Hearty fare for locals and Heathrow travellers alike
There are many reasons to hate Heathrow, from the 7am drinkers and the tedious security theatre of dubious utility to the obligatory naff ads for luxury goods and enterprise IT. One of the most hateful things about Heathrow, and indeed many Western airports in general, is the state of the available restaurants. Some of the earliest reviews on this website were of Heathrow restaurants such as Wagamama, cynical operations pumping a prime captive audience receptive to their overpriced slurry – harried, hurried travellers and tourists. There are precious few exceptions to the general rule that most Heathrow restaurants are about as appealing as a cavity search.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a little spare time on your hands before or during your purgatorial stay at the UK’s busiest airport, then it’s worth remembering that the borough of Hounslow is just three Tube stops away on the Piccadilly line. While Hounslow isn’t the most glamorous part of the capital, I’d still rather take my pre-travel meals in one of the area’s Indian pubs than in Heathrow itself.
While there are a couple to choose from, Happy Buddha and I were drawn to the African Queen if only so I could be the Katharine Hepburn to his Humphrey Bogart. Even though the dining room in the back is far, far bigger than the bar and drinking area up front, the African Queen is still very much a pub. Crimson-hued football fans nursed pints while watching the TV, as squealing sprogs did their best to get under everyone’s feet.
While all the usual suspects are present on the African Queen’s expansive menu, it’s the somewhat more unusual dishes that caught our eye. Dense, fibrous cubes of cassava came with peppers and spring onions for a sharp finishing touch. While arguably too dull in the manner of school dinner potatoes, I enjoyed this preparation even though Happy Buddha and Bread Interrogator did not.
Seekh kebabs are often the poor man’s kofte – similar yet thinner, weedier and ultimately less satisfying. That view is unchanged by the seekh kebabs at African Queen, but these worked well enough as starters – titillating enough in their lightly smoky tenderness.
Lamb chops weren’t anywhere as tender as I would’ve liked. Indeed, these chops were surprisingly forgettable from the remarkably dull wet rub to the lean, characterless meat itself.
Happy Buddha and Bread Interrogator were unmoved by the okra, but I was taken with this dish if only because I have a tendency to bodge the cooking of okra at home. The tenderised and sliced segments came in a peppery sauce, none of which was revelatory. But it was well-executed and satisfying.
The AQ extra hot chicken curry wasn’t the volcanic scorcher you might expect from its menu description. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends entirely on your temperament. Still, it packed enough fruity heat to glisten my brow with a slight sheen of sweat. As expected, the cubed chicken had little to say for itself beyond acting as a sauce conveyor and protein source.
I was initially unimpressed with the lamb shoulder as the sauce struck me as mild and one-dimensional. Its charms, while still comparatively limited, did reveal themselves in the end though, from the tenderness of the meat to the intermittent warmth of ginger dotting the sauce. A homely and cosseting, yet reasonably flavoursome lamb curry.
Despite the Bread Interrogator’s best attempts at teasing out the differences between the various naan, roti and paratha we ordered, they ended up being far too similar to one another. The sole exception to this disappointingly pedestrian trend was the keema naan which was curiously reminiscent of Turkish lamachun with its soft pliable folds stuffed with meaty umami.
The African Queen isn’t in the same league as some other, more centrally-located Indian eateries such as Gunpowder, Kricket or Kashmir, but that doesn’t mean this Indian pub/restaurant doesn’t have anything to offer. Service was not only unfailing polite, but jolly and warm too. The curries, breads and grills, while not perfect, are still a respectable step-up from the high street curry house standard and all at prices that Heathrow establishments would struggle to match. If all of that doesn’t make the African Queen a valuable pitstop for locals and Heathrow bound travellers alike, then I don’t know what does.
Name: African Queen
Address: 315-317 Wellington Road South, Hounslow, London TW4 5HL
Phone: 020 8572 8903
Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-midnight.
Reservations? probably a good idea on and around weekends
Average cost for one person including soft drinks, but excluding tip, when shared between three: £23 approx.