There is a little part along Victoria Road in Swindon that can lay claim to being Little India, with a string of spice restaurants along a tiny stretch. It would seem the Khyber was the place to kick it all off. The restaurant proudly declares itself as Wiltshire’s First and last year celebrated 50 years, the year when it was named the south west’s Caterer of the Year by the BCA. It has been in the same venue all along.
One thing that has certainly changed in that time is the decor. The long, narrow space is designed smartly in a contemporary style, with the mostly muted creams and whites offset with dashes of red and brown colour used on some of the seating. It works well and certainly looks a ‘night out’ place for couples.
Wonder how many of these they’ve dished up over the last 50 years?
So why after 50 years (plus one now, of course) haven’t they got the food right? The Chicken Patia (£5.95) was sweet but not sour. Or was it the other way around. Oh, I can’t remember, it was just a curry without any distinction. Which, as readers of the previous review of Jack Spice will note, is becoming a bit of theme in this town. The King Prawn Madras (£7.95) had decent-sized shellfish but was the most insipid madras I have ever had. Neither spice, nor kick, just a curry again.
This came with a tiny bowl of pilau rice (£2.35) and even the waiter chuckled when I asked which of the seven dwarves was joining us for dinner. The keema nan (£2.60) was decent enough but, again, fairytale sized. If you want to see a decent nan then check out the elephant ear.
Sometimes I can forgive a bog-standard curry when I’m hungry, especially if its good value but here the bottled Cobra is priced at £5.25 (they have draught beer at less eye-watering prices we discovered after the fact) and the popadom tax was 75p a pop.
The Khyber, 5-6 Victoria Road, Swindon, SN1 3AJ. Tel: 01793 523992. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s cold and I need a warming curry. The Raj looks nice. It is. Beautifully designed with bold print wallpaper and smart, carved chairs, the restaurant is set in two levels. The top level is full already despite it being early, so I head down a couple of steps to the lower level (you can still see the diners on the upper level). This level soon fills up too.
The waiters are friendly, especially the one from Goa, who proudly tells me about his home state. The food is good (Sheek Kebab starter at £2.25, Chicken Rogan £4.20, pilau rice £2 and a chapati 70p). I’m warming up.
Ideally for tourists, the restaurant it only a short walk from York Minster. But from the chatter and the accents, this is well-known and used by plenty of locals too. It’s easy to see why.
The Raj, 21/22 Bootham, York, YO30 7BW. Tel: 01904 612017/613366. E-mail: email@example.com. Open: daily 6pm-late.
You’ve got to love the name Jack Spice. Unfortunately not so the food. There was nothing really wrong with it, but there wasn’t much right with it. Plenty of jack, not much spice.
The attractive, cosy little restaurant was buzzing. This appears to be due to the Sunday to Thursday special where you can order paps, starter, a main, a side and rice or nan for £11.95. Everyone around us was making hay. It seems to be such the norm that the (first) waiter didn’t even bother giving us the option of anything else and was somewhat baffled when we turned down the paps (“but they come with your meal” he said, simply assuming we’d go for the special).
Jack Spice is one of those friendly places that thinks you want to meet all the waiters and owners within minutes of arriving, so one by one they all made their way to our table in quick succession, clearly not having a clue what we’d said to the previous waiter. Let’s be kind and say they were just making sure.
Chicken Shally. Sweet and sour dish with chipped potatoes on top
I wish they’d told us the Chicken Shally (normally £5.50) is not really like a Patia as it says on the menu. A well-cooked sweet and sour dish is always a delight when you get that first rush of sweetness then a kick to follow. It’s certainly not easy to balance such different tastes admittedly, but this was just a medium curry with absolutely no balance of spice. The shally bit, by the way, are fine potato crisps on top of the dish, which works remarkably well.
I can’t remember the other dishes because they all tasted like medium curry as well, although there was some sweetness in the end thanks to the Peshwari nan (£2.50). But by then we didn’t give a jack.
Jack Spice, 61 Fleet Street, Swindon, SN1 1RA. Tel: 01793 488098/613309. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open: daily 5pm-midnight (later on Fri-Sat).
I’d suggest you don’t arrive late for the noon to 2pm daily buffet as some of the food will be cold (tops off the serving trays, even the warmer plates seem to have given up). “Get here early, it’s nice and fresh,” I’m told.
That said the lunchtime buffet food at New Regency in Old Street is pretty decent for a paltry £5.95 (large takeaway £4.95 and a pound less for a small one). The promo leaflet says ‘over 16’ items but as an example from my visit you’ll get a couple of starters (onion bhajis and pakora), three curries (two veg and one lamb), a couple of rice and deals plus salad, pops, nan slices and a dessert.
But frankly for a quick and cheap lunchtime curry (it looks like it attracts local office workers) one or two decent dishes are fine. The Vegetable Curry was spot on, and with rice and salad makes a great lunch. If you like something a bit heavier the Lamb Curry with Chick Peas was sweet and tender too. This lot, at least, was still hot.
New Regency, 96 Old Street, London, EC1V. Tel: 020 7336 8636/8696. E-mail: email@example.com. Open: daily, noon–2pm, 6pm–midnight.
New Regency snapshot
Atmosphere (Tuesday lunchtime) 3⃣
Service and friendliness 7⃣
* Note: new rating system introduced. See About for more details
Inauspiciously situated (and advertised) as being next to Burger King and above Perfect Chicken, Chilli & Spice is a restaurant which knows about proper heat when it comes to Indian dishes.
Is it just me or are vindaloos and Madras dishes generally getting milder? I suppose I might just be immune to spice heat after decades of curry munching but in recent years I’m increasing unimpressed by many of these so-called hot dishes. Hot? Hot? You call that hot? Do the chefs pop their heads around the door and think, “Oh dear, he looks a bit pale, think I’ll calm his order down a bit.”
You will find no such worries at Chilli & Spice because the chef clearly knows how much heat dishes really should have. First up a King Prawn Dhansak (£9.50). Most of us know that this lentil-laden Persian dish should have sweet and sour tastes (tamarind and sugar usually does the trick). But there is a third leg to dhansak dishes and that is… hot. Prawns and lentils absorb heat fantastically and the chef here certainly knows how to use them perfectly to create all three tastes. Spot on.
And when it came to the Keema Vindaloo (£5.25) the chef certainly didn’t pop his head around the door. This was a proper vindaloo, with the mince lamb so drenched in spice it led to sharp intakes of breath. When was the last time a vindaloo made you do that?
PS. Try to get your hands on a takeaway menu leaflet before you visit as it includes a 25 per cent discount on food for diners.
“Didn’t you tip him?”
“Yes, I added it to the card.”
“Oh,” indeed. The question had been prompted because at the end of the meal at Red Chilli my credit card had been push-flicked towards me on to the table by the waiter from the plastic holder thing it’s always presented in along with the receipt. Had I imagined it? Sadly not. It had followed a couple of sharp comments from staff earlier which I had chosen to ignore (well, I had a curry to eat after all).
It’s pretty easy to keep me happy when it comes to curry. Give me a seat, a table and food that is spicy and a curry house has pretty much cracked it. Upmarket or downmarket, old-school or contemporary, cheap or pricey, hey, it’s all curry in the end. I’m not against that complimentary brandy when the curry is finished but it’s not crucial. But I think I’ll skip the bit where my credit card gets flicked towards me thanks.
Red Chilli had come highly recommended and its walls are covered in certificates celebrating various awards. The menu is extensive and, as well as the usual dishes there are two speciality sections – Red Chilli specialities and more unusually Vegetable House specialities with no fewer than 19 dishes listed. The word ‘Signature’ dots the menu indicating the restaurant’s special dishes.
Sadly, as well as the main waiters being off on holiday (I’m assuming), it seems the main chef had the night off too. My taste buds must have though I’d stumbled into a Chinese. The Chicken Shashlik (£7.50) came with fried tomatoes, peppers and onions as you’d expect. I suppose even the stir-fry style of the Mushroom Bhaji (£3.25) in a thick sauce could be enjoyed as ‘something different’. But there was a theme emerging and the Chicken Pathia (£6.50) stayed true to form. There was certainly sweet but where was the sour and hot? I quickly check the rice to see if it’s egg-fried.
This smart restaurant near Moorgate appears to have a steady stream of City workers looking to enjoy a decent curry in clean, cool surroundings after work or after a few post-work drinks. It is one of about 20 in the group I am told (and yes there is a Curry Leaf West, it’s near Tottenham Court Road).
The food inCurry Leaf East is not going to be the cheapest you’ll ever enjoy but you’ll be hard pressed to find better curry. This contemporary venue is right up there when it comes to quality ingredients and offers a balanced and interesting menu without completely ditching the old favourites.
The colour palette of the restaurant is mostly cool creams but set off with dark wood chairs and metal, latticed Indian-style lights. The centrepiece is a wooden installation hanging from the ceiling that will remind you of a small whale skeleton. A couple of tables sit under this, while others line the walls of the long, narrow space.
It’s always a delight to see Chicken Nilgiri Korma (£10.95) on a menu. This spicy version of the classic offers a nice balance of creaminess and spice bite, although this one came in a greener sauce than you’ll usually find thanks to freshness of the mint and coriander used to create the sauce. There is also dark rum in this dish.
Lal Maans (£9.95), a rich Rajasthani dish, was the closest dish we could find to the craved-after Keema. But don’t expect frozen peas anywhere near this dish. The small chunks of lamb were perfectly cooked and tender, and smothered in the trademark thick, dark sauce of northwest India.
The Khumb Makai Masala (£4.50) offered button mushrooms instead of the more common slices served in other curry houses, and the baby corn supplied an excellent crunch to add to the sweetness of the dish. Add to this the tang of the Lemon rice (£3.95).
The obvious freshness of ingredients ensured all the various flavours of each dish was distinctive and balanced and none were overpowered. One moment there was the creaminess of the korma, then the kick of the chilli, then the sweetness of the lamb and the zestiness of the rice. It’s what makes Indian food so wonderful and not something we should really be surprised at, but as we all know from the more cheap and cheerful corner-of-the-street curries, this isn’t always the case.
The only thing wrong with the West End (apart from the high prices, the tourists blocking the pavements etc) is that curry houses are thin on the ground. First you have to search for your curry fix, then you get ripped off with the prices, then the food is naff because they don’t need to try because of where they are. Luckily there is the Strand Tandoori.
Okay, you have to accept that a place so close to Covent Garden is going to be a bit more more expensive than your local on the corner of your road. In fact there will be a few dishes you will probably avoid due to the prices (Tandoori Chicken at £15.50 and King Prawn Biryani at £15.95 for instance) but generally it’s not toooo bad on the wallet.
The Chicken Dopiaza (£8.25) was probably the best I have ever tasted, with a delicious slightly creamy sauce that had me scraping the serving dish and thinking there must have been a bit of yoghurt added (the waiter’s raised eyebrows told me “no” when I asked). Great sauce, crunchy onions and perfectly cooked chicken. The Lamb Sag (£8.75) also delivered with an excellent consistency and no shortage of spinach (i’ve been in a kitchen where a sag dish was bulked up with the basic masala sauce to keep costs down). Add pilau rice (£2.95) and an extremely fresh nan (£2.25).
When in a place called The Balti House, have a balti, that’s what I say. The key attraction of a balti is the freshness of all those ingredients cooked together and the Chicken Tikka Balti (£7.50) was super fresh. Isn’t it great to taste the individual parts of a curry rather than them just getting lost in a mush? Baltis start from £5.95 (Balti Vegetable) and rise to £10.50 (Balti King Prawn Tikka) and are to be recommended.
Strange then, that these appetising curries are found not in the most appetising of locations – downstairs in a darkish part of Borough. The decor of wicker chairs and, neat but bog-standard tablecloths doesn’t add to the ambience. Think dining hall in a two-star holiday place in Majorca. Mind you, the waiters don’t speak Spanish and are very friendly. A draught pint was replaced without hesitation for a bottled beer at the mention ‘that it doesn’t taste right’.
Apparently The Balti House thrives on takeaways, which might explain why it was so quiet, despite a large number of tables. Luckily a slightly tipsy work crowd appeared to dismiss the quiet and before long there was even dancing. Now we had more than the food to entertain us.
The Balti House, 7/9 Newington Causeway, London, Se1 6BD. Tel: 020 7357 6175 or 020 7357 6177. Open: Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, 6pm-midnight. Sat-Sun 6pm-12.30am.
On a short stretch between the old town and new town of Swindon you will find a glut of choices for your spice needs. The Jewel in the Crown, we were told, was the one to choose. And clearly everyone else knows it.
The restaurant has many inter-leading rooms so the atmosphere remains intimate enough for a big place. And the big place was buzzing with couples and larger groups of friends out for a Saturday. In return they get good food, attentive service and, wow, glitzy decor (including the waiters’ outfits).
The interior designer certainly took the name of the restaurant to heart, possibly even a little over the top for some. Chairs are beautifully carved and upholstered, the dish warmers a notch up from anything you’ll usually see, and there are more chandeliers in here than a lighting shop. Waiters are dressed in traditional long, white shirts with fancy, colourful waistcoats.
It was a nice touch to serve a ‘shared’ Sheek Kebab (£2.90) on separate plates, each with their own salad, rather than the usual one plate-two forks version elsewhere. And it was tasty, top-quality meat too. These different touches continued. As dishes are wheeled to each table a single-ring gas burner is used by the waiters to make sure each dish in a Karahi is bubbling hot. Then there is the complimentary brandy, of course.
Eyes down from the decor for a moment and you could enjoy a Large Vegetable Biryani (£5.90) served with a large Vegetable Curry, or a Gourmea Garlic Chicken Massalla (£6.95). The food’s as good as the decor.
Jewel in the Crown, 14-16 Victoria Road, Swindon, Wiltshere. Tel: 01793 522687 or 511943. Open: noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-midnight.
Halal first opened its doors in 1939 (probably not the favourite year to be opening a new business in London, eh?) and says it is East London’s oldest Indian restaurant. Not sure how it was during WW2 but from current experience it’s no wonder it’s been going strong for so long.
There’s a touch of the old Raj about the place, with crisp, neat tablecloths, an old-style delivery hatch for the food in the middle of the room and waist-coated waiters who clearly do the job for a living and are not working their way through their studies. Knowledgeable, friendly and polite. But best of all is a superb wooden special’s board.
“It’s works like a cricket scoreboard,” explained one of the staff as he slid out one of the boards and flipped it over to show me what tomorrow’s special will (probably) be.
The menu itself is a no-nonsense list of what’s on offer. No flowery descriptions of the birth of a far off land of spices and wonder. No overdone descriptions of dishes and most certainly no little chilli icons next to dishes to help the spice challenged. I suppose they figure that if you haven’t worked out what’s what in the 73 years they have been dishing up curries you won’t now.
The samosas are legendary here (customers order them to take home for later munchies) so a regular we were with just ordered platefuls of Veg (£1 for two) and Meat (£1.20 for two) to get us going.
Not surprisingly classic dishes dominate and are decently priced, with Vegetable Curry starting off the mains at just £3.50 (or a half portion for £2.30), while you can enjoy Chicken Vindaloo for £5.50, Prawn Kurma for £7.25 and Meat Dhansak for £6.95. It’s also a nice touch that you can also order half portions of boiled rice (£1.40) and pilau rice (£1.60).
But there are plenty of interesting dishes to tantalise (in fact the waiter smiled a knowing smile at a bespoke request and assured us they can cook anything). The Meat Ball Vindaloo (£5.95) got the nod and it’s hard to remember a time when the tastiness of the meat itself fought through a vindy sauce. Meaty balls indeed.
This was scooped up with a, wait for it… egg nan (£2.50). How indeed do they get the egg inside the bread? The answer is they don’t – an omelette is laid on top of the bread. Apparently it doesn’t work to break an egg before cooking, although in true, “we can cook anything style”, I was offered an egg inside version (boil egg then break it up before cooking the bread).
Halal, 2 St Mark Street (Off Alie Street), London, E1 8DJ. Tel: 020 7481 1700. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open: Mon–Fri noon–11.30pm, Sat–Sun noon–10.30pm.
Talk about wrong first impressions. And second ones. Situated just an onion bhaji’s throw from Westferry DLR station in Docklands, the Spice Merchants has long been on my curry radar. After all, how can you see a place so often and not be tempted to visit?
At first I thought it was shop selling raw spices – the word merchants threw me. Then when I jumped off the DLR to replenish my spice pots at home I realised it was a restaurant. And because of its size it was now a huge restaurant in my head.
In fact the Spice Merchants is not the cavernous size I’d imagined. It’s like walking into a Tardis in reverse. Whoever designed this circular, brick-faced building certainly wasn’t thinking of utilising space to its full. Downstairs there are a couple of overflow tables but this is essentially used as a waiting area for takeaways. There is also a superb bar. The main seated area, of about 50 covers, is upstairs via a winding staircase. Due to the layout the tables are nicely spaced. Add in the airy contemporary design and it feels more intimate than other spaces of similar size.
But enough of my audition for Grand Designs. This is a classy contemporary Indian. A great menu, with a few interesting specials, but without ditching the old-school classics we all love, plus staff that know how to achieve just the right balance between service and friendliness.
Classics like Sheek Kebab (£3.45) taste as you expect (why do some chefs in contemporary places try to prove their worth by messing with proven classics?) but with a nice flourish in the presentation. If you want something different it’ll be hard to resist the wonderfully named Magic Mushrooms (£3.95). Think spicy scotch egg stuffed with mushrooms. Delivery again was fun and clever – each ball was placed on a raw onion ring. Nice one.
The King Prawn Jalfreizi (£9.95) was probably the best I’ve ever eaten with juicy, good-sized prawns and very fresh strips of peppers and onions coated in a thick sauce. The waiter hardly blinked an eye when asked if we could order a dish not on the menu (‘No problem. We can cook anything you want.”) so an order for Keema Madras was dispatched to the chef.
Bet Doctor Who never gets service like that in his Tardis.
Fifth wedding anniversary and Mr Plummy Mummy organises for his mother to look after sprog so we can swan off to Glasgow on Saturday for a spot of shopping, lunch at The Dhabba an award-winning restaurant dontchaknow, followed by a bit of culture via the Italian Art exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum.
I was a tad amazed as my other half is not the first to jump at the chance to shop and even less keen on art. I looked forward to the day and even promised we would first go to Forbidden Planet to stock up on comics (normally this is the last stop in a shopping day out when no one is in the mood). But, argh ghastly, lucky I got tonsillitis the week before and things looked dodgy. But I’m a stoic old gal who wants her curry and wants it now so sickness aside, even the 7.30am wake up with no anniversary cuddle didn’t put me off.
We got to Glasgow so early that hardly any shops were open but eventually made our way to the comic store where hubby went a bit mad (so much so that we spent precious shopping time trying to buy a rucksack to carry his haul of comic goods). Then, yippee, it was time for lunch.
The Dhabba is in Glasgow’s Merchant City, close to Glasgow Central station. It was Saturday lunch, and though it was in the business end of Glasgow, I had expected at least a few other diners. The place was deserted. It was hilarious that we had a table booked but you just never know. Eating in an empty restaurant is awkward as you are missing the atmosphere that makes eating out fun – the hustle bustle of waiters, the eavesdropping of conversations, the fun of watching people enjoying themselves. You also don’t really get an idea of what portion sizes are like or have a nosey glance at what other diners are eating. I almost walked out. But I was intrigued.
Where’s the flock wallpaper gone?
Do you remember in the ’70s and ’80s when curry houses had flock paper and Formica tables? Those days are long gone and here we found neutrally painted walls with some large North Indian images, sculptures and musical instruments, a discrete bar, laminated floors and lighting that you didn’t hit your head on as you sat down…yes, like our homes, restaurants have had that Ikea-type touch. It’s all so modern now.
Another trend is the little story in the menu which tells you about the restaurant name (Dhabbas are roadside restaurants in India), the type of food (Northern, Punjabi, ie not your bog standard curry house – Bengali) etc. I skipped over that as I was really only interested in eating.When nervous I make jokes. In this case it was with the waiter about how empty it was and that each time a waiter came to our table, it was a different guy.
We did eventually get our original server back – a nice Punjabi boy (I’m just guessing here as he had a turban on) who had just finished a Business degree. He explained that the owners had another restaurant in the area specialising in South Indian food (Dakhin). We were told Punjabi people prefer to eat Punjabi food. Well this little Gujarati gal and her Scottish man also like Punjabi food. I was pleased to see a separate section for vegetarian meals plus plenty of options in other parts of the menu (eg starters and tandoor sections). Most of them were paneer which didn’t bother me as I love the stuff.
Helpfully, the menu had icons for hot and very hot meals. As it was lunch we decided to forgo the starters. I had a hot Kadai Paneer (£9.95) with roti and rice. Hubby had a main from the tandoor menu, Boti Kebab Badami (£11.45), which is lamb fillet cubed and marinated in an almond paste with a naan. He opted to have a kadai sauce with his meal.
The waiter was helpful in telling us that one rice would be more than enough with the naan and rotis. While we waited we had drinks – a delicious Mango Lassi for me, Kingfisher for hubby, and we ate some papads with a selection of chutneys. Surprisingly this was the only slight negative in the experience as there was a green dip that was very bitter tasting although the papads were very crisp and fresh and the two remaining options (a mixed pickle, and a tomato chutney) were tasty.
Hubby’s kadai sauce was a slightly different colour to the one in my meal but I soon forgot all about it as we tucked in. The spicing was just right for lunch – hot enough to enjoy but not to sit heavy in the tummy. The paneer was fresh and firm. I would have liked a few more peppers in the dish but in the end I gobbled up what I was given with glee. The rotis were quite thick but tasty. Hubby didn’t managed to finish his very large naan but happily ate up all his lamb (without making much of a dent in the accompanying salad stuff!) and we finished the rice between us. We decided not to have a dessert as we were full so just got the bill. Although it’s a modern place and the prices are high compared to your local takeaway they do deals. We were given a Weekend Shopper/pre-theatre discount of half-price main meals. A bit of a bonus really.
When we asked about the empty restaurant the waiter told us that the previous weekend the restaurant had covered 150 tables. I think the weather and the Celtic v Hearts footy game may have kept people away the day we visited. It is just the way it goes. I’m going to convince hubby we should visit again for an evening meal and I’ve got a feeling he’ll jump at the chance.
PS. Alas the tonsillitis got the better of me and after the meal, we gave the art gallery a miss and we went home.P.P.S. I mentioned to the waiter that my most fave restaurant ever is the Punjabin Neal Street, London. He asked how they were different. I can’t put my finger on it but it think it’s the old wallpaper, the old photos, the laid-back Punjabi owners, the carpet on the floor but most importantly the gorgeous food. It’s a close call so for now, lets say The Dhabba is now my fave Punjabi restaurant North of the Border.
Anglo Asian Tandoori, Stoke Newington N16 (by Young Curry Fan)
A long-standing favourite on Church Street in Stoke Newington is the Anglo Asian that still has the same layout that it had when I was born (I am 11!)
A few days ago, I had an amazing curry with my mum and my sister.
I had a load of Sag Paneer with my mum while my sister was stuffing her face with Chicken Korma, because she was ‘afraid’ we would eat it all, but instead when I went to get some it had magically ‘disappeared’ into thin air!
So, instead of Korma I had some Tikka Masala with a peshwari naan and some coconut rice which I managed to get hold of before my sister did. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it a lot.
For dessert my sister had an ice cream in a little penguin pot. I had more of a sophisticated dessert as I chose some pistachio ice cream. My mum chose to avoid the ice cream and have a glass of wine instead!
The waiters were very nice, they told us where the toilets were when we arrived and the service was very good.
Anglo Asian Tandoori, 60-62 Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16 0NB. Tel: 020 7254 9298.
Well, after an afternoon walking in the local country park, I persuaded Mr Plummy Mummy that I was just too tired to cook (hand on brow, lots of sighs going on). Curry in Scotland is a serious affair and restaurants up here often win national awards, so expectations are always high. So far my experiences have been limited to take outs and the odd meal in Dundee. In fact, hubby proposed to me in Dil Se – a Dundee restaurant. Don’t groan… he had wanted to go to an Italian but I was dying for a curry that night. Mind you, we had spent the day beside the river Tay in beautiful Scottish sunshine and he had had the ring in his pocket. So raspberries to him.
Anyhoo, after seven months of being in Scotland again, I thought it was about time we had curry that I hadn’t made. We decided to order a takeaway from Ashoka Shak in Livingston, which is part of a chain of 14 restaurants, most of which are in Glasgow. You can even buy a cookbook for the meals they serve! We went to the one in Dundee last year for our wedding anniversary (can you see a theme to my wedding related adventures?). A quick meal before going to the cinema across the car park. That meal was fine but spicy. I had a paneer dish – a little strange in that there was no veg in the meal so it ended up being a bit too cloying.
It seems they have had some feedback on the paneer dish as their menu offering called Paneer Pardesi now includes spinach and mushroom so I ordered it as a main (£6.95). I also wanted a masala dosa as a side (£3.95) but they had run out, which either means the dosas are really good, or the restaurant don’t make enough. I chose a jodhpuri samosa instead (£3.25)
Hubby went for Lamb Jalpuri (£7.95) as his main. The order was completed with pilau rice each (£2.25) and a nan (£2.25). At the moment the Livingston branch is running an offer where you can order a curry then get a second one for £1.
The delivery took about half an hour, which was a reasonable time, and the food arrived very hot. The portions were quite large and I was pleased that the pilau rice was more natural brown looking then the normal multi-coloured affair you get in restaurants. We dished out the food and started to tuck in. The samosa had a potato and pea filling with the thicker crust found in Punjabi cuisine. I liked the taste of coriander seeds but was glad of the accompanying mint sauce as it was spicy. Hubby had half and left the rest.
Jodhpuri somasa (top) and Paneer Pardesi
I should have covered my tongue in the mint sauce before tucking into the main, which IMHO was ridiculously spicy. Unfortunately it also didn’t look very appealing as the vegetables were mushed up. I am not sure spinach and mushroom is a good mix now. The paneer pieces were big though, which is a plus. Luckily I had some plain yogurt in the fridge and doused my meal in that. I am also glad we only paid a £1 for it as I’d have been a bit miffed if we had paid full price for it.
Now for the picky bit – the pilau rice had a chalky starchy taste which usually happens when basmati rice hasn’t been rinsed enough prior to cooking. A Turkish mate of mine never washes her rice but I like the taste of her cooking so I forgive her. However, as I was in major critical mode, the pilau wasn’t good enough and again we left a lot of it uneaten.
Lamb Jalpuri with pilau rice
Mr Plummy Mummy said his meal was also spicy (like the one he had had in Dundee). Now here is where he and I differ, and as we have now had two meals from Ashoka Shak that were too spicy, I would never order from them again. He’s more fair and would try another dish. However, that will be a long time in the future, as for now we are going to try some of the other restaurants in and around Livingston first.
Delivery: £1.50 to £3.00. We paid £1.50 and it arrived within half an hour.
Specials: Check website as they have a lot of offers on.
Ashoka Shak, Livingston McArthurglen Designer Outlet, EH54 6QX. Tel: 01506 416622 or 417799. Open: daily noon-10.30pm. Home delivery 5pm-10pm.
Ashoka Shak snapshot
Food ① ②
Delivery service ① ② ③
Value ① ② ③ (only because we had the special offer, or it would be ② )
It’s all about the lights. You can see them as you drive pastZin Zeera in the evening and they look great. I’m sure that they’ve picked up a lot of business by people drawn in by the light show, but it’s only good food and service that will keep them coming back and at least on one count, they have a chance.
Zin Zeera opened last year on the old Bottoms Up site in Hellesdon. The opening night was by all accounts a bit of a disaster with cold food and big delays causing some diners to walk out. We went as a party of eight (including four children) on a Saturday night and apart from the lights, the first thing you notice is that it’s massive. The dining area is huge and although it is very impressively finished, all sparkly floors and chrome; cosy it is not. This will be their biggest challenge: filling the place. We arrived at 7 and by 8.30, prime time for curry eating, the restaurant was at best a third full.
Because of the size they have employed lots of staff; in fact they have a girl whose entire job was to hold the door open for people arriving and leaving. Bizarrely though, service was slow and inattentive. The waiter taking our order appeared totally distracted and kept looking back over his shoulder at the bar staff. No surprise that two dishes were missed from our order completely.
However, when the food did arrive, it was excellent. We had ordered a wide range of dishes from Korma (chicken £5.95, king prawn £9.95), through Bhuna (meat £6.45) and Dhansak (chicken £5.95) to Vindaloo (meat £6.45). My Dhansak was the best I’ve had – rich, full of flavour and not floating in a pool of oil like some I’ve had. The rest of the party also enjoyed their dishes.
Once the staff had finally noticed we had finished, egged on by my fellow diners, I even broke the cardinal rule and ordered a dessert! I didn’t believe they actually existed, I thought the whole dessert thing was just a game where you looked at a plastic menu full of frozen stuff before saying no and sticking a hot towel on your face.
The bill came to £150 for eight which included plenty of drinks so value was good and we were even given a discount card for 10 per cent off future bills and 20 per cent off takeaways.
So in all, it was a thumbs up for Zin Zeera. If they can improve their service and find some way to fill the place so it creates a better atmosphere, they will survive. They may even make enough of a profit to pay the light bill.
The Spice Lounge, Norwich
(Review by Norwich Curry Club @NorwichCurry)
The January gathering of the Norwich Curry Club took us to our usual venue of choice in Norwich, The Spice Lounge.
This restaurant was ground-breaking when it opened in Norwich and was a real break away from the traditional Indian restaurants in the city. Upon opening, it had a waterfall feature in its reception, Bollywood films playing on large screens and a funky decor, a far cry from its local rivals. Since then, other restaurants in the city have opened with a view to take its crown. However, its location and very good local reputation has meant that it still remains one of the best Indian restaurants around.
Upon entering this time, we found to our amusement, that there had been a minor refit since our last visit in November, with the biggest change for us, with bladders swollen by four pints of lager, was the relocation of the toilets. Normally, this is a trivial matter, but when nature calls as it so often does as soon as you enter any Indian restaurant, the relocation of the facilities is disturbing. The toilets in fact have not only moved location, they have moved floors, with their relocation being made to the ground floor, which used to be a ‘Mr Ben’ like area where your coats were stored then swiftly returned at the end of the meal before you ventured out into the Norwich streets. Not only have the toilets moved, but they are now even more confusing, with single cubicles for both men and women. So much so, that it became a challenge, with our most inebriated member taking 15 minutes to return from his toilet trip, despite it being a ‘standing up job’ only.
Despite ‘toilet-gate’, the rest of the restaurant has undergone a nice sprucing up, and instead of being placed in our usual ‘noisy corner’ reserved almost exclusively for all male groups, we were placed in the middle of the restaurant on a circular table. This was a welcome move as it gave us a full panoramic view of all facilities, always a winner.
Starters are a non-event for our curry club meetings, and although I do enjoy a Prawn Puree (£3.10) now and then, this is very infrequent. So, it was two poppadoms each (55p each), and then the usual pickle roulette arrived. As per usual, both were excellent, with the poppadoms being crunchy and crisp and the onion salad in particular being very palatable.
The menu has slightly changed, so for three of us, who usually plump for Chicken Jalfrezi (£6.35), decided to try the Naga Chicken with our boiled rice (£1.90). Re-assured by the excellent waiter who recognises us from our many visit that it was “between Madras and Jalfrezi strength”, it was swiftly ordered. It did not disappoint and its deep intense slightly peppery flavour went very well with the Keema Naan (£1.95). Bindi Bhaji (£2.35) was our solitary side order and this was also up to the usual standard.
Two pints later, the conversation had turned to first jobs and career history pre-curry club, which brought out some unusual revelations and amusing stories. It’s safe to say now that anybody wanting their drive tarmacked will now know where to come…
I am not quite sure where our coats are stored now, but they were returned at the end of the night, and for £17 each it was another good trip to The Spice Lounge
If you like a bit of exercise before and after your curry then it’s time to board the Bangalore Express. The trendy Waterloo restaurant is a stylish mix of smaller tables and highly polished long tables that encourage communal eating a la Wagamama. But the central design feature is the upstairs booths that are accessed via a bunk-bed style ladder, a quirky and fun part of the restaurant (although we were told they couldn’t be used as it was late, which seems a bit odd when it’s clearly used as one of the attractions of the place).
Dinner upstairs tonight darling?
The menu itself (printed in that casual throwaway sheet ‘we’re just soooo cool’ style) maintains the fun with some great world dishes on offer such as South Africa’s Bunny Chow (£10.50), Sri Lankan spicy mixed seafood with kottu roti bread (£10.50) and Burmese Chicken khauk-swe with thick egg noodles (£9.50) as well as old favourites like Chicken Tikka (£5.95) and Prawn Biryani (£11.50). Add 12.5% plate tax (sorry service charge) to all prices.
But central to the menu is the mix-and-match grid of ‘Big plates of curry and rice’ (£11.50, add £1.50 for prawns). Step one, choose from duck, lamb, chicken, prawns, fish, mixed seafood or vegetables, then your cooking style (from mild korma to fiery hot jungle curry), add a vegetable side (Bombay potato salad maybe?) and complete with your favourite rice (plain, pilau, mushroom and so on).
Sadly it seems to be a case of concept over curry because my choice of Kerala red rice, duck and medium tikka masala lacked cohesion. It’s clear, due to the concept, the meat was not cooked in the sauce, which is the very essence of what a curry is. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the individual ingredients is great, but it just feels like the chefs are dishing out your options from pots out back. I suppose it is a mix-and-match menu after all.
Ok curry lovers of Britain, brace yourselves for a new wave of curry houses like the Blue Eyed Maid Pub and Spice Lounge near London Bridge. Welcome to the traditional British pub with linked Indian restaurant. We are not talking a pub with restaurant next door, we are talking two fully integrated businesses working together.
It’s a great idea and although not the first time I’ve come across it, it’s perhaps surprising there are not more of these curry houses cum pubs. All the pleasures of a good old British pub with the greatest food on earth at the same time.
In this case the Blue Eyed Maid is the pub downstairs (with sports on TV, DJs and late bar) while the Spice Lounge is a smallish area upstairs serving Indian food (the same food can also be ordered in the pub).
There is an à la carte menu with all the old school favourites (Chicken Dupiaza £6.50, Lamb Biriani £7.95, Pilau rice £2.25) but the venue has a particularly good following for its lunchtime buffet, which is not surprising as the selection of dishes (which changes daily) costs just £5. The venue is also popular for private parties (buffet was just £10 for a recent visit).
It’s good. Keep your eyes open for a new wave of more of these curry house pubs.
Fish lovers prepare yourself. Sheffield you say? Fish lovers? Indeed, not the obvious place for a fish curry feast but apart from Goa in India I’ve never come across a curry house that serves up so many fish options as Kashmiri Aroma.
So much so that this decidedly nowhere-near-the-sea city (in British terms) has a special fish menu. Ever known that in a curry house? No, me neither. From there came the tasty looking scallops starter. “Huge they are,” said the diners (it sounds better in a Yorkshire accent).
From the sea also came the Dhuan Machli starter (£4.50), a nice piece of lightly spiced smoked haddock as well as the main Balti Machli Chilli (£9.95), a sort of spicy haddock Jalfriezi that was spiced beautifully and cooked to tender perfection with crunchy green peppers. If more curry houses could cook fish like this chicken sales would dwindle. Elsewhere on the menu is Halibut Steak (£14.55) a recipe from the Neelam River in Kashmir, Cod Lion (£12.55), Sea Bass (£11.95) from the villages of the Ravi River in the Punjab, and Goan King Prawns (£11.95) for coconut milk lovers. And this is not to even mention a string of other fish/prawn specialities and the old favourites like Prawn Korma (£7.50).
But the menu is extensive so the non-fish lovers around the table had no problem. A mention in dispatches for Chicken Liver Tikka (£3.70) a starter that sounds like it should be as dry as tongue after a heavy night but somehow pulled it off, and Shahi Garana (£8.50) a keema curry mixed in with chunks of chicken and a decent amount of sauce (is it me or does that dry keema thing get a bit too much sometimes?).
The venue (superb and large bar area by the way) has apparently been a pizza place, a Chinese, a whatever whatever eat eat in previous incarnations, but despite being a bit on the high end of the price range for a Sheffield curry house, unless something changes to these exceptional food standards it’s going to be Kashmiri Aroma for a long time.