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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Great Curry Taste Off!

Can a readymade supermarket curry really compete with one bought from an Indian takeaway?

According to a report from consumer analyst NPD group, Indian restaurants and takeaways are facing hot competition from the supermarkets. Apparently, ethnic restaurants have suffered a decline of 123 million visits over three years. Meanwhile supermarket sales of readymade Indian curries have soared.

But can a supermarket product really compare with the recipes, processes and spice blends used in an Indian restaurant?

Curry Life decided to find out.  We invited 20 ‘judges’ comprising chefs, caterers, restaurant critics, cookery writers, supermarket employees and a few curryholics to exercise their taste buds in an exclusive Curry Taste Off!

The aim was to sample, compare and judge ten different versions of Britain’s favourite Chicken Tikka Masala and (less favourite) dish of vegetable curry. Eight dishes were from the major supermarkets and two from the typical Indian takeaway down the road. All tasting was anonymous and tasters had no idea which curry came from where.  And after some serious slurping, concentrated chewing and inward digesting, we got some very interesting feedback. Here are the judges’ comments (in no particular order), with the final rankings revealed at the end …

  • Waitrose Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice  £3.89  400g  SCORE:  75

Supermarket description: A rich tandoori spiced cream and tomato sauce served with pilau rice.

Chicken content: Diced chicken breast 14% (rice was 13%).

The verdict: Our tasters were united in liking the creamy flavour, although the curry was generally judged to be a bit on the bland side. Cumin and cardamom spices were discerned. Comments included: “The meat is very smooth but a bit dry.” “Nice level of spice.” “Creamy and pale - possibly too pale to be authentic.” “Good spicy aftertaste.” “Chicken seems a bit processed but the sauce is lovely!” “Very nice - creamy and tomatoey, but not full of flavour.” “I can taste spices but it’s more like a Korma.” “Chewed on a cardamom pod!” wailed one taster, whilst another got a strong taste of cashew nuts.

Chef’s comment: “Bland to start with, then a nice hint of spice. Well balanced flavours. Chicken a bit soggy – probably cheap chicken was used in this dish.”

  • Asda Chicken Tikka Masala with Pillau Rice - £1.50 450g   SCORE: 58
Supermarket description:  Marinated pieces of succulent chicken breast in our spicy, creamy sauce with tomato, yoghurt and a touch of chilli.

Chicken content: Cooked marinated chicken breast (28%), Chicken breast (96%) (pillau rice 36%).

The verdict: Testers were divided on this one – while some loved it, others found little to praise. Comments ranged from an enthusiastic “Authentic taste, enjoyed it”, and “Really tasty! This has got to be the ‘real’ curry!” to “Chicken is like mush, poor quality – tastes very processed”, “very bland!!!”, “wishy washy”, and “watery”. “The sauce is nice but I didn’t really like the texture of the chicken as it was bit mushy”, said one. Another taster commented that was more like a casserole than a curry. “It lacks spice and flavour and has a strange consistency.” At the end of the day with a price tag of £1.50, it’s surprising the dish did so well.

Chef’s comment:  “No texture to the chicken. The dish didn’t look appetizing and tasted a bit like spicy baby food! I didn’t like the finely chopped vegetables but it was nice and flavoursome on first taste.”

  • Chicken Tikka Masala from Indian takeaway £8.95 approx 650g SCORE:  85
Description:  Chicken marinated in yoghurt and a blend of tandoori spices cooked in a clay oven, then re-cooked in a rich mild special sauce containing nuts, raisins and cream.

The verdict:  Astute tasters recognised the bright red colouring was indicative of the authentic takeaway dish. Most enjoyed it and liked the buttery flavour. The meat was generally thought to be of better quality and it had obviously been cooked in a tandoor oven with skewer holes evident. Comments included: “Nice smell and taste.” “Chunkier pieces of chicken but too much turmeric.” “Enjoyed this one!” “Sweet coconut and spices but chicken is dry.” “Quite sweet; nice meat.” “Chicken is dry but has a nice flavour.” “Good colouring, tastes authentic.” “Possibly a bit too sweet and coconutty,” wrote one taster. Someone else complained about the “coarser texture” and “synthetic colour” whilst another described the dish with an enthusiastic, “Mellow and morish!”

Chef’s comment: Nice texture to the chicken and it actually tasted and looked like chicken! This one has a real authentic tandoor flavour. Quite a mild curry but very pleasant and quite sweet – the taste of coconut is a little overpowering; but it’s also spicy and hot.”

  • Marks & Spencer Chicken Tikka Masala  £4.00 400g  SCORE: 66.5
Supermarket description: A medium spiced curry made with tender pieces of marinated chargrilled chicken breast in a rich, creamy masala sauce, finished with aromatic coriander leaf.

Chicken content: Cooked marinated chicken 40% (87% chicken breast).

The verdict: M&S claim to sell over 18 tonnes of Britain’s favourite dish a week. The most expensive of the supermarket bought meals, tasters found it “wishy washy” and criticised its creaminess. “I can taste heat but not spice” was one comment. “It’s creamy but has a bit less flavour.” “Poor taste with a strange wheaty aftertaste.” “Too much garlic!” Several mentioned the taste of cumin seeds, and cardamom flavours. Praise included: “Has texture of real meat”and “mild but has a nice tang”. However, some tasters thought the opposite: “Chicken tastes modified” said one, whilst another simply wrote “Yuck!”

Chef’s comment: The chicken has a good texture. It’s quite spicy but a pleasant and quite creamy curry.

  • Sainsbury’s Indian Chicken Tikka Masala £3.60 400g  SCORE:  78
Supermarket description: Marinated British chicken breast in a creamy tomato sauce with coriander and tandoori spices.

Chicken content: Chargrilled marinated chicken breast 35%.

The verdict:  The natural flavours of this dish proved to be a hit. “This is definitely not supermarket – yes I like this one,” wrote one mistaken tester. Other comments were: “Warming and spicy.”“Creamy with a hint of spices.” “Not much flavour here, just spice.” “I like the look of this one! Nice texture of meat.” “A bit more heat would make it very good”. “Tangy aftertaste”. “Nice and flavoursome.“ “Fairly spicy, not very colourful.” “Nice bit of heat” and “hotter!”. “Tender meat” was noted more than once. “It’s more smoky and herby tasting as well”, said one taster. “Thicker sauce, maybe too thick,” wrote another.

Chefs Comment:  Good texture of chicken. Again, I found the sauce a little thick and heavy. Nice spicing. I liked the texture of the chicken and flavour but the texture of the sauce lets it down for me.

  • Tesco’s Indian Chicken Tikka Masala - £3.20 350g  SCORE: 71
Supermarket description: Marinated chicken in a spiced tomato sauce infused with paprika, coriander, cumin and chilli.

Chicken content: Marinated chicken 51%

The verdict: Again, testers found the dish a bit bland though they commented on the good texture of the chicken. It was generally judged to be less creamy. Feedback was as follows: “Nice flavour, just a hint of spice.” “A bit oily.” “I can taste coconut and mint,” (neither ingredient was in this dish.) “The sauce is lovely”, “tasty, fairly spicy.” “Herby.” “Has a look of a Korma,” wrote one tester, “It’s too mild for me,” complained another. “The chicken seems very processed. Not much flavour. Nice, creamy texture but not enough spice,” was the final conclusion.

Chef’s Comment:  A bit bland but the texture of the chicken is good.

  • Morrison’s Indian Takeaway Chicken Tikka Masala £3.25 385g SCORE: 62
Supermarket description: Marinated chicken breast pieces in a creamy, lightly spiced sauce.

Chicken content: Chicken breast 28%

The verdict: “Brilliant! Jolly nice, a bit coconutty.” “Watery sauce, chicken tastes rubbery.” “There is hardly any chicken and the sauce is too thin.” “Not much flavour, horrible chicken.” “I eat more supermarket readymade meals than curries from takeaways so I’m more used to their taste,” one tester was heard to comment.

Chef’s comment:  Too watery and bland. The chicken tastes more natural than some but is still a bit synthetic with a strangely smooth texture.


  • Marks & Spencer’s Vegetable Curry  £2.90  SCORE: 76

The verdict:  Surprisingly, several people thought this was the authentic takeaway dish. Comments were highly complimentary with the vegetables receiving praise for their chunky size and taste. Comments included: “Very tasty, nice spice level. “Vegetables are good consistency.” “Vegetables seem like they’ve been frozen.” “Great cauliflower!” “Don’t usually choose veggie curries but I could go for this!” “Nice big chunks of vegetables.” “Sharp spice taste – definitely supermarket.” “The vegetables are more chunky, but not a lot of taste.” “Excellent! Very tasty, exotic. Got to be authentic!”

Chefs comment: Vegetables are nice and crispy and can identify what everything is. This dish is nice and spicy too.

  • Tesco’s Takeaway Vegetable Curry   £3.50   SCORE: 41
The verdict:  No-one seemed to like this dish, with one taster labelling it as the “worst curry ever!” The general opinion was that the consistency was too mushy. Comments were: “Moist but not very tasty.” “Not much taste.” “Seems to be made with frozen veg.” “No spice.” “Very tomatoey.” “Doesn’t look appetising, veggie bits seem to have a liquorice taste.” “Veg are a bit soft.” “Not for me!” “Very little flavour,” and finally … “Me no likey!!”

Chef’s Comment:  The vegetables are soggy. I’m not over impressed with the flavour. Medium spice but lacked body.

  • Vegetable Curry from Indian takeaway £5.95  approx 650g
The verdict:  Comments were not all full of praise, although there were plenty of positive remarks:  “Veg mushy.” “Unpleasant aftertaste.” “Nice aftertaste.” “Too much of one particular spice, not sure which.” “Smooth, nice taste.” “Hot but not too hot.” “Love this one! Nice and spicy.” “Bitter taste, frozen veg again.” “Good spice on the whole.” “Tasty, lots of veg – best of the veg curries.” “Very spicy must be the real thing.” “Quite hot.” “Good after spice taste.” “Gloopy! If this is authentic I will eat the raw chillies (not my hat),”

Chef’s comment:  Something is lacking with the flavour. It has nice spice and is quite hot. I’d like to see some more exotic vegetables rather than carrots, peas and potatoes, though I can also identify celery, butternut squash, sweetcorn and maybe spinach in there. I find the aftertaste quite unpleasant although other people seemed to like it.


Chicken Tikka Masalas

  1. Indian takeaway  85
  2. Sainsbury’s  78
  3. Waitrose 75
  4. Tesco’s   71
  5. Marks & Spencers  66.5
  6. Morrison’s  62
  7. Asda  58

Vegetable Curries

  1. Indian takeaway  78
  2. Marks & Spencers  76
  3.  Tesco’s Takeaway  41


From this tasting session at least, it seems you still can’t beat the real McCoy from the local Indian takeaway if you are looking for quality; fresh, natural ingredients; flavour; authenticity, and a real tandoor taste.

But supermarket curries have a few things in their favour, notably the price. They also possibly have less ghee content – most of the ones we tested used rapeseed oil which has less unhealthy saturated fats than all other cooking oils. Surprisingly, they used mainly natural ingredients, no additives or flavours were involved. Only the Asda product contained modified maize starch. Ingredients included separate, sometimes in the case of Waitrose, whole spices and cloves. Cashew nuts were used in some supermarket dishes (Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s) rather than less expensive desiccated coconut. On the downside, many supermarket curries contain over half a teaspoonful of salt – more than half the recommended daily intake – and there’s no getting away from that synthetic tasting chicken which, in all cases, did not seem to have been separately cooked in a tandoor.

When we look at the vegetable curry, in this tasting at least, the M&S product follows close on the takeaway’s heels, with a significantly lower price tag. However, it should be said that although the takeaway products cost more, the portions at approx 650g were almost twice the size of some supermarket meals, with enough to feed more than two people.

So, should Indian takeaway operators be worried? According to Guy Fielding, Director of Business Development for the NPD Group, ethnic food may not be perceived as the everyday good value it once was.

He continues: “To compete with the supermarkets ethnic operators need to change the price value equation by introducing deals and promotions that resonate with consumers. The recession has made consumers more discriminating in the choices they make. Ethnic operators will need to get more sophisticated about the deal and the promotion element of the business if they are to turn this decline around.”

Some of our Tasters:

Lisa Anderson, Owner of Finer Catering

Testers and staff from the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School who took part in the tasting session.

A Summer Dine in Holmfirth

Anwar Ali of Massala Lounge

You can’t talk about Holmfirth, in the beautiful Holme Valley in West Yorkshire without mentioning the Lastof the Summer Wine. Most people remember, with affection, the longest running TV comedy show of all time that followed the adventures of three retired gentlemen who just couldn’t grow up. The series was the first sitcom to be taken out of the television studios and filmed entirely on location in Holmfirth. The town’s streets, cafes and surrounding scenery became an instant tourist magnet for millions of people all over the world.

So, a stroll around Holmfirth, or Little Hollywood as it’s known locally, is a bit like a trip through sitcom nostalgia. Of course there are signs of more recent glory – the yellow bikes, reminders of the town’s starring role in the Tour de France earlier this year, still cling to the stone walls. For dining options, however, it’s hard to get away from the ilk of Sid’s Café, Compo’s Fish and Chips, the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Rooms (shades of Nora Batty), or even the oddly named Toad and Tatie. Thankfully, for those looking for the perfect antidote to Last of the Summer Wine-iness, Massala Lounge on Huddersfield Road offers the suave, sophisticated and cosmopolitan (should that be Compopolitan?), alternative.

The immaculate menu commands you to Relax, Enjoy and Indulge – and really, it’s impossible to refuse, especially in the luxurious red leather sofas that beg you to recline in their midst. Through an arch to the spacious dining area, the colour theme continues with black high backed dining chairs, red table settings and wood decking floor. Moody down-lighting highlights three dimensional walls. Look out of the picture windows at the end of the restaurant, however, and you’re back in Holmfirth. The restaurant is on the second floor and the classic view is of stone-built houses perched perilously on top of the adjacent hill, grey tiled roofs, glimpses of the distant Pennines – look down below and you can almost see the three old reprobates - Foggy, Compo and Clegg, ambling down the street…

We quickly turned back to the menu and the delights of Massala Lounge!

It was, in fact, the Last of the Summer Wine that first brought 33-year-old Anwar Ali, to Holmfirth.  He and all his family live in Bradford and, although the main family business is in property letting, they were looking for a restaurant for Anwar and his four brothers to run. Having watched the programme on TV, Anwar visited the town out of curiosity and instantly fell in love with the place.

“I decided to take a stroll round the town to see what it was all about,” he explained. “It was really, really busy. I was trying to find a place to eat and I couldn’t find any. All the other Indian restaurants were mainly down back streets, so there wasn’t really anywhere to go.”

Seeing the potential for a commercial enterprise, Anwar did some research and came up with the two-storeyed premises on Huddersfield Road. “I realised there’s a good population round here – most people are bankers or business owners, hence, more affluent, so I knew the restaurant needed to be stylish and contemporary.”

The former nightclub offered an ideal location and, with Anwar masterminding the design, the family carried out most of the refurbishment work themselves.

Massala Lounge opened in August 2009 and was a success from day one. Now, with a five year anniversary coming up the restaurant is firmly established at the heart of the Holmfirth community.

The five brothers have a demanding lifestyle. Anwar, who is father to a seven-month-old son, has worked as a Quantity Surveyor for 12 years. His brothers have equally high profile roles in accountancy and Trading Standards. How do they cope with having two full time jobs each, surely there aren’t enough hours in the day?

“We don’t look at it as a job, it’s more like a family get together than anything else,” explains Anwar. “There’s also enough of us in the family to share the work between us. You do what you have to do and when you think about it, it’s only a few hours from 5.30pm to 10pm or 11pm and although we all live in Bradford, it’s just 18 miles in distance. The restaurant is not our bread and butter but it’s our passion.”

“We’re lucky to have no staffing issues. We’ve had the same people working for us as from day one – even the weekend and kitchen staff; no-one has changed at all.”
At this point Anwar breaks off to bid good bye to a customer who leaves, thanking him profusely for the delicious food.

There certainly is an atmosphere about the place with happy and friendly waiting staff who aren’t afraid to have a banter with diners. Anwar agrees that the Last of the Summer Wine has a lasting influence and brings in many tourists but they don’t make up the majority of patrons.

“We get a lot of Canadians – it must have been a very popular show there, and a lot of Australians. But most of our customers we know by first name. We have one guy - a regular - from Amsterdam who works in Manchester every three months who always calls in and we also have clients who come from as far afield as Liverpool. It’s just that special bond that we try and cultivate. Once the customer knows you it’s nice and relaxed; the customer feels at home.”

The menu is based on traditional food from Bangladesh with a modern twist and influences from Mughlai cuisine. Starters and mains include an exotic sea food selection. The Machlee Pakora: golden crispy parcels containing spicy cod, proved delicious, as was the locally reared lamb Sonargaw served with homemade tamarind sauce.

Many ingredients are, in fact, sourced from customers and Anwar takes advantage of the plethora of farms within the area to purchase fresh vegetables, milk and chicken. Signatures offered an exciting selection of dishes including Hash Jamdhani: tender pieces of duck

breast in a chilli, garlic and tomato sauce layered with cauliflower. The Rangamati Chorchory: lamb or chicken cooked with spinach, is the restaurant’s best seller while the Sylheti Jal Jool offers a rustic taste of eastern Bangladesh

Anwar works with his brother Amruj Ali who is the head chef, to find new dishes: “We don’t have too many curries on the menu; we just select one or two. I have customer feedback cards so I know exactly what the customer wants and at the end of the year I’ll change the menu accordingly. I’m not a cook myself but I do know how a curry should be cooked. I come up with the ideas and then we experiment and test – a dish has to be appetising for the eyes before you taste it.”

Planned innovations to the menu this year include the addition of lobster and venison. Like the menu the wine list is also carefully selected with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Moët and Chandon reflecting the affluence of the area.

Although the food is undeniably outstanding (with rave reviews on Trip Advisor, the restaurant has a certificate of excellence), Massala Lounge isn’t just about the cuisine. Anwar and his brothers have made sure that the venue has become part of the local community by sponsoring sports teams, arts festivals or cultural events such as Yorkshire Day. As sponsors of the Holme Valley Scouts Mountain Bike Challenge, the restaurant annually supplies up to 750 people with free food and drinks.

Mindful that the premises were formerly a nightclub which contributed to the social life of the area, Massala Lounge also hosts special nights, get-togethers and charity fundraisers. The floor above the 80-seat restaurant still has a function room with soundproofing, a stage suitable for a band or DJ which has been the venue for many successful events including 80’s discos and Reggae nights. Anwar appreciates that the place holds poignant memories for members of the community, so it’s important to keep it as a social hub where people can meet up, relive memories and generally have a good time.

But the brothers don’t leave it there: Massala Lounge has also hosted the Holmfirth Film Festival and shows movies on a regular basis. “We generally talk to customers and see what films they want for next year and then get them in,” says Anwar. “Between May 23rd and end of June this year, we actually showed 14 movies!”

Long before the Last of the Summer Wine, Holmfirth was the centre for the pioneering film makers Bamforth & Co Ltd and in the early 1900s the West Yorkshire film industry was even thought to surpass that of Hollywood. It’s good to see Anwar keeping the history of the place alive. And if Foggy, Compo and Clegg were still around to see it, they would have been proud.

Massala Lounge, 57-59 Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Tel: 01484 681 172/ 01484 680 742 info@massalalounge.com

Compo, Foggy and Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

How to create the perfect wine list to go with curry

Photos by Iona Renfrew

House of Townend Wine Merchants, Melton, East Yorkshire
Beers and lagers are often seen as the ideal tipple to accompany curries and spicy food but a good wine list can help restaurants maximise profits.  Stuart Shenton, Manager at House of Townend Wine Merchants in Melton, uncorks the secret of creating the perfect wine list and recommends six wines that go well with curry …

Stuart Shenton, Manager , House of Townend Wine Merchants
ZR: Stuart, how important is an effective wine list in a restaurant?

SS: In my opinion the wine list is incredibly important. A quality restaurant spends time creating a fantastic menu, good ingredients and innovative cooking styles, so I don’t understand why you would want to ruin it by having a boring, bog standard wine list. Also, customers are drinking better wine now; you tend to have a lot more wine savvy people out there and putting together a good quality wine list can really add value.

What’s the optimum number of wines for a restaurant wine list?

I don’t think there’s a blueprint as to number – it all depends on the size and style of restaurant. If you have a Michelin star type venue, you’re probably going to want a pretty extensive list with a sommelier who can talk people through the wines. However, if you’re a small, 20-cover, quick in-and- out restaurant, you may want something a bit easier. I would say a standard quality restaurant with 40 seats would be looking at a 20-40 bin wine list. In my experience people like to be guided so it helps to narrow down choice and utilise your wine list as much as possible.

How would you advise restaurants to increase their GDP on wine sales?

The majority of restaurants supply a GDP percentage and, whilst that works well with your house wines, it doesn’t work so well for wines higher up the list. For example, if you buy your house wine at £4 ex VAT per bottle, most restaurants would look at making a 65% GP margin. That means you’d be selling it for £13.95 per bottle which isn’t unreasonable for a good quality wine. But, if you apply the same 65% per cent margin to classic wines, like a Chablis or Sancerre, you’d be spending about £9-£10 for a bottle and charging customers £35 – that sounds an awful lot! My advice would be to charge the customer around £23 for such wines which would be good value for them and still profitable for you. It’s a common perception that by having a blanket per cent margin, you’re going to make loads of money but if you’re not selling it, you’re not making anything either.

One thing that definitely could be done is to offer more wine by the glass. Most restaurants serve glasses of house wine or maybe a well known grape variety, but one way to encourage customers to try new wines, would be to use a special cork which takes the air out of the bottle and reseals it. This enables you to offer around 20 wines by the glass. You can get up to 10 to 15 days out of the bottle without losing any of the quality – if it takes that long to finish the bottle!

How can restaurateurs balance their food with wine?

Good food can enhance a great wine and a good wine can enhance great food. If you spend time creating a quality and diverse menu, the wine list should reflect the different styles of dishes available. For example, if your restaurant is well known for a particular style of cooking or signature dish, make sure your wine list mentions a wine that works really well with that dish.

Food and wine matching is a fine art, but at the end of the day, if a customer loves a big Australian Chardonnay, they’re going to enjoy it no matter what. Nevertheless, if you have signature dishes on your menu, I would definitely recommend approaching customers with: “Why not try this fresh, crispy white that goes perfectly with such and such a dish ...?”

How important is it to train your staff about wine?

Staff are your best asset when it comes to getting more from your customers. Find out what type of training is available from your wine merchant. Training and tasting programmes give staff that background and knowledge so that if a customer asks for advice, they feel confident enough to recommend a certain wine.
In terms of external training, there is the Wine & Spirits Education Trust examination which can be taken at colleges. This is the recognised qualification of the wine trade and some restaurateurs fund staff to go through this at Intermediate or Advanced level.

How would you balance your wine list between old favourites and more esoteric varieties?

Most people think in terms of the bigger brands like Echo Falls, Gallo etc. You won’t get these from a good, reputable wine merchant, but the choice of wine list comes down to striking a balance between recognisable grapes and more esoteric choices that add interest.

For any new restaurant wanting 10 reds and 10 whites on their list, there are some classic elements I could pinpoint straight away. For example, you’re going to need a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc; a Pinot Grigio; a Chablis or a Sancerre. These will cover your bases but that’s when you can afford to go on and add something a little bit more unusual. You need to balance wine not just in terms of country, but with styles so that you have something dry, something a bit sweeter, bone dry or medium. Then, if you get your staff trained up, you can add slightly more esoteric wines so they can recommend something at a slightly higher price according to the customer’s preferences.

How can layout and design of the list help?

This is an area where you can definitely improve your wine list by giving it a more interesting appearance. In a more traditional approach everything is laid out in terms of bin numbers. That often leads customers to opt for the House wines because there isn’t enough info or description. A standard list means people tend to go for the house wine because they’re not being challenged.

One thing that really works well is to split the list into styles rather than countries so that, if people come in saying they like crisp, fruity wines or big full flavoured reds that will be reflected in your choice of wines. The brands won’t be available in the high street so people won’t recognise them but what they will recognise is grape variety and style. So, if they usually like a Pinot Grigio and further up the list you’ve got a Verdicchio with similar qualities, you’ve got a fair chance of trading your customer up.

Obviously make sure you have a nice looking wine list – get a professional to design it, taking into account the style and character of your restaurant i.e; trendy or traditional. Make sure you have got tasting notes; not huge, in-depth descriptions but may be two or three lines that reflect the personality of the wine. It’s important to avoid certain terms like ‘acidity’ or ‘tannin’ – replace them with words like crisp, fresh, grassy or warming, right and fruity. A good quality wine merchant is always worth their salt just to explain how and why a wine list can be put together.

Finally, which goes best with Indian food – wine or beer?
Beer and lager go well with Indian food but it all depends on the restaurant or occasion. Beer is great in certain situations but in my opinion, for a special occasion in a high quality establishment, a bottle of wine takes a meal to an entirely different level.

Stuart’s recommendations for six wines that work with curry? (PRICES MAY VARY)

1.    Torrontes 2011, Zohar de Susana Balbo House of Townend price (HOT) £8.35 ex VAT,. Classic and fragrant grape variety from Argentina. The aromatics work really well with food that has spice and heat.

2.   Basa 2011, Rueda,  (HOT price) £6.99 ex VAT  A really good Spanish wine from an area in Rueda. Nice and light, fresh and crisp but also quite elegant. It works really well with fish. Would probably be a good match for less contemporary style meals, for example, a buttery style dish.

3.    Reisling 2008 (HOT price) £7.58 ex VAT – A wine from Clare Valley in South Australia which has some of the best Reisling in the New World. Again you get lovely aromatics, a bit of lime and lemon but a little drier with a more refreshing finish.

4.   Gaba do Xil 2009, Valdeorras (HOT price) £7.72 ex VAT Quite an unusual wine from northern Spain. The grape variety is Mencia. It’s a really aromatic and fragrant red but has a little more weight and body than a Beaujolais. Delicious with any type of spice.

5.   Côtes du Rhône ‘Caprices’ 2010 (HOT price) £7.36 ex VAT - Really classic, popular wine. Suitable for anyone looking for a more traditional style of wine to go with the food, Cotes du Rhone has all-round appeal because it has weight and body but is also quite soft and subtle.

6.    ‘Pitch Fork’ Shiraz 2010 (HOT price )£6.58 ex VAT –  A bit of an old favourite at House of Townend - a really good quality, big, bold and rich flavoured Shiraz that works well with a meaty dish or lamb kebabs .

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Recipe from Dine Bangla in Beverley

We managed to persuade Chef Mahboob Rahman of Dine Bangla in Beverley, East Yorkshire to share one of his secret recipes with us – it’s one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. 


Dine Bangla Restaurant, 9-10 Wednesday Market, Beverley, East Yorkshire  HU17 0DG

Tandoori chicken cooked off the bone in finely chopped onions, capsicum, garlic, ginger, tomato and cinnamon. Moist and well flavoured to please the most delicate of palates.

Serves 4

For the marinade:

4 chicken legs
1tsp tamarind paste
1tsp ginger/garlic
1tsp coriander
1tsp cumin
Strand of Saffron
1tsp mixed garam masala powder
1tsp paprika
Salt to taste

500g tub of yoghurt

Mix ingredients together.  Add chicken legs and leave in fridge overnight to marinate.

Ingredients for sauce:

4 medium sized onions, thinly sliced.

1 medium onion finely sliced and chopped.
2 tsp garlic and ginger (blended together to make a paste)
4 bay leaves
4 pieces cinnamon stick
8 cloves garlic
8 cardamoms
1 tbsp Madras curry powder (Dine Bangla use their own special mix)

To garnish:

1 large red onion
1 large green capsicum
Fresh coriander


  • Roast marinaded chicken in the oven for 40 minutes at 220° C/gas mark 7 (do not cover with foil).

  • Deep fry the four thinly sliced onions in 2 tbsp vegetable oil until golden brown. Remove from heat and leave aside.

  • After chicken is cooked, allow to cool and then strip chicken meat off bone.

  • Slowly stir fry garlic/ginger, garlic cloves and onion together. Add bay leaf.

  • Add cinnamon stick, cardamoms and stir.

  • Add tomato puree, then Madras curry powder. Season with salt to taste.

  • Add pre-fried onions.

  • Stir until well mixed, then add Methi (fenugreek) and chicken meat.

  • Bring up to temperature, then simmer for a couple of minutes.

  • Add enough hot water to cover meat.

  • Simmer but do not allow to become too dry (around five minutes).

  • Garnish with fresh coriander, red onion and capsicum and serve with pillau rice.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Curry Life Chefs Turn up the Heat in Hyderabad

 Once again Curry Life chefs have been over to India to showcase UK curry and food at the 10-day Taste of Britain Curry Festival. This year the bi-annual event was held in scorching Hyderabad at The Park Hyatt Hotel where the restaurant and ball room were redolent with aromas of British curries and even, at times, good old Lancashire Hot Pot and Sunday Roast.

The team of top chefs from the UK included Partha Mittra, Consultant Chef for Curry Life; Allam Shah Ullah of Cutlers Spice in Sheffield; Abul Monsur of Taj Cuisine in Chatham; Abdus Shahid from Valley Connection in Bury St Edmonds; Altaf Hussain of Yuva Fine Fusion in Royston, and Anwar Hussain of Navaa Fine Fusion, Sudbury. They were joined by Dominic Chapman Michelin star chef who served up a ‘Best of British’ menu while his fellow chefs, naturally, focused on British curry.

The festival even had the support of Prime Minister David Cameron who sent a letter to the festival organisers, saying how delighted he was to see the unique British brand of Asian cuisine being sought in the countries from where it originally came. Home Secretary Theresa May and MPs including Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, also came on board to offer their best wishes.

As usual, the event caught the attention of the Indian and British press. At the media lunch, journalists, distinguished guests and Hyderabadi food aficionados had their appetites well and truly whetted by the mouth-watering menu of 80 dishes prepared by the chefs. In addition to the ubiquitous Chicken Tikka Masala, the spread included:  Dhania Salmon Kebabs, Oregano Chicken Tikka, Shatkora Gosht, Sunehri Pulao  and Dal a la Kent with other British influenced fusion dishes such as Lamb Rani Chops, Chicken Roulade and Cocktail Paneer Kebabs. Desserts included Gulab Jamun and Ras Malai, while Dominic’s traditional British fare served up with Michelin flair, also showcased the often overlooked British desserts such as Eton Mess and Bread and Butter pudding.

“The meat dishes stand out, redolent with their just-perfect-consistency-of curry, spicy and creamy gravies,” raved the correspondent from The Times of India Swati Sucharita, although she admitted she found the chicken tikka masala “a tad sweet”, besides being “creamily delectable”. The Dal a la Kent, (speciality of chef Abul Monsur) made with mixed lentils was described as “the stuff soul food is made of, deeply fragrant with the ghee jeera-red chillies tempering and packed with the goodness of mixed lentils”. Spicy vegetable and cheese kebabs were likened to the “quintessential Vegetable Chop that delights from the streets of Kolkata, spiked with some cheese filling.”

But the festival also provided the opportunity for an interchange of ideas. Hyderabad is renowned for its biryani, a classic dish of the Mughal Nizams which often contains goat meat.  It is made either with raw, marinated ingredients sealed and cooked by the slow dum cooking process (Kachi), or with the meat and rice cooked separately and then layered (Pakhi).   Chefs and organisers were keen to try out the dish on its home ground and learn from the Hyatt culinary team. “Last year when we did the festival in Kolkata our chefs picked up a lot of fish and dessert dishes, so there is a lot of incorporating Indian regional cuisines that we will do in terms of takeaways from the festival,” said Syed Belal Ahmed. “No doubt, this year, the chefs will be hoping to get some first hand tips on how to prepare the authentic version of Hyderabad biryani.”

Restaurateur Amin Ali of the award-winning Red Fort in London, who attended the festival described how many years ago, he introduced the dish in his fine dining restaurant: “We had come to Hyderabad as early as the ‘90s and took back with us Hyderabadi chefs from the Nizam’s Club and Taj Krishna, so you could get authentic Hyderabadi Biryasni and Mirchi ka Salan at our restaurant in Soho,” he told reporters.

Syed Belal Ahmed, explained some of the differences between curries adapted to British tastes and home grown Indian dishes: “The curries enjoyed in India are no longer quite the same as the ones in Britain,” he said. “Improvisation has taken place and British herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano are common and the dishes are spiced down. So the chicken tikka masala which you would be served in London may be creamy and smooth. Dishes also use less oil and healthier than their Indian counterparts.”

It wasn’t all work for the chefs however – towards the end of the visit they were able to take a well earned break to see some of the sights of Hyderabad including the Ramoji Film Studio before they headed back home with plenty of food for thought.

The main sponsor of the event was Cobra Beer whose CEO Lord Karan Bilimoria also hails from Hyderabad. Other sponsors included Ellwoods, Jaguar, Curries Online, Annecto UK, Chivas, Goldstar Chefs, Pasco and Pegasus Textiles.  

The festival was inaugurated by Deputy British High Commissioner to Hyderabad, Mr Andrew McAllister.