This week you get a simple, straightforward review of a simple, straightforward restaurant. But before that, I’d like to apologise to any of my readers in Woodley.
Because I’ve never reviewed anywhere in Woodley, in the best part of ten years. It’s one of those satellites of Reading that has escaped my attention. I made it out to Lower Earley – just the once, back in 2014 – although I can’t see myself going back any time soon. And this year, finally, I reviewed somewhere in Tilehurst, long an omission. But Woodley has never been on my radar. I’ve reviewed more places in Bristol than in Earley, Woodley and Tilehurst put together, a fact I know delights so many of you.
I assure you it’s not because I’ve taken against Woodley. In fact, I’ve always had warm memories of the place. The thing is, I grew up there – or pretended to – and it was the first place I lived when my family moved to Reading in the early Eighties. So I have happy memories of mucking around on the airfield, and walking the dog round Dinton Pastures, of going up the precinct and spending my pocket money in Beatties, the games shop. Of buying my teenage diaries from the Newscentre (and filling them with awful shite) and of buying new pairs of shoes every year from Milwards in time for the start of the school year. (You’d be better off wearing the boxes, my mum said most years: size twelves, you see).
I came back to Woodley after university and lived there until the late nineties and, with my schoolfriends who were also marooned there, we would go to the Bull & Chequers and drink to forget that we were stranded in suburbia. It was forever 1996, and someone in that pub liked to put enough money in the jukebox to play What’s The Story, Morning Glory? in full, from beginning to end. And that was nightlife: if you didn’t like it, you caught a coach to Utopia. Or on summer nights you could walk across Ashenbury Park to drink at the Land’s End and pretend you were in the countryside. And back then, I can’t even say I was that dissatisfied. That was enough, for a while.
Anyway, I thought Woodley’s role in my life was over and done, preserved in aspic, but then something happened which I didn’t expect: I got together with Zoë. She grew up on the same streets as I did, a few years later, and her parents still live there. So my past became, to some extent, my present and I saw Woodley afresh, through different eyes. And actually that was properly lovely. After all, it was an excellent place to grow up, and for all I know it still is. If I could tell eighteen year old me that he’d still be walking home past Bulmershe School in the summer of 2022 he’d probably have been horrified, but life is full of surprises.
One thing that has changed is that, at long last, Woodley has a few potentially interesting restaurants. Not that I ate out in Woodley as a kid – the treat was a takeaway from Hong Kong Garden, and a VHS from the video store next door if you were lucky – and for many years it was that or Red Rose, the solitary Indian restaurant (it’s still going). When the George, a bog standard Chef & Brewer pub, opened on the edge of town it was genuinely a source of excitement.
But nowadays Woodley has the highly rated La’De Kitchen, right opposite the Waitrose. It has a surviving branch of Cozze which has outlived the one in the centre of Reading. There’s a fancy-looking takeaway pizza place that looks a cut above Papa John’s and a dessert shop doing waffles, sundaes and milkshakes. And last but not least there’s Adda Hut, the subject of this week’s review.
I picked it because it just looked different enough to be worth a try – its website talked about serving the food of Kolkata, and its menu was relatively small and focused, a bhuna and dhansak-free zone. My very old friend Mike, a drinking buddy from those Bull & Chequers days, was home staying with his parents for the tail end of the year, so he joined me there on a dismal, sodden evening, the shopping precinct lashed with wind and rain.
It truly was an inhospitable evening, the kind where nobody in their right mind sets foot out of doors, but even so it was jarring to arrive in an empty restaurant. I mean completely empty: one table was occupied by a couple of members of staff, one tapping away on a laptop and the other staring into space, but otherwise it was as dead as they come. It’s hard to judge a restaurant when it’s completely devoid of atmosphere – especially when it’s not their fault – but for what it’s worth I quite liked the room, all muted colours, wood panels and twinkling lights. We were the only customers all night, although I was relieved to see a steady stream of Deliveroo pickups.
As I said, it’s quite a narrow menu and that’s the first thing that alerted me that it might not be generic stuff. Ten or so starters, labelled “Calcutta Street Food”, a dozen meat and fish curries and a good range of vegetarian dishes. Two biryanis, which by central Reading standards is a starvation diet. But also, everything just looked a little out of the ordinary – lots of meat on the bone, plenty of fish dishes and many things I’ve just not seen anywhere else.
It’s a dry restaurant, although they don’t charge corkage if you want to bring a bottle, so I had a very enjoyable mango lassi and we shared a jug of tap water – the decadence! – while we made up our minds. One of the two staff members, who had the air of being the owner, came over and answered our questions about the menu, making suggestions and recommendations and pointing out specialities. I would say we played it fairly safe but fortune might favour the brave, especially if you like fish on the bone as the menu has rather a lot of that.
I really enjoyed both our starters. Their speciality is Calcutta Fish Fry, but instead we went for the fish pakora and I don’t feel like I missed out at all. It was an impressively generous helping of fish in a light and only slightly spicy coating, with just the right amount of crunch. A crazy amount of food for six pounds, and a real plate of joy. It came with a sort of acrid mustard dip which I started out actively disliking but ended up constantly dabbing more pakora into, unable to make up my mind. Mustard sauce and mustard gravy appear multiple times on the menu, so perhaps that too is a Kolkatan speciality.
Even better, and my star of the night, were the mutton chops. Now, the description here is misleading. The wait staff told me that rather than being chops they were in fact croquettes of minced mutton and potato, breaded and fried. That made me expect something a little more like the mutton rolls I’ve had before but what turned up was bigger, better and nothing like that at all.
Instead they were huge bronzed spheres, looking like arancini on steroids, with a permacrust which gave way under pressure. But if they looked like arancini, what they resembled more than anything was a Scotch egg where the kitchen has dispensed with the annoying faff of including an actual egg. Instead you just got a warming filling of lightly spiced mutton, almost haggis-like, and the whole thing was quietly beautiful. It came with two dips – a thin, red, spicy one which I loved and another which I would put good money on being ketchup.
“That was really good, and just big enough” said Mike. “I’ve got room for the mains.” This is why Mike is thin, and I am not: those starters were generous, but if they’d been twice as big I’d have had no complaints. By this point in the evening we’d spent the princely sum of twelve pounds.
Could mains live up to that? They came pretty close. Mike wanted to try the tawa mutton curry, and it looked the part with a thick, brick red gravy. And the gravy was the absolute best bit. I loved it – deep and sticky, with thin ribbons of slow-cooked onion that suggested someone had taken their time over elements of our meal. If I’d just had that gravy with rice and bread I’d have been a happy camper, and in that respect it reminded me of some of the very best Indian food I’ve had.
And the mutton wasn’t bad, but I was expecting slow-cooked meat that broke into strands whereas this was leaner, more tender but perhaps slightly less interesting. We practically finished it all, though. I left one piece of mutton which was bouncier than I liked, but between us we polished off every molecule of sauce.
What I liked about the fish curry we also ordered was that although it looked decidedly similar to the mutton curry – you might have struggled to pick them apart in a lineup – the taste was distinctly different. This was a thinner, sharper sauce studded with nigella seeds, and big wodges of skin-on filleted fish that easily broke up into smaller pieces. Equally intriguing, although the mutton had the edge, but best of all I honestly felt like these two dishes had different start and end points. Obviously you never really know what goes on in a kitchen, but I didn’t feel like Adda Hut was using gallons of chopped tomatoes and packets of curry powder.
When the sauce is that good, you need to have vehicles for it. Steamed rice was – well, it was steamed rice, you don’t need me to tell you about that – but they also serve an interesting range of breads. No naan here, but paratha and puri stuffed with peas or lentils. We ordered the latter and I absolutely loved it with both curries – just a smear of lentil inside the bubble of bread, but still beautiful torn into pieces and loaded with the last of that gravy. Spice levels were slow and subtle, which is not the same as bland: I was still dabbing my nose by the end.
Our bill for all of that, including a service charge, came to just over forty-five pounds. And when the bill arrived I wished I’d tried more – given their desserts a chance, or ordered a cauliflower curry on the side. I felt bad that their one table of the evening hadn’t spent more money. But I suppose what I’m really saying is that I knew there were things I could order next time.
“How long have you been here?” I asked as the man I thought was the owner came to take our payment.
“Just over a year.”
“And how’s Woodley treating you?”
“Pretty well, actually. The weekends are manic.”
That relieved me, and we headed out into the miserable squall for a post dinner drink at Bosco Lounge – somehow going to the Bull & Chequers would have been a nostalgic step too far. Bosco Lounge was buzzing, still sending food to tables at half eight, and a large group at some nearby tables appeared to be doing some kind of art class. We had a debrief where we both concluded that Adda Hut was rather nice in its quiet, unshowy way and that we’d positively warmed to the place.
Later on I ventured back out into the relentlessly hammering rain to catch my bus, and the lights were still on in Adda Hut, although the chairs were stacked and they were giving up for the night. Bosco Lounge had felt fuller than it deserved to be, and when I passed Cozze it was still doing decent trade. By contrast Adda Hut felt quieter than it should have been, and that didn’t feel right.
I started this review with an apology to my Woodley readers, but I hope I have enough of them to give Adda Hut a try, even if I don’t necessarily manage to persuade the rest of you to head out in the direction of RG5. Because as I rushed past it brolly up, on that miserable evening, I found myself oddly grateful to this little outpost that had served me and my old friend some decent, interesting food on a night when many restaurants would have been eyeing the front door and waiting to close. A hard winter is coming, and not every restaurant will survive it. I very much hope Adda Hut does.
Adda Hut – 7.5
101 Crockhamwell Road, Woodley, RG5 3JP