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Sunday, 29 May 2016

Recipe for Shatkora Lamb by Chef Abul Monsur

I've known Abul Monsur (Jewel) for almost 10 years now, ever since he was chef at the Curry Life Fusion Festival in Dhaka. Now, a veteran of the Taste of Britain Festivals in Spain, India, Bangladesh and Slovenia, Jewel is always the epitome of calm, cool and collected, whatever the situation. In fact he's so laid back that he even missed the plane on one occasion (happily he arrived in time for the festival on the next flight)! Having put fine dining Indian food on the map with his fantastic Taj Cuisine restaurants and takeaways in Chatham, Abul's son Sami has recently joined forces with his father to advance the Taj brand across Kent. This is one of Jewel's signature recipes at the Taste of Britain Curry Festival in Delhi earlier this year.
Serves 4 persons
Preparation time 30 minutes
Cooking time 45 minutes


  •   800g       Lamb (cubes)
  •   200g       Chopped onions
  •   100g       Fresh tomatoes (chopped)
  •   2tsp        Garlic and ginger paste
  •   1/2 tsp    Garam Masala
  •   1/2 tsp    Chilli powder
  •   11/2 tsp   Turmeric powder
  •   1 tsp        Cumin Powder
  •   1 1/2 tsp  Coriander powder
  •   1/4           Shatkora (thinly sliced)                   
  • (or 1tbsp lemon juice)
  •   2              Bayleaf
  •   4              Cardamom pods
  •   1              Cinammon stick
  •   4              Cloves
  •   20g          Oil
  •                   Salt to taste
  •                   Fresh, chopped coriander for garnish


  • Cook the onions in the oil until golden brown. 
  • Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the whole spices (bayleaf, cardomom, cinnamon and cloves), and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add all the dry spices (garam masala, turmeric, cumin and coriander powder) and cook, adding a little water to stop the spices from burning.
  • Add the lamb and coook for 20 minutes on a medium heat.
  • Add the tomatoes and sliced Shatkora and salt to taste and cook for 2 minutes, adding a little water for sauce.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes until the lamb pieces are cooked and tender.
  • Remove from heat and chopped fresh coriander and serve with rice or roti.

Abul at Curry Life food festival in Dhaka Sheraton

Explaining about one of his signature dishes

Friday, 27 May 2016

Daawat Indian Restaurant on the Strand

Chef Asharaf Valappil at the Strand Palace Hotel
I took a stroll down the Strand to meet Asharaf Valappil, the talented chef at Strand Palace Hotel’s recently launched restaurant, Daawat. Asharaf offers authentic Indian flavours with a British touch, and an exotic version of afternoon tea …

There are few buildings more steeped in British nostalgia than London’s Strand Palace Hotel. Built in 1909, the original plans described a “grand” hotel in the heart of the capital boasting modern architecture and stunning art deco features. Swiftly established as a famous social venue in the twenties, more turbulent times followed. World War II saw Londoners seeking refuge in the hotel's basement as bombs ravaged the city, and ration coupons were exchanged for meals.

Nowadays, following a £2.5m makeover, boasting 785 stylish rooms, the Strand Palace Hotel offers a historic and quintessentially English atmosphere at the centre of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

But the concept of ‘Englishness’ has changed. Today, thanks to an energising invasion of cultures and cuisines, ‘being British’ includes many different elements. The most pervasive is the UK’s relatively new found passion for spicy food; hence, nestling alongside Strand Palace’s typically British carvery and grill, Nook Bar, and Gin Palace, there’s also a very British Indian restaurant.

Daawat has been spicing up the Asian dining scene ever since its impressive launch party in October 2015. Following the path blazed by Asian chefs including Atul Kochhar of Benares, and Vineet Bhatia of Zaika, Daawat’s culinary team is currently taking authentic Indian food into the realm of high-end dining … and beyond.

Entering the hotel, the reception area bustles with a stream of guests skilfully steered on and off the premises by genial, top-hatted doorman. A short walk up the steps to the right takes us to Daawat’s restfully elegant, cool interior. It’s a lesson in tasteful design and decoration: white tablecloths, restrained colour schemes and comfortable seats are the order of the day whilst subcontinental kitsch is definitely off the menu.

Asharaf Valappil, the Daawat’s 37-year-old sous chef, is brimming over with enthusiasm and passion for the food of his native India. Working closely with the Strand Palace’s head chef, Martin Lynch, Asharaf says his aim is to cook Indian food with an authentic touch.

“Everywhere you go in London, Indian restaurants have a similar menu with Jalfrezis, Dupiazas or even dishes which you don’t even find in India” he explains. “Here, we decided to offer something different – dishes similar to those found in my homeland, whilst still catering for the more delicate British palate.  

Asharaf has a simple rule for sourcing recipes: “I’m a great believer in real, authentic cuisine so I promised myself that I would stick to my roots and keep my food traditional," he says. "I’ve always found the best way to eat food in India is to enjoy the home cooking wherever possible.The home-style food is the same authentic taste I want to bring to the restaurant.”

‘Home’ for Asharaf is on the Malabar coast of Kerala in south-western India, known as the ‘Land of Spices’, abundant in coconut trees, rivers, plains and spice plantations, where environmental factors and humid climate have combined to create a culinary heritage of richly spiced food. Kerala is India’s largest rice producer so, unsurprisingly, the grain is used as the base from which most meals are made. Coconut, another common ingredient is often used to thicken sauces. Seafood and river fish dishes are plentiful, flavoured with pungent spices such as tamarind, fragrant cardamom, pepper and asafoetida. Inland, there’s a strong vegetarian tradition inland whilst fiery meat and poultry dishes are common in the north, often served on a banana leaf.  

Growing up surrounded by this wealth of foods and flavours, Asharaf explains that his training began at home in the family kitchen. “My father always used to cook for us when we were young,” he remembers. “His meals were always simple but tasty! When I was at school I took it upon myself to experiment with food for the family, so, slowly, slowly, I learned to cook as well – my interest developed from there. I always knew cooking was going to be a big part of my life.”

He went on to study at the Consult Inn Institute of Hotel Management in Kerala, carrying out his vocational training at the Taj group of hotels. After graduation he worked for the prestigious Oberoi Hotel Group at a string of top establishments in Delhi, Shimla and Mumbai, even on a cruise line, gaining experience in Thai, Indian and Asian cuisine.  He also trained in Italian cooking, a popular cuisine on the subcontinent, and learned how to create perfect pasta from an Italian-born chef.

Moving to Europe in 2007, Asharaf joined the team at the famous Moti Mahal in Covent Garden where he stayed for seven years before he was head-hunted to take the post of sous chef at Strand Palace in 2014.  

Now, with his wife and three-year-old also living in London, he oversees five chefs at Daawat alongside a team of 18 chefs who work in the busy kitchens of the hotel. Head chef, Martin Lynch had good reason to believe in his new chef’s ability being familiar with his cooking style and his strengths. Together they worked out several balanced menus based on the regional Indian recipes and ingredients, exploding with aromatic spices and flavours.

Asharaf explains: “When I came to London I went to many restaurants to research and I realised that British people love Indian food. But we decided to make it authentic. Now, all our menus contain elements from different parts of the Indian subcontinent including the Malabar coast, Goa, Kashmir, or the Punjab. Our achievement here makes me proud because I am doing what is in my heart.”

Authentic and fresh ingredients are sourced in Southall, a reliable source for Indian products. Asharaf has plans to add some Bengali dishes to the menu but not at the expense of authenticity. “I’d love to offer a traditional Bengal fish curry, but unfortunately, I can’t source the proper mustard used for the dish, even in Brick Lane,” he explains.

Indian street-foods also feature at the restaurant and Asharaf intends to build on these offerings using Masala Dhosas, kebabs and curries as the bait to entice the lunchtime crowd.

More than one dish at Daawat has been influenced by the curry dishes of the UK. In fact, Asharaf comments that the British-born dish of Chicken Tikka Masala, albeit with the chef’s unique stamp of a smoky blend of spices, is the most popular item on the menu.

“I also love British food,” admits the chef, who has a particular penchant for Cumberland sausages, especially when Kashmiri chilli paste and lemon juice are added before serving in a warm croissant.

With an à la carte lunch and dinner menu, and a Thali lunch menu for £9.95, there’s not much at Daawat (apart from the world famous CTM and biryani) to resemble dishes found in the average British/Indian diner.

It was evening so we had an excellent excuse to select from the à la carte dinner menu. From an economical but elegant choice of eight, starters preceded by tasty poppadoms and chutneys, included seared scallops encased in a crisp coriander crust with curried cauliflower, and a refreshing Tandoori Salmon with dill, ginger and yoghurt served with grape chutney. Balla Papri Chat: delicious fried lentil dumplings with Indian papri pastry, mint, ginger chutney and yoghurt provided contrasting textures with sharp and sweet tastes. The Tirange kebab, a colourful trio of chicken tikka with cheese and cardamom, smoked chilli, fenugreek and coriander leaves, was full of the flavours of southern India.

Main courses ranged from £7.95 for a Nizami Handi vegetable curry to £19.95 for the sea bass. Asharaf’s Grandma Kodi Kura, a version of the dish cooked by many grandmothers in Andhra Pradesh. It comprised Andhra chicken with black pepper corns and shallots cooked in a simple but spicy gravy. Other dishes are informed by the seasonings and flavours of Kerala such as the sea bass, marinated with spices and subtle flavours of coconut milk. The Biryani was cooked dum punkt style, the comforting flavours of spiced, meltingly tender lamb sealed in by the pastry lid, with the firm bite of aged basmati rice.

Goan Sungta Balichow of Tiger Prawns was consumed in a dark, fiery and tangy sauce with red chillies, shrimp paste and tomato. We learned that the coastal folk of India have an interesting way of preserving prawns – as the fishermen are unable to fish until September because of the rainy season, they conserve the fish in paste made from Kashmiri red chillies, stored in jars. Influenced by these traditions, the heat of the chillies in Asharaf’s dish packs a punch - enough to warm the cockles of the heart.

With nan breads of many varieties freshly cooked in the tandoor, sides included Bagan Ka Salan: small aubergines cooked in peanut and sesame, tamarind and jaggary paste. A range of ice-creams, sorbets and traditional desserts were perfectly sized after eating such hearty mains: delicate mini Rasamalai – mild dumplings flavoured with rose and fresh raspberries, or mini gulab jamon. But for us it was a no-brainer - we had to go for another of Asharaf’s signatures - delicious chocolate samosas stuffed with coconut milk chocolate, mango sorbet and strawberries marinated in ginger.

The Anglo-Indian fusion at Daawat is such that Asharaf even offers an exotic version of afternoon tea, otherwise known as High Chai. Forget musty tea rooms and stuffy drawing rooms. For £24.95 a head, partakers are transported to the glamorous world of colonial India, green tea plantations and airy hill stations. Sipping on refreshing herbal or Masala chai, they can feast on spicy savoury delicacies, and traditional Indian cakes such as Rasmalai and Pistachio Burfi, along with less traditional chocolate samosas drizzled with mango puree. Ultimately, they are returned to a more English world with warm scones and clotted cream – the blend of culture and cuisine at Daawat is complete.

ITALICS Daawat, Strand Palace Hotel, 372 Strand, London WC2R 0JJ    Tel: ++44 207 836 8080  Reservations:  +44 207 379 4737


Monday, 9 May 2016

Curry UK versus Curry USA

An overview from a well seasoned ex-pat:

Ken Renfrew, a curry aficionado, world traveller, businessman (and brother in law), was born and bred in the UK where he frequently experienced the delights of curry cuisine in the north of England. Now, living and working in North Carolina, America for almost 30 years, he reflects on how the Indian restaurant scene in the US has changed …

Ken: This evening when I finished work I took the dog out and stopped at a supermarket where there is a 'grab it on your way home' food bar, i.e. the place where people shop who don't want to cook or go out for their evening meal. Typical food on offer here usually consists of fried chicken or at the very extreme - goulash.
Yet what did I see but three vegetarian curries, rice, cauliflower and chicken tikka masala!

Such sights used to be more common in the ethnic areas of the large American cities, along with bazaars, beards and burkas, where immigrant families lived and fed on familiar food. Other famous examples include China Town, Little Italy, and Little Havana - all of which offer great opportunities for ethnic dining. I was amazed to see the Indian food in our supermarket tonight, but it shows who is demanding a change, and it’s not the original locals.
When we first moved to Research Triangle Park, NC back in 1987, an area known for its hospitals and hi-tech companies, there was - as far as we knew - just one Indian restaurant serving Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Now there must be 20 or 30. Similarly, when we moved to Charlotte 20 years ago there were just two Indian restaurants serving a population of around 700k - now I can think of about 15. But then again, this region is the second most rapidly growing in the nation.
As different cultural groups have always done in the New World, migrants from the Indian sub- continent come here for work, family, a better life, or just for a change. Not surprisingly, the restaurateurs pinpoint locations where the new diaspora work and live (no marketing degree or MBA needed to work out why!). The first places they choose are near hospitals, universities and concentrated areas of high tech business - Silicon Valley, Research Triangle Park, Cambridge Mass for example. Then boy meets girl, relations follow, and pretty soon there is a new thriving community spreading the word about great curry, helped along by a few ex-pat Brits, and an American population that begins to love Indian food.
This roving correspondent has seen a huge increase in Indian restaurants in the past 10 years. It used to be a struggle to find Indian food in the developing areas of some states. Since moving to the US, my work has taken me to 43 out of the 50 states many times and I always make a point of dining at an Indian restaurant somewhere within an easy drive of my destination – usually by GPS or Google. Nowadays, finding one is not a problem.
A key difference between the UK and America restaurants involves the variety of types of Indian food. Yes, in the UK 90%+ of Indian restaurants are Bangladeshi. But in America there is a descending order: Indian, to Pakistani to others including Bangla and a subset of Goa style restaurants. Even Mongolian restaurants are sometimes generalized under ‘Indian’.
So, maybe the variety of flavours, styles, spices and methods of preparation are more varied in the USA than the UK. That doesn’t make one country’s menu diversity any better than the other, but it does mean the traveller in America, either  from out of the country or within, won’t find it easy to get the same flavours between one geographic region and another, or for that matter even between nearby restaurants. Does that make dining in Indian restaurants in the USA more interesting than a 90% Bangla-English dominated selection? Maybe, maybe not, because as curry life in the UK continues to expand so does the quality and inventiveness of chefs. It’s different, that’s all. Even celebrities become accustomed to, and develop preferences for particular flavours but perhaps it's because they're used to those wonderful Bangla curries in Great Britain.
Sangam Indian restaurant in Cornelius, N. Carolina
Our 'local' Indian restaurateurs who own Sangam in Cornelius, North Carolina, who are also great family friends, are Punjabi originally and their cuisine is very similar in flavour to the typical UK upscale Indian restaurant.  Some Americans find Indian and Pakistan style curries harsh and maybe, if the blend of spice is different in Bangladeshi cuisine there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to open up a restaurant serving Bangla-British style flavours that would appeal more to the Americans' palate.

What do Americans think about Indian food? In this great continent you have people of every social, educational and experiential mix. There are some who have been to India more times than you can shake a stick at. There are huge American Indian populations.  If there is a social group that may not like Indian it’s only those who haven’t been exposed to it, or those who prefer simpler food flavours (even though they still love spicy Mexican food). Are attitudes changing? Absolutely – that’s for sure.
Nevertheless, on average, Americans eat less curry than the Brits. Perhaps it’s just a question of numbers. The population of Bangladeshis in the UK is about 500,000 in a total population of 64.6 million or just under 1% – and Bangladeshis own about 90% of the Indian restaurant market. In the USA there is a combined Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi population of about 3.7 million or just over 1% of the total USA population; pretty even. So it’s not a case of dilution by numbers. Could it be that because of the patterns of human migration Americans simply have other deep-rooted options? Mexican, Chinese oh … and American!  Socio-political history, meaning historical connections, migrations and networking, may just be the answer for why less curry is eaten here – on average.
What does all this mean? Like anywhere, there are good restaurants and not so good ones there are styles of cuisine that some love, others hate. And there are the usual picky/not so picky eaters. Bottom line? Put a plate of curry in front of any American who hasn’t had the pleasure before and most will say something like ‘Not sure what it is, but I like it’.  
You must be curious about the dinner we had tonight on my return from the supermarket; an intriguing menu of Andouille spiced pork sausage, bratwurst, American style canned baked beans in tomato sauce, no fries –  sorry chips - and a very respectable Aloo with peas curry from the supermarket grab-and-go.

In the USA we love Indian food – how could we not?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The multi-talented tamarind

Known as the ‘Indian date’ tamarind is a versatile fruit used all over the world in everything from chutney to desserts, marinades and stews. In Asian cooking, tamarind is used as a base for savoury dishes or sometimes stirred into drinks and relishes. In other parts of the world, tamarind sweets and candies are popular. It’s even used in British Worcestershire sauce.

The tree is often thought to be indigenous to the Indian continent, however tamarind originates from tropical Africa and was later transported to India. In the 16th century it was introduced to Mexico and South America where it is used extensively. Today, India is the largest producer of tamarind followed by the US.
What does it look like?

The tamarind is a bushy tree which grows up to 59 feet in height. A mature tree is capable of producing up to 386lb (175kg) of fruit per year. The leaves are evergreen, bright green in colour whilst the flowers are red and yellow. The fruit is found in a bean-like hard brown shell known as a pod. Inside the pod are a few inedible large seeds and an edible, sticky, reddish brown flesh. When the pod is young, the pulp is very sour and is often used as a pickling agent. Once ripe however, the fruit is sweeter and less acidic and tastes a bit like a sour date. It can be eaten fresh or is used in desserts as a jam, blended into juices or sweetened drinks, sorbets and ice-creams. In Mexico agua de tamarindo is a very popular drink, made by boiling tamarind pods, removing the pulp and straining the water, and adding sugar.

In Indian food, tamarind can be used to make sauces or curries and as a flavouring for meals and snacks. Tamarind chutney is very popular in north India, made by soaking tamarind pods, squeezing the pulp and mixing with jaggery (cane sugar). Across the Middle East tamarind is often mixed with dry fruits and added to savoury dishes and meat based stews. Combined with chilli in south India and in Thailand it’s used to make the famous Pad Thai noodle dish.

With a unique, strong, sweet and sour taste tamarind is high is tartaric acid, vitamin B and, unusually for a fruit, calcium. It comes in seeded form, or the pulp can be pressed to form a cake or processed to make a paste. If still in the shell, the best way to prepare is to break the shell and remove the sticky pulp by hand.

Beef marinated overnight in a tamarind infused liquid becomes more tenderised and succulent. Medicinally the fruit is used as a poultice applied to the foreheads of fever sufferers. It is thought to cure conjunctivitis and is also used for treating dry eye syndrome. Rich in antioxidants tamarind can protect the body from diseases like cancer and lowers cholesterol. It’s also great for polishing brass and copper mixed with a bit of salt and water.

Tamarind Prawns 

Serves 4 to 5

15 large prawns with shell and tail 
4 oz fresh tamarind
2 tbsp veg oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp of water

1.     Remove tamarind pulp by breaking pods and removing with hands, removing seeds. Rinse under running water.  
2.     Peel and de-vein the prawns leaving tail on.
3.  Marinate prawns with tamarind pulp and sugar.
4.     Heat oil in wok or deep frying pan. When heated toss in the prawns together with tamarind pulp.
5.     Mix together dark soy sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic and water and pour over prawns.
6.     Fry on medium heat for around 4 minutes stirring until prawns are evenly coated in sauce . When almost ready turn heat on high so that the shells become slightly charred and gravy caramelised.
6.     Transfer to serving plate and serve on a bed of cucumber with rice.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Lamb Shanks with a flavour of India by Memsaab Restaurant

This recipe from Amita Sawnhey who co-owns and runs Memsaab restaurant in Nottingham, gives an exotically spiced makeover to the famous British dish of Lamb Shank.

Lamb Shank

Ingredients (Serves 4 people)

  • 4         Lamb shanks
  • 4 tbsp Cooking oil
  • 2         Large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2         Large tomatoes, diced 
  • 2 tbsp Garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp Ginger paste
  • 2 tsp   Coriander powder
  • 1 tsp   Cumin powder
  • ½ tsp  Turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp  Red Chilli powder
  • 2 tsp   Garam Masala powder
  • 100ml Single Cream
Salt to taste           
Fresh Coriander for garnish


Heat the cooking oil in a heavy bottomed pan suitable for the oven and, on a medium heat, sauté the onions to a golden brown colour. Remove the onions using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Blend the onions into a smooth paste adding a little water, if required. Separately blend the tomatoes, garlic and ginger pastes together, again into a smooth paste.

Heat the oil left from the frying the onions and add the onion paste. Sauté for a further 2-3 minutes. 

Then add the tomato paste and all the powdered spices. Stir and mix well.

Sauté the resulting (onion, tomato and spice) masala for about ten minutes, until the oil begins to separate from it. Then add the Lamb shank to the masala. Season with salt to taste and stir to fully coat the lamb pieces with the masala.

Sauté until the shank is browned well. Then stir in ½ cup of hot water, mixing well. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Place the covered pan into the oven at 150 degrees. Cook for about 45 minutes until the lamb is tender.

When cooked, remove the pan from the oven and gently stir in the single cream. The ‘gravy’ should be fairly thick when done.

Remove from the pan onto a plate and garnish with chopped coriander. The lamb shanks can be served with mashed potato and blanched wild spinach leaf!


Memsaab in Nottingham - it's the woman's touch!

Amita with Atul Kochhar of Benares

The Observer recently put Memsaab among the top five curry restaurants in the country which is a pretty impressive accolade for fine diner in Nottingham's city centre. I went along to check it out ...

I have many fond memories of the city of Nottingham. Back in the 1980s when I lived and worked there, the burgeoning Indian restaurant scene was more exciting by the day.  At that time, the name on everyone’s lips (with legendary memories for me), was the Mogal E Azam – a venue which seemed, at the time, streets ahead in terms of ambiance, service, and food, where waiters handed out hot towels and the meal ended with the presentation of a casket full of aniseed, fennel and liquorice to sweeten the bill.

Returning to the city after almost 30 years and was glad to see the Mogli (as we used to call it) still going strong and still dishing up the old favourites. However, as the curry industry has developed with ever higher expectations from diners, a host of new restaurants has arrived in Nottingham and now they are putting the wow factor back into Indian dining.

And the cream of the crop is Memsaab. Situated on Maid Marion Way, the main thoroughfare to Nottingham’s bustling city centre, Memsaab is an elegant, upmarket destination which speaks class as soon as you walk up to its imposing glass door. With an array of awards and two AA rosettes, its pre-eminence amongst the plethora of top-notch diners has a great deal to do with its owner, Amita Sawnhey.

Amita runs the restaurant along with her husband, Deepak, and family member Sanjeev Sachdeva. She came to the UK from Calcutta in 2008 from a family with strong associations with the restaurant industry; in fact her father pioneered the introduction of northwest frontier food into southern India. With such a heritage it’s not surprising that she, herself, became a pioneering force in the Indian restaurant business in Britain. She bought Memsaab in 2011 and runs the 200-cover restaurant with a passion her staff members describe as ‘contagious.’

Arriving on a busy Saturday evening, we received a warm welcome from front-of-house manager, Asif, before being shown to a window seat on a raised area looking out over the bustling Maid Marian Way. The interior befits a fine-dining restaurant with clean and crisp tablecloths and the atmosphere is welcoming, but not too formal. Large mirrors make the room seem even more spacious than it is (and that’s pretty big). Quirky and humorous paintings depicting Indian characters and comical maharajahs line the walls. A burgundy and white colour scheme is enhanced by pendant lights and the whole restaurant has a warm, cosy glow. There are also plenty of children and families around, but the overall ambiance is still one of sophistication. With two private rooms at the back, Memsaab does a good trade in parties and weddings but there’s still an exclusive, grown up atmosphere – it’s a great venue to do business, throw a party, have a romantic dinner or maybe do all three!  
Quirky paintings at Memsaab
Amita has a soothing, calm presence – drifting around the restaurant with grace and charm, visiting tables, chatting to guests and making everyone as though they are cared about, cosseted, indulged at every whim. Sanjeev, who is a very genial chap says that every restaurant needs a woman’s touch. It’s certainly apparent at Memsaab, in the cut of the wine glasses, in the china, in the crisp, white linen, in the luxurious bathrooms with their fresh flowers, Moulson and Brown hand gels, even in the computerised toilet seat covers that miraculously replace themselves. Amita’s recipe for success is in making everyone feel at home. She is known for providing a personalised customer service that makes the customer fall in love with Indian food, and her maxim is to always exceed expectations.

Sanjeev admits that they inherited a “good ship” when they took on the restaurant, however, the owners recognise how important it is to keep ahead of the game. At the moment they’re busy taking Memsaab up to the next level and with a clutch of rave reviews from publications such as The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, and Hardens Guide, it seems they have succeeded. And not only in the dining sector, also in the corporate community where their regular customers include the likes of Siemens, Boots, Experian and Capital FM.

Amita is an expert in food and wine and champagne pairing so unsurprisingly, the wine list is impressive. She plies us with champagne, which (reluctantly, of course) we have to drink, before we receive our poppadoms – perfectly bubbled and crisp with orange and apricot, spiced onion and apple and mint chutneys.

The menu is just the right size to be interesting yet, reassuringly, every dish is prepared fresh. Amita says they go to extraordinary lengths to source the best ingredients – lamb is bought at a certain age, chicken is a certain size – they may have to pay a bit more but it is worth it to achieve top quality.

Seven chefs work in the kitchen specialising in food from different regions of India, including the Punjab, Lahore, Kerala and Goa. As the menu states, the emphasis is to achieve a foundation of ingredients selected for flavour, freshness and seasonality in order to make uncomplicated, delicious dishes. Each dish is defined by its main ingredient and leading spices compliment that base ingredient.

Our starters included Chicken Reshmi Kebab, charcoal grilled minced chicken; the salmon tikka was moist flavoured with fenugreek leaves and garam masala; Lahore lamb chops were served with the bone conveniently wrapped so we could get to grips with them. Aloo and Paneer Bhaji, lightly fried potato filled with paneer and sweetcorn, seasoned with coriander was crisp and fresh tasting; Jhinga Hara Masala, succulent grilled king prawns were seasoned with carom seeds.  In between courses we were served a melon sorbet with mint garnished with lemon to refresh the palate.

The texture of the sauces was luxurious and rich, flavoured with fresh spices. The slow cooked lamb flavoured with cardamom was tender without being overcooked. Kerala Alleppey, steamed monkfish wrapped in a banana leaf was served with a mixed vegetable pariyal, and pan fried sea bass comes with spiced ratatouille. Goan king prawns, venison kebab and Tandoori Ostrich are on the menu along with Soft Shell Crab with spicy squid.

Even the dessert menu presents a mix of modern and traditional Indian sweets including Gajar Ka Halwa, a carrot pudding with pistachio kulfi, homemade and artistically presented. 

Judging from this visit the Observer's top 5 rating could be a more than fair assessment. It must be the woman's touch.

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

Friday, 15 May 2015

Turmeric: health giving ingredient of curry

Turmeric, one of the staple ingredients of curry, has been found to have amazing health giving properties.

These stem from turmeric’s magic property of curcumin, an anti-inflammatory, active ingredient that can treat a range of diseases such as Alzheimers, diabetes, allergies and arthritis. Studies have found curcumin to be effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome and, more recently, in preventing bowel cancer.

In India and China, however, the miraculous power of turmeric has been known for over 5,000 years where it has been used first as a dye and then in traditional medicine to treat a variety of complaints including jaundice, haemorrhage, toothache, bruises, and even flatulence (parp!).

Although Arab traders introduced turmeric to Europe in the 13th century it has only recently become common in the west – mainly because of the growing popularity of curry and Indian restaurants.

With a warm, peppery and bitter flavour, the spice comes from a very beautiful plant, Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. This perennial grows wild, mainly in the forests of southern India, and reaches around one metre in height with ribbed leaves, white flowers and cylindrical, aromatic rhizomes.

The spice comes from the rhizomes which are gathered annually, boiled for about 30-45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens. They are then ground into the deep yellow powder commonly used in curries, to give mustard its distinctive colour or used to make chicken soups golden. However, the whole plant is edible – even the flowers can be eaten as an exotic lettuce and the leaves can be used as a flavour imparting wrap.

Historically, turmeric was thought to have spiritual properties because of its yellow-orange colouring which was associated with the sun. Hindu monks were traditionally coloured with a yellow dye made from turmeric. It is also used throughout India in weddings and religious ceremonies. In Bangladesh the Gaye holud (literally,‘yellow on the body’) is a ceremony which takes place one or two days before a wedding. The turmeric paste is applied to the bodies of the couple by (presumably by very good friends) and is said to soften the skin as well as colouring the bride and groom yellow.

The ingredient is especially common in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking: Iranian fried dishes consist of oil, onions and turmeric followed by other dishes. In Nepal it is widely used in vegetable and meat dishes and in Indonesia flavours the curry base of dishes such as rendang, sate padang. In Maharashtra and Goa, turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food, imparting a distinctive taste. The root can also be used fresh, like ginger in pickle. Although turmeric is used mainly to flavour savoury dishes it can also be used to prepare special sweets.

Photos by Peter Renfrew