Rice, Spice and All Things Nice by Reza Mahammad

The Observer Food Monthly described meeting Reza Mahammad as “like being ambushed by a cross between Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Freddie Mercury”. He must be one of the most easily recognised Asian faces on British TV. His effervescent style and playful personality have made him a popular presenter.

Reza Mahammad Rice, Spice and All Things Nice Reza was born in England to Indian parents and was sent off to boarding school in Panchgani, India, to be educated. His parents were worried that he would lose touch with their roots if he stayed in the UK. This provided Reza with a good British education but he says, “It left me speaking English with a public school accent and Hindi with an English accent. A hybrid torn between two worlds.”

It wasn’t the boarding school food that gave him a passion for fine Indian cuisine. “The food at boarding school was vile – Breakfast: cold fried eggs, watery lentils, stale bread, and rancid butter. Lunch: bland curry, stodgy rice.” He fell in love with Indian cuisine in the holidays when he stayed with his extended family in the Western Ghats in India.

One of the first Indian chefs

Mr. Mahammad Senior was one of the first Indian chefs to come to Britain. “My father had arrived here in 1937 and we had been brought up on stories of how hard he used to work – tales of how he’d have to wait at the docks for the boats carrying the spices to come in.”

Tragedy struck the family when Reza was 16. His father died of a heart attack and the responsibility of the family business fell on Reza’s young shoulders. “There was an obligation to continue what my father had left behind. It was a duty.” The business in question was The Star of India Restaurant, Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London.

This was the caricature of a 1950s Indian restaurant with flock wallpaper, which wasn’t much to Reza’s taste. He embarked on a series of revamps and has settled on classic contemporary…for a while! His mother, Kulsum, was horrified. “But I said to her: ‘Who is running this restaurant, you or me?’ People thought I was making a terrible mistake but actually it was the best thing I did.”

The Star of India didn’t have the best reputation for food either. It’s been hard work and dedication to turn things around. “When I inherited the Star of India from my father, I had no clue about cooking. I picked up a few recipes from my mother and improvised on the restaurant’s existing menu. My mantra is to go easy on oil and make food appear as appetising as possible.”

One of London’s most successful

Now The Star of India is one of London’s most successful and prestigious restaurants and Reza is both head chef and proprietor. Today you are likely to be rubbing shoulders with media types and “faces” from TV and film (Daniel Day Lewis, Hugh Grant and Art Malik are regulars). It’s said that Reza drapes himself across tables and sings arias from time to time, but that could just be a rumour! “The years spent managing The Star of India established the restaurant as an institution and enabled me to explode onto the restaurant and food scene.”

Those media types come in handy sometimes! One of the regulars was a TV director who came up with the idea of Madhur Jaffrey (the original Cooking Star of India) and Reza collaborating on a cookery series that became A Taste of India.

Reza has become a familiar face on TV with UKTV Food Channel’s Delhi Belly with Sanjeev Bhaskar, the star of Goodness Gracious Me/The Kumars. Reza’s irrepressible and often camp persona was allowed full rein. That resulted in an exotic travelogue filled with authentic food, colour and pazazz. The success of Delhi Belly and the popularity of Reza led on to further series of Coconut Coast, and United States of Reza.

asian cookbook review Reza Mahammad rice Reza Mahammad has penned his first book, Rice, Spice and All Things Nice; it’s a mixture of dishes from his restaurant, travels, and family recipes handed down through the generations. “It’s an attempt to demystify Indian cooking,” says Reza. “More and more people know how Indian food should taste because they’ve been travelling, but they don’t know how to cook it.”

You won’t be disappointed

Rice, Spice and All Things Nice is a dream of a cookbook. It has that blend of food and travel that I, for one, find so appealing. The photography of both food and Reza is mouthwatering and the text is amusing but also encouraging. The man obviously wants you to cook his food and you won’t be disappointed if you do.

The recipes are marvellously well chosen and offer something for every taste and skill. There are plenty of classics (Indian Rice Pudding to die for, Cucumber Raita, Chicken Dhansak) but lots of others which might be less familiar.

Afghan Aubergine Casserole has surprisingly few ingredients, is simple to make and delicious. Dak Bungalow Chicken has a longish list of ingredients but don’t be put off. This is another easy dish to make and it’s a stunner. Meatballs in a Green Sauce (Koftas Hara Masala) also has a good number of ingredients but the preparation is easy and you’ll just need to serve some rice alongside. A good recipe for a large dinner party.

Rice, Spice and All Things Nice is amongst my top 10 cookbooks. It is a thoroughly entertaining read, the food is gorgeous, I can make every dish without tears, and it’s a book I’ll actually use. I’ll need another copy as this one will soon be sauce-spattered and dog-eared. The sign of a well-loved cookbook.

Rice, Spice and All Things Nice
Author: Reza Mahammad
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-84737-049-5


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Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018