Christopher Gray joins in the party marking the Snooty Mehmaan's fourth anniversary

I heard nothing but praise for the Snooty Mehmaan at last month’s humdinger of a party to mark its fourth anniversary. The range and quality of its food coupled with the courtesy and efficiency of the service have won the restaurant many friends.

It is hard to believe they were not all present on June 18, so numerous was the assembly of mehmaans. The word is Bangladeshi for guests, but snooty is the last thing these ones were. As the evening wore on they were even to be found shaking a leg (and much else) as the Rod Stewart tribute act Paul Metcalf strutted his way through Maggie May, You Wear It Well and other classics from the artist’s extensive songbook. This is emphatically not something that a true snoot would do.

The naming of the place was itself a tribute of a sort to the pub as it had previously been known. The Snooty Fox (formerly the Fox and Hounds) had not really prospered and, indeed, had stood empty for some time before its takeover by Londoner Asad Ahmed, the owner of Eastern Cuisine in Witney, and his then business partner Khalik Ahmed.

A swiftly expanding fan base developed, with customers being drawn from a wide area. This is necessary commercially, for the Snooty has an isolated location beside the A420 at Littleworth, near Faringdon.

I like to think I played a part in bringing in some of the customers, having enjoyed an excellent meal there with friends within a few weeks of the opening and shared my enthusiasm with readers of The Oxford Times.

Asad, now heading the business on his own, is clearly a happy man, with a winning enthusiasm for spreading joy about him. Offering my thanks to him midway through the party evening, I was able to express special gratitude for the platform he had afforded to Yasmin Choudhury and her new British charity, the Amcariza Foundation, which works to help the impoverished of Bangladesh.

Having herself rediscovered her family’s Asian roots, Yasmin is eager to promote a more optimistic view of poor countries and encourage us, for instance, to take holidays in them. The vehicle for her promotional spiel — performed here, most entertainingly, for the first time — is a cookery demonstration.

The dish she produces is not, I’d imagine, one we would be likely to try ourselves at home, being a traditional Bangladeshi chicken curry, cooked slowly over wood. We watched the whole process from the lighting and fanning of the fire, through the grinding of the cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom and the like on a granite slab, to the careful cooking of the aromatic mixture in a pan suspended over the flames.

The Oxford Times:
Celebratory dinner: Chris and Rosemarie with, right, Jarl Steven, chief executive of Owen Mumford

And then we ate the finished result. She had not, of course, cooked sufficient for the 150 guests in the one performance. The rest, as TV chefs traditionally say, ‘had been prepared earlier’.

The delicious curry, with the merest trace of wood smoke detectable in the meat amid the zing of the spices and herbs, was but one of a range of dishes laid on with buffet service for party guests.

Before this stage of the evening was reached, however, we had already had much to delight us on the food front with “pre-starters” as we assembled over glasses of prosecco in the bar.

Laid out before us were bowls of Bombay mix, cucumber salad, aloo chat, dahi wada and tandoori chicken salad. These were constantly replenished by waiters, who then switched roles to circulate with the starters proper. My favourite was murgh malai kebab, skewered cubes of yoghurt-marinated chicken and cheese oven cooked with red and green peppers, although I also found it difficult to resist the juicy tempura prawns or the deep-friend mashed potato dumplings stuffed with brie (aloo brie tikki). Rosemarie voted the spiced minced beef patties with puff pastry her favourite.

During this reception I was delighted to become reacquainted amid the throng with the former joint-boss Khalik Ahmed. He told me there was much more to come, which helped me stay my hand. I learned later from jolly neighbours in the party marquee that some had believed this lavish spread to be the main event, though they still found room for what was offered by chefs.

Murgh navrathan was a favourite dish of the Mughal Emperor King Akbar — now I bet he had snooty mehmaans. It consists of chicken cooked in a rich creamy gravy with nine kinds of nuts (navrathan), watermelon seeds and poppy seeds. The emperor probably needed new, ever-larger, clothes if he indulged in this rich delight too often.

Thai fish (tilapia) cooked with mixed peppers and onions was a lighter option. The Thai chefs also offered stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and beef in red wine sauce. From the Bangladeshi team came also palak paneer, home-made cottage cheese cooked with spinach and fresh tomatoes, and Dahiwala achari gosh.

While I dipped into a super-looking fruit salad (pictured), others sampled gulub jamun, a milk-solids-based dessert like a dumpling, traditionally made from freshly curdled milk.

This was a super evening, made the more enjoyable by the excellent company at our table. Like all nice people, Asad has some nice friends.

* The Snooty Mehmaan has been selected as one of 13 restaurants to compete in the Tiffin Cup 2014 grand final, which is held at the House of Commons.

The Snooty Mehmaan
Littleworth, Faringdon SN7 8PW
01367 242260
thesnootymehmaan.co.uk

Opening times: Daily, noon-2.30pm (until 4pm Sunday when buffet lunch is served), 6-11pm.
Parking: Large on-site car park.
Key personnel: Owner Asad Ahmed, executive chef for Bangladeshi cuisine Ahsan Shiekh, Thai executive chef Payung Moolthongchun, assisted by Zihaduz Zaman.
Make sure you try the... mixed Indian starter platter for two (£14, paneer dil khus tikka (£6), murgh lasoni tikka (£7), mango spring roll (£6), aromatic duck pancake (£10), Imperial mixed platter for two (£14). Indian chef’s specials of Goan cod curry (£16), roasted venison loin (£18), king prawns and spinach (£16), Thai main courses of green, red, massaman and Penang curries (£8-£16), assorted stir fries (£14-£16) and noodles (£8-£13), home-made Indian desserts (£6) and English favourites.
In ten words: Huge range of Bangladeshi and Thai dishes served with style.