A few days ago I was amazed to discover that a foodie friend of mine (over here for a few months from Bangkok) had never been to the cult South London Indian restaurant, Hot Stuff. Hot Stuff reminds me of one of those tiny local restaurants you can find in France: a few tables, an enthusiastic patron, and a loyal clientele. The food at Hot Stuff is not going to win any awards, but it's still pretty darn good, and a refreshing change from the mediocre delights of the Pimlico Curry Centre, paparazzi photographs of Lady Di, withstanding.
Hot Stuff is found in that windswept hinterland between Vauxhall, Stockwell and Clapham, just south of the river Thames. If you stretch your imagination and ignore the gang-land graffiti, 60's brutalist architecture, and otherwise edgy concrete surroundings; it's all a bit reminiscent of the Blitz with green painted vegetable barrows, cobbled streets and a "Knees up Mother Brown" pub on the corner- from which floats the strain of inebriated group singing: "wun wabbit, wun wabbit, wun, wun, wun"; highly appropriate, as the eager chefs of Hot Stuff lurk a few doors up. Hot Stuff doesn't have a licence, so you have to nip next door to the offie to buy marked-up plonk. The enlightened bring beer.
As usual we were met by the affable (albeit slightly eccentric) and transfer-tattoed host, Raj, who suggested that he order for us. Hot Stuff is really just a small room, with a few formica tables squeezed inside, and a blackboard on the wall. You can watch the kitchen from the "restaurant": a team of hoodies (baggy jeans half way down their derrières) all working in unison to the soothing harmonies of Snoop Dog. The chilli prawns, saag gosht, karai chicken, masala fish, makhini dhal and 'magic mushroom' rice were all good, The nan bread was also delicious.
It's the sort of place where they don't give you a bill ("let's call it twenty quid, mate"), but instead, round it up (or more likely, down), for Hot Stuff is remarkably good value. It would be wonderful it there were more family run restaurants like this in London: serving unpretentious, well cooked food that won't break your wallet. Often, local restaurants still suffer from delusions of grandeur (do the ghosts of Nouvelle Cuisine still linger?) and entirely miss the point. If you're planning a visit to Hot Stuff, it's essential to book.