow with use.

Drinks were ordered and we went through the menu. I had gone determined to leave the mackerel curry to one side. I had been through it before and there was so much else on the menu that looked good. But as the first beer settled down on top of the hugely expensive cocktail I had just had my eye kept being drawn back to the 6 chili sign and the promise of something deep and volatile and fetid. So when our order was taken I opted for the mackerel curry. As I did so a warning hand was place on my shoulder but I waved it airily away “Don’t worry I have had it before.”

With the benefit of hindsight I wonder if they have heard that before and use it as an opportunity to up the ante in the kitchen.

We went through the starters – chicken wings with a tamarind sauce, soft pork sate on sticks, ‘son in law balls’ and their glorious morning glory – greens slathered in fish sauce, soy sauce and garlic.

Then the mains came to the table. First to arrive was a pink noodle soup which did just as it said on the tin arriving a luminous bright pink on the table. The mackerel curry arrived soon after and then the rest of the evening was gone.

It may have lacked some of the rotten pier like smell I could remember from last time but it more than made up for that with its raw fetid heat. It came with a small plate of cooling lumps of cucumber and they offered some respite against its violence.

It was possible to take a mouthful and persuade yourself that the relentless heat had passed but within a few seconds the heat would come again, wave upon wave of it. Its power was almost hallucinogenic. Soon I was giving off moisture from every pore and I was weeping into the bowl. I started hiccupping almost immediately  and I was obliged to cut them off with a beer.

It was a slow process. As soon as I felt half human again the spoon went back into the bowl and I tried to eat what I could before the sheer heat of the chilli forced me to put the spoon to one side for another five minutes before another go was had. There was a small bowl or rice to the side but that only seemed to intensify the heat. There was nothing for t but to keep spooning away and try seek some relief with cucumber and beer.

The family watched on astonished to see their father in tears for the fist time since he had tried to read them the last few pages of James Joyce’s The Dead.

Eventually there was nothing left in the bowl but a half inch of brown liquid. I called it a day and we walked out into the cooling night air.




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