After I bought my flat (apartment) in London, in 1997, for several years I was spending most weekdays on my own in London, returning home to France for the weekends. Cooking for one is no fun, and nor is eating alone in fancy restaurants. So friendly neighbourhood restaurants, where I could go with a book and eat a pleasant meal quietly in a corner, were highly sought after.
England is of course full of Indian restaurants. I doubt that there's a town that doesn't have one. In London there are literally thousands. The menu is pretty much the same in all of them, and with luckily rare exceptions the food is good too. But of course some are better than others. When I explored the ones in the area round my flat, I quickly found one that was head-and-shoulders above the others. Memories of India is an absolutely typical London Indian restaurant, that just happens to serve exceptionally good Indian cuisine.
When I lived just across the street, I would go there at least once a week, and when my willpower was feeble (often), more than that. Settling down at a corner table with a good book, a few poppadoms, a beer or two, a Shah Gostaba and a few side dishes was just as good as sitting down at home to a meal - with the added distraction of people-watching. This is a popular tourist area, with many mid-priced hotels and a handful of big ones. Every few minutes a couple or small group would pause outside the window to study the menu. And each time, the owner would rush outside to give them his sales spiel. About half the time it worked - to their good fortune, since they could easily have ended up in the nowhere-near-so-good place a few doors down. The other customers were a complete mixture, everything from noisy groups of caricatural American tourists to earnest young couples from the provinces, identified by their accents such as Geordies (from the Newcastle area) or from Northern Ireland.
"Eeh bah gum lass, even London 'as Indian restaurants, just like back 'oom in Bradford", they'd murmur softly to each other, holding hands discreetly across the table on their once-in-a-lifetime-treat outing to London. Or so I imagined, anyway.
Watching the owner makes you realise just what a treadmill it is to run a restaurant. Every single night he's there, keeping an eye on the place, trying to attract customers, greeting the regulars. The place can run without him - once when I went there he was on holiday. But still, there's not much of a break.
It's ten years now since I moved to California and let my flat. But when I stay in London it's usually in this area, often at the Royal Garden round the corner on Kensington High Street. And in that case, a meal at Memories of India is mandatory. Amazingly, even after ten years the owner still remembers me on the one or two occasions a year when I visit.
After I moved to the US I harboured a little fantasy of opening an Indian restaurant locally, just so I could call it "Memories of Memories of India". Surprisingly, here in Silicon Valley where half the population seems to be Indian, there are very few good (as good as Memories of India) Indian restaurants. So Memories of Memories of India, or M2I for short, would I'm sure be a great success, and soon I could open another branch - called, of course, Memories of Memories of Memories of India, or M3I. Eventually I could be the owner of a nationwide chain of excellent local Indian restaurant, its size limited only by the breadth of shopfronts to accommodate the ever-increasing names.
Well, it was a nice idea. My bubble was burst when I discovered that there are already several restaurants in the US called Memories of India. In fact, there's at least one more in London, too. But not as good as mine, I'm sure.