MICHAEL RUSSELL eats at Papaya, 161 Northfield Avenue, West Ealing. Telephone 020 8579 1662
AS I was sitting in the buzzing restaurant packed full of happy diners I had the feeling I was missing something.
Now I'm not saying that just because something is popular it must be good - look at the interminable Big Brother which constantly returns to our TV screens - but when a restaurant is that busy it usually means the food is tasty. But in our experience it wasn't.
Painted in arresting black and orange, Papaya is certainly eye-catching. The range of exotically-named dishes on the menu in the window enticed my partner and I inside to sample the Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisine.
They had proudly displayed the accolade 'best Sri Lankan restaurant in the UK' on their menu, given to them at the UK Sri Lankan Community Awards in 2007. As the tables quickly filled up around us things certainly looked promising.
My partner ordered an achari gosht korma, described as tender lamb cooked with yoghurt, coconut milk and cashew nuts costing £7.50, as well as two rottis (flat breads) priced £1.75 each, to go with it after being told one may not be enough.
I chose a chicken kothu: small pieces of chicken, egg, onion, leeks and chilli mixed on a hot plate with string hoppers which were like fine noodles. A regular hopper is a bowl-shaped pancake which is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
My partner's dish was smaller than she expected and she said it didn't have much flavour. She was disappointed there weren't any cashew nuts, but was told they were only the base of the sauce. She added that the meat was tough.
My meal was more than enough for me but it was a little bland and seemed to soak up all the moisture in my mouth making me gulp down my imported Sri Lankan Lion Lager (£4.50 for a large bottle) with each bite.
Including a ten per cent service charge, which I was happy to pay as the staff were attentive and friendly. The bill came to £30.80.
Every other table was full and a group was queuing for take-aways as we made our exit and were left wondering whether we had ordered the only two bad dishes on the menu.
There are plenty of restaurants in Northfield Avenue, many not half as busy, so the Papaya must be doing something right. I just fail to see what it is.
But perhaps you had better not just take my word for this as there seem to be plenty of people who would disagree with me.