Curried Lamb Shank and Bistro Steak, Faro Island Salmon and Fish and Chips, Waldorf Salad and Bombay Burger, Vindaloo Wings and Long Island Littlenecks: we were eating our way – course by course – across the British Empire and through bistro cuisine at the highly personal restaurant Viceroy Publik House in Stamford.
On one of our favorite Britcoms, Jean and Lionel frequently “go out for a curry” (Do you know which show we’re watching?) just like we go out for pizza. Despite the Englishness of British culture – stiff upper lip and exiting the EU – their colonial history permeates everyday life. A tour of London’s casual neighborhood restaurants is like a tour of the glory days of the Victorian era.
Nowadays, the sun does set on the British Empire, but food from the colonial era lives on across the eclectic menu at Viceroy. Yes, there are some local ingredients, the owner’s favorites, and bistro classics, but the heart of the menu takes you to the the British East Indies in the heyday of the Raj.
We’d been invited to a tasting dinner at this latest addition to the Summer Street restaurant row in downtown Stamford. Oversize photo murals of colonial India line the narrow, welcoming space. Mismatched vintage china and flickering candles are set on white tablecloths. Upstairs there’s a larger room with a modest stage for live music, a bar made from the front of a Tata bus, a Bombay taxi mounted on the wall, and a Triumph motorcycle as sculpture.
Viceroy Publik House is so dedicated to multiculturalism that they have two chefs. Steven Bianchini, originally from Rhode Island, is fluent in American menus and New England cooking – proud of his Prime Rib, Bistro Steak, Waldorf Salad and Braised Clams. Kallingapuram Sarith, brings a sure hand from his experience at successful local restaurants including Thali and Bistro Curry to the curries, Vindaloo, Tikki, Samosa, and Tandoor. They surely collaborate on the wonderfully crisp and light Fish and Chips with curry ketchup.
Our group started with shared plates of spicy vindaloo wings which ignited an immediate controversy. How hot is hot? A couple across the table represented the yin and yang of this debate: she found the wings so hot she didn’t even want to be near them; he thought they were hot, but not exceptionally so. For me they had a good kick with a rich spiciness, and most intriguingly, a strong clear spike of cilantro as the heat faded.
The Viceroy burger is a successful mashup of world cultures: spicy ground lamb, American cheese, brioche bun, and ginger-mint aioli. The whole juicy stack was topped with a fried egg – an addition know as a bo-burger if you’re eating in Ithaca, NY. The side basket of hot, crisp fries, right from the fryer, was irresistible.
Seemingly out of place, even on this wide-ranging menu, a Waldorf Salad had the traditional apples, grapes, and celery along with sweet-hot toasted nuts, craisins, hard cooked eggs, and a mix of lettuces. The owner, pulling rank we were told, insisted that this refreshing combo be on the menu.
Braised in madras curry and coconut cream, the Lamb Shank was fork tender and deeply flavored. The subtle curry did not dominate or color the dish, but added depth and an exotic accent to the rich meat.
Bistro Steak and Rocket was right out of the contemporary bistro playbook and done very well. The rosy pink sliced hanger steak was dressed with a classic red wine sauce. The Rocket (arugula) Salad was dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Fat spears of grilled asparagus leaned against butter-rich mashed potatoes.
Other menu items on the empire side of the menu include Chicken Tikka Masala, Pork Vindaloo, Tandoor Yard Bird, and Vegetable Korma. Representing the English pub are the Cambridge Burger, Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, and Pork Brisket with Irish stout. Straddling the fence are: Beef Phal, prime rib sautéed with hot and spicy English curry; Calamari with tamarind sauce; and Mulligatawny Soup with curry, turmeric, and ginger.
Owner and tech entrepreneur Ramya Laksham joined us midway through the evening. She talked freely about the diversity of India, the unifying influence of British rule, and the impact on both cultures. English is now the common language of India, pulling together the many subcultures across this most populous democracy. In return tea, so closely identified with English culture, came from India, as did its popular curries.
Restaurants are usually founded for commercial reasons or to satisfy a yen for the business. Viceroy seems to have a larger purpose: to explore a cultural crossroad, bring something new to our local dining choices, and express pride in a unique heritage. Regardless of motivation, they serve up a memorable meal!