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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.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Goan King Prawns

Recipe from Mohammed Haque (Jay) of Roochi Restaurant in Forest Row

King prawns in shell, cooked in fresh spring onions, green chillies and strong aromatic spice to bring out the sizzling exotic taste of olive oil.

12-15 king prawns
2 tbsp lemon juice
1½ tbsp turmeric
20 dried chillies
Fresh coconut grated
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 piece ginger (2.5cm peeled)
2 tbsp olive oil
Bunch spring onions, sliced
4 fresh green chillies, cut lengthways
1 tomato, chopped
Tbsp tamarind paste


  • Place the prawns in a dish.  Add lemon juice, half a tbsp turmeric and salt. Leave to marinate.
  • Place dried red chillies, garlic, coconut, coriander seeds, mustard seed, remaining turmeric, cumin seeds and ginger in a blender or food processor, add a little water and process to a smooth paste.
  • Heat the olive oil in large, heavy based frying pan. Add spring onions and stir-fry for around four minutes until light brown.
  • Add green chillies and dried chilli paste mixing well and cook over a low heat, stirring often for 20 minutes.
  • Add marinated prawns and simmer until cooked through.
  • Add tomato and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add tbsp of tamarind paste and check taste, adjust seasoning if necessary and serve with steamed rice.

Roochi: a recipe for success

Forest Row is bustling on a summery(ish) Saturday evening. With a slight stretch of imagination you could be in Italy; people greeting each other out on the streets, promenading past the town’s restaurants and historic pubs of which there are more than a fair share. 

All venues look well patronised but none more so than Roochi, a smart Indian restaurant overlooking the street.  We joined the steady stream of customers to be welcomed by friendly waiter Ali who gives us a grandstand seat from where we can survey the restaurant’s comings and goings.  

The atmosphere is relaxed and jovial; the majority of customers are obviously regulars who know and like the staff; many are greeted by first name. No wonder, as the 31-year-old owner, Mohammed Haque Jay, is an outgoing and charming chap who has built up strong relationships with his diners. But it hasn’t been an easy route into the hearts and stomachs of the good people of Forest Row.  Jay originally hails from the north and he tells us it’s taken him at least five years to be accepted as a local.

So how did a Bradford born-and-bred lad end up in a posh town in East Sussex?

According to Jay, his parents sent him off down south to ‘find himself’ after he went through a bit of a wild patch as a young lad. “They basically said go away and do whatever you want to do,” he says with a cheeky smile. Fortunately, although Jay didn’t come from a catering background (his father worked as a mechanic), he had a cousin in the restaurant trade and decided this was where he wanted to seek his fortune. Working in a restaurant in nearby Hawley he started out at the back of house, but with his sparkling personality, wit and ready repartee, it wasn’t long before he moved to take front stage. The experience taught him a lot about the restaurant profession. “Basically I thought to myself, if this business is successful, run in this way, I’m sure I could do a lot better.”

Fourteen years later Jay has much more successful eateries in Reigate, Lingfield, Hawley and, of course, Forest Row. It seems like quite an achievement for a young man but beneath Jay’s happy go lucky exterior there lies a shrewd business mind and the northern ‘nouse’ to seize and make the most of an opportunity. His success is well (and hard) earned.

“The main thing to start with is the place, location and how you set up the business,”Jay says. “After that it’s building up a reputation. We’ve got to a stage where we know everyone and everyone knows us, but we have to live up to the high standards we have set - here, people don’t give you a second chance.  If the food was very good but the service poor, people would never forgive you.”

Skilfully tending to his customers, in between chatting to us, Jay tells us how he is a firm believer in the concept of “first in, last out”. Working up to 15 to 16 hours a day, he travels to the wholesalers every night to pick up his next day supply of food and vegetables. Other produce is sourced even locally. Fish comes from the excellent fishmongers a few doors down whilst the farm shops nearby provide a trusty and traceable source of meat.  Jay believes that to get the best out of his products, he needs to be in control of them and his hands-on approach extends to the kitchen. “Our food and the preparation all comes from me,” he admits. “I teach staff to do things in a certain way but more skilled tasks, like the spice blending and marinating always comes from me so that the quality, style and consistency of food is always the same.”

Out of all Jay’s restaurants, Roochi is Jay's “baby”. Inside the venue is like an Aladdin’s cave and deceivingly spacious.  Cunningly divided into private and group dining areas with interesting views onto the street, a curved corridor leads around the central bar area which also serves as a stylish reception. Deep burgundy carpets, chocolate and mahogany walls contrast with the pristine white tablecloths. Tropical fish swim happily in tanks with the dual purpose of providing a living room divider and eye catching display.

For starters we have succulent duck kebab and calamari, glistening yellow peppers, crisp lightly dressed salad and freshly-made, zingy chutneys. Our main course choice is easy – seafood is a great speciality in the restaurant (Jay hopes to open a fish restaurant one day), and we have no hesitation in ordering the Seafood Moilee – a bouillabaisse of Kerala prawns, king prawns, mussels mixed in coconut milk to create a silky broth flavoured with turmeric and curry leaves, and gigantic Goan King Prawns with shell, cooked in spring onions, green chillies and strongly flavoured spices. When the dishes arrive our taste buds are instantly rewarded with fresh and salty overtones of sea (fortunately not sand), which is blissfully enhanced, not drowned, by the creamy sauce.

Jay describes the food at Roochi as “authentic with a modern twist.” Besides the fish option, other choices range from a Duck Narangi – spicy duck breast pan fried and simmered in Madeira sauce cooked with juicy oranges and mushrooms, or tender lamb shank, braised and marinated in a blend of spices. These are sophisticated dishes but the ‘traditional’ Kormas, Madras and Vindaloo are also on the menu, incredibly well priced at just %.25 for a simple chicken or lamb curry. The costliest dish on the menu is the King Prawn Shashlik and even that is a modest £11.95.

The wine list is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in any Indian restaurant with vintages and Grand Crus from France, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and India. Jay tells us his supplier carefully monitors and changes the list regularly to accommodate the best sellers.

Owning the place has given Jay the freedom to “do his own thing” and this extends to his policy towards staff. With five front-of-house employees and a further five in the kitchen, Roochi has a close knit team. To ensure perfect service he holds staff meetings every week where he interacts, pinpoints mistakes and gets feedback from colleagues. Recruitment is not a problem he says; he works with the local Job Centre or gets staff online. Employees are trained up and according to where they fit in best are sometimes asked to move around as Jay also provides some accommodation. Motivation is encouraged: “We pick up talented people and maybe give them the opportunity to be chef; then they have an investment in the place and want to maintain the quality,” Jay says.

Roochi is a restaurant that’s on the way up and it’s all down to Jay. The exceptional cuisine goes without saying but our overall impression is of a very professionally run business that has achieved an ideal balance of happy staff and happy customers. Jay has moved on a long way from his Bradford days and will, no doubt, go much further. His parents are now rightly proud of their son’s success. “In fact my dad still can’t believe it,” he says with a smile.

Roochi, 9 Hartfield Road, Forest Row  RH18 5DN Tel: 01342 825 251

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Unusual ingredients in curry: Shatkora

The first time I came across shatkora was in India a few years ago. We were leaving for the airport one of the hotel chefs came up to us and proudly presented us with a a bag of green and knobbly looking fruit as a gift. He explained shatkora was hard to find in the UK and much more expensive. We put the bag into our suitcase but, sadly, had to ditch it later as our luggage was too heavy. Since then, shatkora has become much easier to find in the UK and features in many dishes in Indian restaurants. From the outside it certainly is not an object of beauty but, as far as flavours go, the shatkora is a veritable swan of the culinary world. A cross between grapefruit, lime and lemon, it adds a tanginess and exotic taste to curry dishes and lifts them into the sublime.
Otherwise known as the citrus macroptera or ‘wild orange’, the fruit is about is 6-7cm in diameter and oval in shape with pointed ends. The variant grown in Bangladesh is called annamensis and is commonly used in the area of Sylhet. It grows on thorny trees which can reach 5m in height. Although it looks and smells more like a lime, its juice is sour and bitter and tastes more like that of a grapefruit. The pith is thick and dry and the outer skin becomes yellow when the fruit is ripe.

Delicious Shatkora curry cooked by Chef Mahbub Rahman
of Dine Bangla  in Beverley.
Preparation of the fruit is tricky and requires some culinary skill. Perhaps the easiest way is to cut the shatkora in half lengthways and then cut each half into three, also along the length. Then the main fruit can be pared away from the peel and outer pith with a sharp knife.

Chefs recommend the skin is pre cooked to soften the texture. In Bangladesh the rind is eaten as a vegetable and the pulp is usually discarded because of its bitter taste. The thick rind is cut into small pieces and cooked in beef mutton, fish curries and stews whilst the fruit is often used in shatkora pickles.

Curries cooked with shatkora are now becoming more and more popular in Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants in the UK.  The fruit can now be bought in many Asian food stores that serve the Indian and Bangladeshi community. It’s also available in frozen form.

Shatkora’s beneficial values don’t stop there – as a citrus fruit, rich in Vitamin C in India and Bangladesh, it has long been known for its medicinal value. It’s very strong in antioxidants and is reputed to be a sure cure for colds and flu when cooked in curry.

Recipe for Aromatic Venison Curry with Shatkora

from The Kennington Tandoori

Haunch of roast venison slow cooked to melting tenderness with tangy citrus shatkora in a deliciously rich, juicy sauce. 

Serves 6

Preparation time: 20-30 minutes
Cooking time: approx 3 hours


  • 3 tbs vegetable/olive oil

  • Whole spices:
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 piece cinnamon bark (not quills)
  • 4 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1tsp salt

  • 1 tbs garlic paste
  • 1 tbs ginger paste
  • 5 large shallots, very finely diced

  • 1 ½ lb venison haunch, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 ½ inch chunks

  • Approx 1 ½ pints water (see method)

  • Ground powdered spices:
  • 1 rounded tsp brown cumin powder
  • 1 ½ rounded tsp coriander powder
  • 1 rounded tsp chilli powder
  • Scant ½ tsp turmeric powder

  • 2 slices shatkora, flesh removed and cut into pieces


  • Warm the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan or casserole dish.  Add the whole spices and gently heat, swirling in the oil to heat and release their flavours, adding a tsp of salt as you do so. Take care not to let the spices burn as this will make the dish taste bitter.

  • Add the garlic and ginger pastes, continuing to stir on a gentle heat. (For small quantities crush garlic bulbs and grind to a paste, fresh ginger root can be grated with a fine microplane; for larger quantities it is easier to use a food processor.) Add the diced shallots, stir and cook on a medium heat until opaque and just starting to colour, but do not brown.

  • Add the meat and brown all over in the spices and onion mix (approx 7-10 minutes), whilst enjoying the delicious aroma.

  • Add sufficient water to fully cover the meat, stir thoroughly to deglaze the pan and to ensure nothing sticks or burns on the base. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for ½ an hour.

  • Add the mixed spice powder and stir in to the curry, using a wooden spoon or spatula (not metal – to avoid cutting the meat). Cover and slow cook on a gentle bubble for 2 hours until the sauce has thickened and the meat is meltingly tender (longer if using a cheaper cut).

  • About 15 minutes before the curry is ready, add shatkora and allow it to scent the dish.

The Kennington Tandoori, 313 Kennington Rd, London SE11 4QE

Monday, 16 June 2014

Aroma Spice - Hampstead's Hidden Gem


Mohammed Bakth and his son Karim of Aroma Spice are justly proud of their family business. For the past 16 years, Aroma Spice has been successfully satisfying diners with an appetite for fine Indian cuisine in one of London’s most affluent areas.  With a rapidly changing demographic and burgeoning local competition, Aroma Spice has not only retained its loyal customer base, it has also continued to attract new fans – including Oasis’s Liam Gallagher and self confessed curry lover and actor, Phil Daniels.

From outside the restaurant blends in well with Hampstead’s eclectic coterie of exclusive shop fronts and village atmosphere – and amazingly, there is parking right outside the door! Inside the theme is chic and urban. Black leather seats, modern paintings and crisp white linen tablecloths add to the sense of style, augmented by fresh flowers, quality dinner settings and - a nice touch - Norwegian sparkling water.

Karim, 26, tells us that Indian restaurants have always been an integral part of his life and he has vivid memories of being carried on his father’s shoulders to work when he was a young boy. “I still recall running round the restaurant, going in and out of the kitchen and the spice stores and watching the chefs cook. “From the age of five I knew that this was where I wanted to be,” he says.

Confident, engaging and somewhat snazzily dressed, Karim is an ideal front man for any business and thrives on interacting with customers. Unlike his older brother who decided to take a different path as a property developer, Karim’s ambition was to carry on the family business. After graduating from university in Business Management he seized the opportunity to join his father “with both hands and legs” realising he was very fortunate to jump straight into a running concern. “Not many people get to step on a plateau like this. It’s the only freehold restaurant in Hampstead and I would have been foolish to waste such an opportunity.”

Mohammed, understandably, prefers to take more of a sideline these days having managed restaurants for some 30-40 years including Poppadom in Belsize Park. But Karim recognises the huge debt he owes to his dad: “I think the level of experience gained by working with my father has been better than anything I could learn at school or read in any book. My father has been my copy book; you can’t top that kind of training.”

Even so you get the impression that both men have a very hands-on role in the business. “If there’s anything for us to get involved we will do,” Mohammed says. “We may look up market but we are a very unpretentious family restaurant. We like to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere here so that people feel at home and then we make them as comfortable as we can. If you come in at the weekend you’ll find grandmothers, granddad’s, parents and kids in here – that’s what I really love about this place. Our food and service is paramount and everything else is a bonus. If you don’t care about what you’re serving you shouldn’t be here.”

When they’re not raving about the cuisine, diners talk about Aroma Spice with great affection. Many original customers of Aroma Spice followed Mohammed when he came from Poppadom to run his own place. As Karim says, he’s such a lovely bloke they would happily support him anywhere.  He tells the story of one regular customer who was a competitor in the Iron Man race and whose mother visited from the US. As soon as she arrived she made a beeline for Aroma Spice, demanding to speak to the manager. When (with some trepidation) he identified himself, she thanked him profusely for looking after her son so well. Apparently he had told her all about them and she wanted to come in to thank them personally. Yes - they like to look after their customers at Aroma Spice.

They are, perhaps, fortunate in their affluent clientele, even if some have become slightly less affluent in recent years. Being in the celebrity epicentre of the UK, Aroma Spice has more than its fair share of famous guests.  These include Kate Winslet and Russell Crowe. Liam Gallagher has even given a personal recommendation via a video on the restaurant website whilst Phil Daniels of EastEnders and Blur’s Parklife fame, cited Aroma Spice as his favourite Indian restaurant ever.

The descriptive menu has some intriguing choices and chef Suhel Ahmed, who recently represented Britain at the Taste of Britain Curry Festival in Slovenia, at the helm diners are always in for a treat. Tawa dishes - a “secret family recipe passed through the generations” - are cooked on a flat, concave griddle made of cast iron. Delectable signatures such as Banaroshi Lamb: a recipe with roots in Nepal baked with garlic, fresh coriander and crushed pineapple, or Badami Gosht: tender lamb pieces in pistachios, almond and coconut milk sauce, are balanced with exotic Xacuti chicken or Kachi Biryani, mutton marinated and cooked in layers in a cooking pot with spiced basmati.

Selections of grilled meat dishes are an option for health conscious diners as is the spicy grilled Paneer salad. Tandoori mains include local trout. The Goan dish Khali Mirch Murgh draws flavours from the sun dried chillies while Kuko Koko Palu, another Nepalese dish, tempts the taste buds with tender chicken in a coconut pulp, coconut cream and almond sauce. Mohammed buys food fresh from a well respected wholesaler and he personally oversees and ensures the quality of all ingredients.

Sampling the wonderful mixed starters, chicken Tawa dish and grilled salmon, coated in a secret blend of herbs and spices, with Peshwari naan bread and side dishes, we experience a taste to remember. And despite the restaurant’s well heeled location, the prices are surprisingly modest, representing great value for money.

It’s easy to understand why diners love Aroma Spice. The warm and welcoming atmosphere created by the owners permeates the whole place. And, as locals are only too well aware, Aroma Spice is Hampstead’s hidden gem.

Aroma Spice, 98 Fleet Road, Hampstead, London NW3 2QX  Tel: 020 7485 6908 & 020 7267 0444

Friday, 21 March 2014

Heavenly fare at Bengal Paradise

 On the A1000 somewhere between Potters Bar and Hatfield, earth bound diners can find a taste of heaven. Bengal Paradise Indian restaurant is situated in the midst of sublime Herefordshire countryside with panoramic views over a pastoral idyll complete with grazing cattle, woods and greenery. The venue lives up to its name. With a cool, whitewashed exterior, the frontage looks almost tropical with exotic palm trees, lush plants and water features. Even the striking stainless steel sculpture: a bending coconut palm complete with coconut, suggests forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden.

Arriving on a quiet Sunday lunchtime, the atmosphere is so peaceful we instantly feel the outside world and all its pressures slip away.  We take a seat in the comfortable waiting area at the bar as members of staff go quietly about their business preparing for the evening onset of customers. Our sense of relaxation only increases as co-partner Shahin Ansar Ali arrives and tells us to chill out, take our time and … enjoy. Shahin should seriously consider another career as a hypnotherapist; by the end of our three hour gastronomic session, his calming influence leaves us so relaxed we’re almost sliding off our luxurious leather chairs like two blobs of mellifluous jelly.

But perhaps Shahin should hold off the second career as he is doing just fine in his current role of master chef extraordinaire. He and his business partner Shiraz Miah (Raj) took over the premises of former Italian restaurant, Villa Rosa, just eight years ago and business has, if you’ll pardon the pun, gone skywards. 

The 100-seat plus restaurant caters for a mature and affluent clientele. With customers numbering several directors of Arsenal football team and a sprinkling of stockbrokers, Hatfield could be described as a catchment area for the well heeled and famous and the interior of the restaurant reflects this. Light, bright and airy, witty touches lift the d├ęcor from blandness – pastel colours contrast with large, chocolate, shell-shaped booths, beige, tan and rust coloured seats. Sixties style bucket seats and cheeky pop art orange seating is counter balanced by classy and elegant table settings. A conservatory area with a circular table under the octagonal skylight is especially popular with customers who vie for a seat by the windows, overlooking the acres of surrounding land owned by the Royal Veterinary College.

Shahin who lives in Stratford, has been working in the restaurant trade since 1987. None of his close family was in the restaurant business, although he did have two cousins in the trade. After working in East London, Wembley and then Kent Shah’s entrepreneurial spirit took over. “I knew I had to open a restaurant,” he said. “It was something that automatically came into my mind because I knew I could do anything I wanted in my own kitchen and, once I had gained the experience, I was confident enough to make my own mark.” Hertfordshire was a very good area for Indian restaurants with several iconic establishments in the area breeding a higher standard of cuisine than elsewhere. Shah had already run two businesses when, out of the blue, he received a call from former colleague Raj, who suggested taking on the former Villa Rosa. “This was a big gamble,” says Shah. “After his call, I left my other business to open the restaurant. Many people said it was a ghost town and that we could only survive six months but now we’ve been here for eight years.”

It was true that in the early days, the restaurant posed a bit of a challenge. In the middle of nowhere, it was run down outside, although the on-site parking was a definite plus. However, the new venture had a considerable asset in the form of Raj, a popular local with a reputation for good cuisine that preceded him.  With Shahin’s unique culinary talent and some well placed marketing, things began to take off.

“The way we did food was different,” explained Shah. “We make our own spice blends; we use good quality produce and mix our own spices and herbs which creates our distinctive flavour. We get supplies locally and support the local farmers.”  The restaurant even has its own vegetable patch with fresh herbs and oregano and tomatoes are grown. 

Now, with a star studded clientele ranging from David and Victoria Beckham (Victoria’s family lives nearby) to Simon Cowell, Simon Pegg and the entire ensemble of JLS, the considerate approach of staff and customers at Bengal Paradise has turned it into something of a refuge for celebrities.

Disappointingly, Beckham is in Paris at the moment so we can’t look forward to him making a sudden appearance. But, never mind - Shahin repairs to the kitchen to personally imagine, concoct and create our meal from what he calls his “brain menu” as opposed to the one printed out in front of us. Already familiar with Shah’s cooking from the Taste of Britain Festival in Slovenia, we know that he is one of the best chefs we have had the pleasure to meet, but we can’t wait to see what he has to offer.

True to form, our starters arrive with Michelin style presentation: Shahin’s special pickles of Mango, coriander and Tamarind are fresh and delicious. We have Monk fish on a pea puree with yoghurt lamb on the bone and steamed king prawn with a coriander and homemade yoghurt and garlic sauce, also a spiced potato cutlet and artily placed vegetable spring roll. Shahin believes that first impressions are important and the number one rule is that a dish has to look good. He certainly has an artistic flair but that comes second only to the quality of the food. 

Our main courses of Bengal Supreme piece of chicken stuffed with minced lamb, garlic, ginger and royal cumin on a bed of chick peas, plus Salmon Makhoni, marinated in yoghurt, served with melted cheese and cream and a special concoction of pilau rice.  Nan breads are delicately sized, light and fluffy, rather than the usual size 10 sandal shaped pancakes of bread which are usually left finished. A full range of freshly cooked, homemade desserts is available and the pistachio kulfi icecream was one of the best in Curry Life history.

If we hadn’t partaken of the food from Shahin’s “brain menu” the table menu for diners at Bengal Paradise offers an exciting mix of old favourites and specialities. Duck Shashlik with green and red peppers, tomatoes & onions barbequed in the tandoor sounded tempting as did the Shorisha mix of assorted seafood cooked with mustard seed, fresh garlic and ginger or the fresh Tandoori trout. With a well established Five Star status for food and hygiene, and a wall full of press recommendations, the quality cuisine speaks for itself.

Live entertainment takes place around once a month with Bollywood nights or Jazz music. Shah tells us that he doesn’t usually charge customers for the music as the event itself pulls in extra customers. One thing Shahin likes to do is communicate customers and if he’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find him mingling with guests, listening to their feedback.  “If diners haven’t seen me for a while, they’ll sometimes start texting me to ask where I am,” he laughs.  In fact they’ve even been known to drag him on to the dance floor.

For us, the thought of energetic manoeuvres is vaguely disturbing. Because in the midst of green and pleasant land and after such a meal, we’re feeling distinctly mellow – in fact you could even say we’ve been transported to Paradise.

Bengal Paradise, 3 Great North Road, Brookmans Park, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 6LB  Tel: 01707 651444
Shahin Ali (3rd left) with (from left to right) Mo Gherras and Dominic Chapman of Royal Oak Paley Street and Atul Kochhar of Benares