Punjabi food in Leicester

A typical Punjabi breakfast of mooli paratha and thick yoghurt.

A typical Punjabi breakfast of mooli paratha and thick dahi.

Although it was the Gujaratis of East Africa who first made their home in the Belgrave area of Leicester, later waves of immigrants from India-proper, especially from the Punjab, arrived to the city, bringing with them their own regional dishes and ingredients. Though Punjabi food is perhaps best represented in Southall  (a kind of mini-Amritsar in the heart of suburban West London), you can still enjoy authentic versions of this famous Indian cuisine amid Belgrave’s myriad Gujarati-owned paan, farsan and thali outlets.

For an authentic, worker-style breakfast, (known in Punjabi as nashta) I opted for Punjab Palace, an unassuming little café diner run by a friendly elderly couple cooking up traditional fare out of what looks like their home kitchen. Here I went for a simple mooli paratha with dahi, a thick, low-fat yoghurt, and a sweet masala tea. Hearty and filling, this was the sort of solid, starchy breakfast designed to keep you going until lunchtime.

Chole bhatura at Sharmilee in Leicester.

Chole bhatura at Sharmilee in Leicester.

Despite feeling happy and full, I was already eagerly planning my next meal, which I’d decided was to be the iconic vegetarian dish chole bhatura, a medium-spicy chickpea curry served with bhatura, a puffy fried bread rich in carbs and calories. For this, I headed down the road to Sharmilee, something of an institution in these parts and popular with local Punjabis and non-Punjabis alike. Doubling up as a caterer for lavish Punjabi wedding feasts, the place is packed pretty much every time I walk past, and the plates of food always look copious and appealing. Indeed, chole bhatura was hearty and delicious, and exuded a rich, satisfying home-cooked flavour.

As a way to round off my brief foray into the cuisine of the Punjab, I couldn’t quite resist a couple more snacks back at Punjab Palace. First, a papdi chaat, basically a plate of Indian crisps and chickpeas blended with a spicy tamarind and yoghurt sauce, and a cloying cham cham sweet to round off yet another wonderful culinary adventure.

And a sickly-sweet cham cham to finish.

And a sickly-sweet cham cham to finish.

 

Punjab Palace
131A Melton Rd
Leicester
LE4 6QS

Sharmilee
71 Belgrave Rd
Leicester
LE4 6

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Ghanaian Food in Nottingham

Scrumptious sea bream, banku and peppers.

Sea bream, banku and peppers.

The food of sub-Saharan Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in general for that matter, has long been uncharted territory for me. Not that I’d ever sneered at the idea of eating fufu and searing hot peanut soup with my bare hands (they’ve already developed thick callouses from the innumerable Indian curries, chapattis and rice I’ve eaten anyway), I’d just never really found an opportune moment to do so here in the UK.

Many of the West African eateries back home in London tend to double up as community hubs for the sizeable Ghanaian and Nigerian populations you find, particularly in places like Hornsey and Tottenham, so entering one of these busy establishments would make me seem like a bit of an interloper in their affairs– something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with and the sort of nervous situation hardly conducive towards experiencing, let alone digesting a good meal. Maybe this was all in my imagination, but I knew one thing – my first taste of the rich, time-honoured cuisine of Ghana in particular (a cuisine popularized in foodie circles by Spinach & Agushi, a successful street food chain based in London’s trendiest neighbourhoods), had been long overdue.

While I’d casually strolling along multicultural Alfreton Road among the various Turkish convenience shops, Caribbean bakeries and Kurdish tea houses, I came across a utilitarian, white tile-adorned café festooned with Ghanaian flags and Fulani-style fabrics. It had barely passed noon, the place was empty, but looked oddly inviting and the small menu promised a generic but entirely authentic selection of Ghanaian dishes for budget prices.

With a slightly devil-may-care attitude, I entered A Taste of Africa and was promptly greeted by a smiling, gregarious waiter keen to find out what had brought me here and to gauge my knowledge of Ghanaian cuisine. To my credit, I was actually able to reference several key features of the cuisine (peanut, or groundnut soup, jollof rice, fried plantains and tilapia, as well as the propensity for Ghanaian men to down unholy amounts of palm wine). Also impressed that I knew his hometown of Kumasi to be the second city of Ghana, the waiter (who was also head chef that day) promised to whip up a delicious feast of fresh sea bream, banku (a fermented cassava dough, similar in consistency to fufu) and a selection of fiery red peppers. By this time, my taste buds were positively tingling with anticipation.

While waiting for my meal, I was accompanied in the small seating area by a Ghanaian mother and her adorable little children, all glued to the huge plasma screen showing indigenous TV from back home (in this case, a hammy melodrama involving a heady mix of black magic, internet scams and sordid love affairs – not exactly child-friendly material, but hey, at least the kids were settled).

As soon as my food arrived, I felt my stomach rumble, which I knew to be a sign a good meal was to be had. Indeed the succulent white fish fried mixed with the two sweet yet fiery hot sauces was near-perfect, and the doughy, starch-filled texture of the banku equally delightful. By this time, the lady next to me had also received her food – a steaming hot bowl of meat stew (possibly goat) with a two round balls of omo tuo, or rice balls, floating in the middle. It smelled divine, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous of what she was eating.

Still, there’s always next time I guess…

Taste of Africa
160 Alfreton Road
Nottingham
NG7 3NS

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Pakistani Food in Nottingham

Nihari - one of Pakistan's signature dishes.

Nihari – one of Pakistan’s signature dishes.

If you’re a confirmed carnivore and lover of meat in all its wonderful manifestations, from spicy grilled lamb skewers to succulent tandoori chicken, you’re bound to delight in the diverse and meat-centric cuisine of Pakistan. Unlike neighbouring India which is predominately Hindu and therefore a vegetarian culture by-and-large, Pakistan goes all in when it comes to eating animals (provided of course the animals have cloven hooves and are slaughtered in the correct way, as per Islamic edicts).

Although Nottingham’s Pakistani community isn’t as large as say Birmingham’s or Manchester’s, it’s still reasonably well-represented both culturally and gastronomically, especially in the Hyson Green neighbourhood where various Islamic cultures from Kurds to Kashmiris live side-by-side. Here you can find a pretty decent selection of shops selling a dazzling array of electric-coloured mithai to satiate all your sweet cravings, and the usual tandoor and grill specialists like The Khyber Pass and Royal Sweet Centre, both claiming to offer ‘a true taste of Pakistan’.

To experience the full spectrum of Pakistani dishes, including more home-style specialties, it’s worth heading to Desi Express, a small and very popular chain restaurant frequented mainly by British-Pakistanis. In this lively, slightly chaotic institution, customers tend to bring huge appetites prior to ordering a cornucopia of grilled meats cooked on the onomatopoeic takatak grill. The grill selection includes the usual lamb chops, sheek kebab and tandoor-style chicken, as well as all manner of innards and extremities, including brains and testicles (stuff that is conveniently omitted from the restaurant menu, but which can be ordered upon request).

However, it was the celebrated Pakistani classic Nihari was what I was actually here for, and Desi Express seemed to be the only eatery in town where I could once and for all taste this beloved national treasure of slow-cooked lamb shank in thick meaty gravy. As soon as the dish was served up to me, I just knew it had to be good. The lamb meat mounted in a rich sauce with glistening globules of fat, was falling off the bone and looked insanely appetizing. By the end of my feasting, every  morsel of tender meat and every drop of delicious sauce was mopped up with every inch the generous hunk of hot naan provided. Salted lassi, a refreshing yoghurt-based similar to Turkish ayran drink, cleansed my pallet nicely and provided a perfectly cool accompaniment to the fiery green chillies in the dish.

Lamb's testicles from the takatak grill at Desi Express.

Lamb’s testicles from the takatak grill at Desi Express.

But the meal wasn’t over just yet. As I’d been sitting tantalizingly close to the takatak grill throughout the duration of my meal, I’d been inhaling the ethereal fumes of marinated mystery meats and this piqued my curiosity to venture into parts unknown, or so to speak. Moreover, the notion of putting balls in my mouth for the first time (something I recall Bourdain raving about in the Morocco chapter of ‘A Cook’s Tour’) was simply too good to resist…

The young, 20-something waiter looked slightly bemused as I tried to muffle my order of “grilled lamb’s testicles”, in a restaurant rammed with punters sitting cheek-by-jowl, but reluctantly agreed, much to the bemusement of the tough-looking grill cooks proudly manning their station. While surreptitiously exchanging words in Urdu and throwing the odd haughty glance in my direction, the cooks whipped a portion of the lamb’s extremities noisily on a searing hot plate and before long my balls were served to me in a bowl, in a manner of speaking.

Much to the cooks’ collective astonishment, I gleefully scoffed the entire bowl of tender meaty chunks which were served this time in a more delicate ginger-laced sauce which was really flavourful. The balls were awesome – better than I had imagined in fact, and well worth the initial embarrassment of ordering them.

Despite waddling home after the colossal amount of food I’d had at Desi Express, I felt uniquely satisfied, and beaming with the sort of happy smile one displays has after having indulged in such carnivorous excess. And the price was none-too-shabby, either: two mammoth dishes, copious naan and a half jug of lassi all for just under a tenner. Perfect.

Desi Express
113 Radford Rd
Nottingham
NG7 5DU

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Afghan Food in Nottingham

Ashak - Afghan-style dumplings.

Ashak – Afghan-style dumplings.

A culinary grey area for the majority of Britons and certainly one of the most underrepresented of Middle Eastern cuisines here in the UK, the food of Afghanistan certainly isn’t the easiest to come by. If you live in Nottingham however, and are prepared to venture into the edgy, multicultural shopping hive of Hyson Green (essentially the city’s hub of Islamic and Asian culture), there is one place where you grab an authentic slice of a cuisine borne of cross-cultural pollination along ancient trade routes between West and East.

Kabul Express, a small unassuming takeaway/café-style eatery with the patina of an ordinary kebab joint, offers authentic Afghan dishes for modest prices. But for Kabul being in the name, you wouldn’t necessarily know this specialised in an array of dishes reflecting Afghan’s diverse ethnic tapestry and the rich history of a nation forged through centuries of internal upheaval and conflict.

Aside from familiar meat-on-a-stick offerings (which though still awesome, represent a tiny part of this nation’s cooking), I was unaware of just how refined and sophisticated the cuisine of Afghanistan really is. From what I’d read prior to venturing into Hyson Green, Afghans evidently put special value on meal times – food, and copious amounts of it, being at the centre of family and social occasions in a nation where good hospitality is everything.

Qabli Pulao - the signature dish of Afghanistan.

Qabli Pulao – the signature dish of Afghanistan.

Contrary to what I had assumed, the cuisine has less in common with the food of neighbouring Pakistan and owes far more to its westerly neighbour, Iran. The flavours, much akin to the ancient cuisine of Persia, are nuanced and subtle, the spice blends being based on a canny interplay of sweet and sour rather than being full-on and fiery.

While I couldn’t resist the temptation of a slab of freshly barbecued meat from the grill (in this case, beautifully tender lamb chops in a spicy yoghurt marinade), the dishes that impressed me most were indeed the less familiar, but quintessentially Afghan specialities. The signature Afghan dish, as I was told by the friendly and obliging owner of Kabul Express, is Qabli Pulao, a deceptively simple dish of rice, carrots, sultanas and lamb originating from the country’s capital. The depth flavour in this dish is quite something, with the rich, savoury lamb-infused rice cut by the sweetness of fried sultanas and thin carrot strips. Similar to biryani, the rice is hearty and serves as a perfect standalone dish. I’d imagine this, served alongside curries and the ubiquitous naan breads, would be the ultimate comfort food for home-sick Afghans.

As a side dish I ordered Ashak, or leek dumplings, which clearly have their origins in a neighbour slightly further to the East. Served in a delectable meat sauce with an attractive yoghurt swirl and fresh herbs, they were simply some of the most appetising dumplings I had ever eaten. The dish was simply exquisite, and easily the highlight of the meal. Afghan chai, or Kahwah, a sweet, cardamom-infused green tea was equally equisite and a perfect way to round off a wholesome and delicious dining experience, which was positively enhanced by the warmth, hospitality of the owner who delighted in my enthusiasm for the food of his country. Acting as a de facto cultural ambassador for his nation, which many of us associate merely with grinding poverty and terrorism, he was keen to promote his hometown of Kabul as a potential tourist destination, citing its stunning ancient Islamic architecture and picturesque snow-capped mountain scenery.

While I won’t be holidaying in Kabul any time soon, or at least until it becomes safe for Western visitors, I can at least make regular excursions to a mini Kabul right in the heart of the East Midlands. This really is a unique culinary offering, extremely rare even in the UK’s larger cities and something the people in Nottingham should be proud to boast of.

Kabul Express
64 Gregory Boulevard
Nottingham
NG7 5JD

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Gujarati Food in Leicester

khandvi[1]

Khandvi. Gujarati-style pasta made from chickpea flour.

Think of Leicester, and you’ll think of a farily non-descript city a short train journey south of Nottingham, the most common reference points of which are Walkers Crisps, Kasabian and more recently the Plantagenet King of England, Richard III whose final resting place was discovered to be under a car park used by the city’s social services. But for these fine features, the city holds little allure for me and presumably most of the sane among you, too. That said, it does have one saving grace.

As many of you probably know, Leicester is home to a sizeable community of Indian immigrants and their descendants, the majority of whom fled persecution from Amin-era Uganda where many worked in the textile and garment industries. These East African Indians, brought over as economic migrants from the North Eastern Indian state of Gujarat, have successfully established their own thriving businesses along Leicester’s Belgrave Road (often nicknamed the “Golden Mile”) and have injected this previously declining inner-city district with their own vibrant, colourful  and exotic culture. With this, they’ve also brought with them their distinct cuisine, which the doyenne of Indian cookery Madhur Jaffrey once famously described as “the haute cuisine of vegetarianism”.

The Gujaratis boast a splendid range of dishes immediately distinguishable from the largely Pubjabi-influenced fare found in most of Britain’s curry houses. For a start, the food is almost exclusively vegetarian as per the edicts of Jainism, a polytheistic faith found chiefly in the state of Gujarat which prohibits the slaughter and consumption of animals. Secondly, it’s far more sophisticated and lighter than the typically creamy, coconut-laden curries you’ll find up and down the country, with delicate and nuanced spice blends designed to harmonise hot, sour and sweet flavours. Gujaratis compensate for the lack of meat by making use of a wide variety of vegetables; a typical thali, or lunch plate, will usualy consist of 3 vegetable shabzi, or curries, and is served with chappatis or roti (used to mop up the sauces), and a small sweet and nutty morsel to finish.

On arriving on the Belgrave Road (just north of the city centre ring road) you’ll notice, amid the countless South Asian jewellers, saree shops and Indian banks, quaint little bakeries selling an array of electric-coloured and frankly cloying Indian sweets or mithai, plus an equally if not more exciting selection of farsan, or savoury Gujarati snacks. From khandvi, an exquisite Fettucine-like pasta made from gram flour and drizzled with a light, vinegary chilli oil , to handvo, a savoury cake made from 3 sorts of lentils and topped off with toasted sesame seeds, the offerings on display show just how refined, delicate and complex the vegetarian cuisine of Gujarat really is. For an authentic taste of Gujarati home-style cooking, I opted for the Four Seasons Chaat House, a modest café-style diner with a long list of effusive reviews serving delicious and 100% vegetarian Gujarati fare for rock-bottom prices. A plate of chaat (the house speciality and a staple dish throughout India consisting of chickpeas and mixed Indian crisps), a masala dosa (a hearty pancake with a spicy potato filling) and a mango lassi (a yoghurt-based milkshake drink flavoured with thick mango pulp) to wash it all down, came to just £5 in total. Without exaggerating, I can truly say that this was one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever eaten in the UK.

Idli sambar and paper dosas were gobbled up with lashings of coconut chutney @ Four Seasons Chaat House.

Idli sambar and paper dosas were gobbled up with lashings of coconut chutney at the splendid Four Seasons Chaat House in Leicester.

After filling up on copious amounts of food, I was told by my local fixer (himself an Indian of Goan descent) that the perfect digestive was paan, or betel leaf wrap filled with a concoction of spices laced with an unearthly red rose syrup. The ritual of eating this time-honoured delicacy has the feel of taking an illegal drug  (albeit without actually doing so), and after munching into this tender leafy package, your teeth will be left stained and looking as though you’ve been chewing on novelty blood capsules.

Aside from all the wonderful food available here, perhaps the most heartening thing about Belgrave Road is the warmth and earnestness of the local Gujaratis themselves. Everyone I came across, from the tiny saree-clad lady I met in the Indian supermarket, who showed unlimited patience in explaining to me the tastes and cooking potential of various Indian vegetables like the bitter kerela and ubiquitous metha leaves, to the irrepressible proprietor of a Bollywood DVD and record store who delighted in my enthusiasm for Hindi classics like “Sholay” , were friendly and only too willing to share with me their culture and customs.

Not once was I, a conspicuously white European with attendant British reticence, made to feel like an interloper in their community. Just by showing a little readiness to learn, I was able to access a culture distinct from my own and to have an authentic taste of Gujarat, without ever straying from the East Midlands. If you’re up for a spot of adventure one afternoon, I suggest you make the short journey south and do the same.

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Jamaican Food in Radford (Part 2)

Red snapper in a delicious sweet and sour sauce with callaloo rice.

Just a quick entry to whet your appetite a bit. So, after arriving at the ‘Jamaican Ways’ Carribean food joint in Radford this Sunday only to find it had closed for the afternoon, I made it my mission to go back there at some point this week when it was open. Today’s balmy weather and the blissed-out summer vibes were all indicating to me that it was the perfect time to head out and get some equally feel-good Carribean grub. The omens were good and I had the instinctive feeling the food was gonna be even better…

Jamaican Ways was open and was in full-swing during what seemed to be a busy lunch hour. The place had a varied menu which featured sea bream with polenta and red snapper with callaloo rice as the day’s specials. Something made me fancy the latter more (more vibrant-sounding perhaps) so I went for it. It was amazing, I mean really amazing: freshly cooked and packed full of flavour – it tasted every inch as good as it looked.

I was only in there very briefly, but this place truly lived up to the internet hype I’d been reading earlier and seemed like one of those enduring, unpretentious and authentic eateries you can’t help become fond of. Needless to say, I’ll be back very soon…

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Jamaican Food in Radford

Chantel B's Tasty Bites, Radford

In the depths of Radford – a rather drab and oppressive inner-city district just a stone’s throw from the manicured, rarefied and slightly bourgeois atmosphere of the Nottingham University campus – you can find some of the most authentic and exotic foods this country has to offer. The area is hardly salubrious and you’d do best to avoid it most of the time but it is to it’s credit, an absolute hive of multiculturalism – with Carribean, African and Asian communities mixing it up and contributing to an abundance of foreign influences and foods within a confined, yet densely packed square mile.

Nottingham has a small but visible and long-established Jamaican community and, despite the fact I’ve been living here for some time I’d rarely taken time to venture out into the grittier neighbourhoods in town for a bit of island cuisine. However, the sun was out and the congenial summer feel of a lazy Sunday disolved my somewhat priggish suburban suspicions of the area of Radford which has quite a substantial population of Jamaican settlers and their descendents.

10 minutes into my journey and I’d arrived at Hartley Way – but I’d hit a snag: Jamaican Ways (AKA the place recommended to me by my trusted friend Google on account of it having a wide and varied menu and a long list of praising reviews) was shut and so was seemingly everywhere else. Thankfully, directly opposite me stood a cafe which, despite having a more limited and in some ways a more stereotypical Jamaican menu than the other, looked instantly convivial and appealing. Jamaican staples like jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, red snapper and curry goat all featured on the menu and I must admit to being a little despondent after having psyched myself up beforehand for the lively and extrinsic-sounding lime-escovitched sea bream at the other place, but I guess this was going to be as good as any.

Curry Mutton with rice and peas.

Chantel of “Chantel B’s Tasty Bites” recommended the curry mutton (a variant of the massively popular Indo-Jamaican dish curry goat) with the obligatory side of rice ‘n peas (a ubiquitous Jamaican side dish of long grain rice with black-eyed peas and soaked in coconut milk to counteract fiery meat and poultry dishes). Done well, this is a wonderfully hearty and filling meal and in a way I was glad I’d ended up with something more traditional to sink my teeth into. The mutton is eaten off the bone and remains delectably tender after having been cooked slowkly in a blend of ingredients reflecting Jamaica’s myriad mix of foreign influences. I thought it only suitable that I washed it all down with a sweet Carribean soft-drink, so I opted for a grape soda in favour of the ultra-sickly Bigga Fruit Punch.

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Restaurant Review #3 – Noodle King

It is surprisingly hard to find a decent Cantonese eatery in Nottingham. Due to a recent influx of students to the city’s two universities from mainland China (namely, the Mandarin-speaking parts), and given the University of Nottingham’s close ties to its overseas campus in Ningbo near Shanghai, the traditional Hong Kong cuisine that used to dominate our Chinese restaurant menus (albeit in a very gloopy, corn starch-laden Westerner-friendly form) is starting to be replaced by newer Mainland Chinese regional varieties in the city. While I honestly believe this to be a positive trend and while many of our high-street Chinese takeaways remain intact despite this change in our eating habits, the traditional and authentic Hong Kong café-style eateries are dying out, as many snub the old-school cuisine that arrived here in the 1950s for more exotic varieties increasingly gaining attention in culinary magazines and on TV. Whereas Hong Kong and Cantonese cuisines are milder and largely rice-based, Northern Chinese cuisines (Sichuan, Peking, Shanghai etc.) tend to be spicier and more wheat-based, with noodles being the main staple. I’m personally a bigger fan of the old-school Cantonese way of cooking and find the cuisine to generally be more robust and mouth-watering than its Northern counterpart cuisines —a higher MSG content might be a contributing factor, but hey, is that necessarily a bad thing?

I’d had a hankering for a plate of authentic Cantonese food for the last week or so and was finally able to satisfy my craving when I inadvertently stumbled across “Noodle King” in Nottingham’s cobbled-street Lace Market quarter. The place was small, unassuming and basic but had a characteristically vast Cantonese menu on offer in addition to a few Northern Chinese specialities. On realising the staff and owner were Cantonese, I immediately knew that what I had to order was a plate of something quintessential to that region; roast duck on a bed of white rice seemed to fit the bill just perfectly and low and behold, it even exceeded my expectations. Tender, glistening with little fat globules and loosely encased in that delectably crispy, sweet molasses-lacquered skin, this was every cured meat lover’s dream. In fact, this is exactly the sort of thing one might go for at a dai pai dong (a typical Hong Kong outdoor food vendor) and one mouthful of this food will make you feel as if you’ve been to the South China metropolis.

My prediction is that Cantonese food will enjoy a resurgence in the near future as soon as people realise how incredible the REAL stuff is. Until that time, you can enjoy flirting with the now bewildering range of regional Chinese cuisines available in this country – as well as indulging guiltily from time-to-time, in that electric-pink coloured sweet and sour pork you might get at places like Tung Fong or Fortune Boy.

Noodle King, 15 Goose Gate, Nottingham

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Restaurant Review #2 – MemSaab

Another restaurant review that is sure to whet your appetite. This time it’s MemSaab, which is one of several of Nottingham’s flagship Indian restaurants aligning Maid Marian Way (a well-known stretch of Nottingham’s central ring road). But how you ask, does a poor twenty-something student like me afford to eat here? Well, thankfully I wasn’t the one paying; however, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge footing the bill next time as this was by far the most exquisite Indian food I’ve ever experienced in the UK.

From the outset of your MemSaab experience, you’re made well aware of the restaurant’s prestigious local and national reputation by a long-list of effusively praising reviews written by the likes of The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph emblazoning the front door, as well as a proud and shimmering display of its countless restaurant awards — including Best Indian in Nottingham for four consecutive years — which face you directly as you enter. It was clear to me that the restaurant upheld standards that were far higher than that of your average high-street Indian, and that it was more than keen to assert its stature. Despite this — and to the restaurant’s credit — there wasn’t even a hint of self-aggrandizing about the overall presentation. The waiters who served us throughout the meal were impeccably mannered and attired, incredibly attentive and unerringly professional (perhaps even teetering on being slightly austere — but I won’t hold that against them). The restaurant’s interior was positively cavernous (with seating for over 150), but still made to feel intimate by its dim lighting and tasteful modern/traditional fusion décor complete with ornate Vastu Shastra stone arches and colourful avant-garde canvass portraits.  As expected, the food was absolutely exquisite: the menu featured dishes from various Indian regions including Punjab and Goa, and was as varied as it was vibrant. The obligatory pre-starter of poppadoms with a side of three chutneys was perhaps the most memorable part of the meal given the sheer freshness of the homemade chutneys (the mint one was truly exceptional, I must say). My starter of local ostrich meat marinated in a tandoori spice mix was a perfect synergy of mouthwatering flavours with a delectably tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture. For my main, I opted for the Goan fish curry which consisted of silky white fish in a strong fishy-infused gravy, calmed by sweet and milky essences of coconut. Indeed, it was nothing short of culinary perfection. Sides of peshawari naan, Bombay aloo and vegetable curry were again, all thoroughly delicious and impossible to fault. In short, this was unpretentious pan-Indian fayre done according to exceptional standards.

Overall, dining at MemSaab was a memorable experience; but, being a critic, I feel I ought to ask myself if there’s any way I can possibly find fault: well, I’d say that given how immensely enjoyable the experience was, MemSaab ought to have discovered a way of slowing time by now, in order that you may enjoy your dining experience for longer. And yes, it was THAT good.

12-14 Maid Marian Way
Nottingham NG1 6HS
0115 957 0009

Open Mon-Thu 5:30pm-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11pm; Sun 5pm-10pm

 

MemSaab on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review #1 – Petit Paris

I came across this little French/Parisian-style bistro place quite inadvertently when traipsing the back alleys of Nottingham city centre in search of a quiet and unpretentious eatery, primarily to avoid the soul-destroying and inevitable mediocrity of one of these faceless corporate chains (although it’s quite rare to find the former in central Notts these days). It was lunchtime, and right at the point when I’d decided to give up searching for that elusive independent eatery for fear of stomach self-digestion brought on by a severe lack of satiety (made worse by my consuming three cappuccinos that morning), I stumbled quite fortuitously upon “Petit Paris” on Kings Walk.

Catering to a large extent for the pre-theatre meal-going crowd, Petit Paris emphasises its very reasonably priced lunch menu, which features three courses of simple and robust French bistro cooking: Soupe du jour, saumon en croûte, moules-frites and fillet steak served with that ubiquitous side of fries all feature on this menu and are the sort of French classics we Brits may love to tuck into on our yearly booze cruises to Boulogne, but aren’t that readily available in many other restaurants back home. Of course, there’s that dire and depressing pseudo-Gallic chain known as Cafe Rouge that I shan’t even bother to deplore for fear of corporate reprisals, as well as those  depressingly anglicised permutations of French classics you might see on gastro-pub menus for over-inflated prices (see. coq au vin, duck a l’orange etc), bu it’s generally accepted that you can’t get decent French food unless you drag your arse across the channel. However, Petit Paris delivers authentic French fair to the East Midlands and creates a microcosmic space within the confines of a cramped ex-appartment building in Nottingham where one can feel utterly immersed in a quintessentially Parisian dining scene.

Indeed from the moment you step into its dining room you can sense Paris and the whole place exudes French: from the impeccably attired waiter in a white starched-ironed shirt and shiny polished black leather shoes to the shabby chic faux-antique wooden furniture and the wafting smell of mussels soaked in delicious white wine jus emanating from the kitchen. As I thought, the food was great; I opted for mussels (I just couldn’t resist), a filet mignon and a delectably light tarte tatin to finish. The whole thing tasted like it had been cooked by French chefs who really new what they were doing – no uncessary garnishes, no frills and no gimmicks just hearty and robust food cooked with an appreciation of the simple but wonderful ingredients used.

Could I fault it? No, because it does everything a modest Parisian bistro ought to with consummate flair and skill to boot. I just hope that this place stays afloat during the recession and that people continue to dine here because it’s a much-needed slice of French passion and refinement in amidst a pool of manufactured, profit-driven ordinariness.

Petit Paris, 2 Kings Walk, Nottingham, NG1 2AE | Tel: 0115 947 3767

Le Petit Paris on Urbanspoon

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