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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.

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