Another lockdown Friday night and I’m hanging about a dark and wet backstreet, ringing the bell next to a handwritten sign asking visitors to ‘please shout hey Navina’.
At first, it seems a rather insalubrious setting to find some decent tucker but then I spot a small A-board emblazoned with the reassuring words ‘gourmet curries and terrific Indian snacks’.
The back of Bristol’s Bar Humbug is the latest home of Coconut Chilli, a local food business run by Navina Bartlett.
Navina built up her Indian catering company in London and at food festivals around the UK before launching it back home in Bristol, where it has popped up in several venues.
Originally from Bangalore, Navina has taken the ‘hill station’ areas of India as the inspiration for Coconut Chilli, which has been working out of the kitchen at Bar Humbug for the past few months.
When the second lockdown started, it reverted to a takeaway operation with online pre-ordering. People can collect their meals or have them delivered by local taxi firm V-Cars. The entire delivery charge goes to the cab drivers whose incomes have been hit hard during the pandemic.
It also makes it a more viable business for Navina, rather than having to pay the huge fees charged by the big, bad delivery companies, many of which are taking a 30% cut from small businesses already struggling to break even.
From the concise menu, we shared a range of snacks and main courses and portions were generous in the extreme.
A trio of greaseless vegetable samosas (£4.20) were crisp and flaky with a plump, smooth and well-seasoned filling of pea and potato.
Another vegan dish of root vegetable, mooli and lentil sambhar (£9.55) was as comforting as a pair of cashmere socks, albeit with a fiery spike of chilli providing additional warmth.
Delhi butter chicken in rich tomato gravy (£10.75) was rich and spicy with a generous amount of tender, juicy chicken chunks. Even better was a dish of keema lamb and black pepper meatballs (£11.50) smothered in a tongue-tingling spicy coconut gravy that soaked into the steamed basmati rice.
Both dishes were gluten-free and the full list of ingredients was printed on the boxes.
The meals are served in biodegradable and impressively leak-proof cardboard containers. They arrived home looking as immaculately presented as they left the kitchen with their intact garnish of fresh and perky coriander leaves, spinach, cherry tomatoes and sliced red onion.
The hospitality industry may still be closed due to the seemingly endless carousel of lockdowns and restrictions but Coconut Chilli is further proof that we can still enjoy restaurant-quality food in the comfort of our own homes and support local businesses at the same time.
After all, if we don’t support them now, they may not be around when any glimpse of normality returns.
Coconut Chilli is serving its takeaways from Thursday to Sunday, 5pm-9pm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07815 935745 to pre-order by 4pm.