As a city we are not short of Indian restaurants. From the pioneering yet humble ones found in The Balti Triangle, to those that have incorporated fine dining approaches to presentation and service, you can guarantee that you never too far away from a Tikka Masala. We have pubs that focus on the charred cooking of the tandoor and street food stands where pani puri and dosas can be had for a pittance. We have restaurants that have found their niche in All You Can Eat buffets and others that have stream-lined the approach to covering just one of the regions of the vast country that is India. Birmingham is a city where spice and heat is now as much as our DNA as industry and daft accents. What we do not have, or at least to the best of mine and Googles knowledge, is one that specialises in the seafood that makes up much of the daily diet in regions such as Kerala and Goa.
Until now. Now we have Vivaanta, an ambitious Indian restaurant situated close to the Mailbox with a majority emphasis on seafood. The restaurant is an airy space, glass fronted to make the most of its canal side location and views to The Mailbox and The Cube. Inside the thickly carpeted dining room has well spaced tables dressed in thick linen which I would eventually leave looking far from the white colour it started the evening as. We order cocktails from a large bar that is central to the space whilst I recall a dismal meal I had when the building previously hosted a Thai restaurant that was big on grand decorations and less big on serving edible food. All that gold and trash has made way for something far more elegant and sympathetic to its environment. It’s a vast improvement to say the least.
After the customary munching of popadoms we proceed to a starter of various fish dishes. An impeccably fresh piece of salmon, gently spiced with mustard, is whizzed through the tandoor so that the outside is tinged and inner still pink. A piece of cod has a light pakora batter that zings with ginger and lime and mussels that still sing of salt water with just enough heat to make us remember our settings. Only a crab cake disappoints, with the crack of anise from fennel seeds not enough to save a texture that borders on flabby.
From here we were treated to many of the dishes that should stand them apart from the crowd. King prawns in a tomato sauce fragrant with fenugreek and a robust lobster tail in a similar sauce, this time softened by coconut milk. It takes a level of skill to not kill the delicate flavours of the crustacean with spice; something they managed with aplomb here. A whole sea bass handled carefully with turmeric and cayenne was a fraction overcooked, though admirable in effort.
Meat dishes hit similar heights and occasionally surpass what was previously served. A Chicken Jeera Methi was a rich dish pungent with mustard and gharam masala that begged to have the last of the sauce mopped up with the naan. Best of all was a Lamb Gosht, deep with savoury notes and pellets of heat from dried black chillies. Perhaps it is the very nature of red meat being able to stand up to more powerful flavours, but it was nice to see the kitchen not hold back as they had rightly done with some of the seafood dishes. I could take a big bowl of this with a roti and leave a very happy man. Dessert featured amongst other things a properly saturated Gulab Jamun. Its the Indian Baba, only without the decadent rum and with the addition of enough sugary syrup to induce a diabetic coma. I enjoyed it a lot, though I was on my third Old Fashioned at this point.
By positioning themselves at the finer end of the Indian food spectrum, Vivaanta are up against some pretty serious competition. For the most of it, I believe that they more than hold their own. They have guile and a light touch which is hard to find. It would be easy to pigeon hole them to just seafood, but the meat dishes we tried prove they are much more than just that. After only being open for a month I am excited to see how the food evolves; so much so that I am already looking at booking a table and going back. The city that is the original home of the Balti has added another major player to its ranks.
I was a guest of the restaurant on this occasion and did not pay for either food or drinks