vegetarian

Gateway to India, Birmingham


I remember the days when I used to come to Regency Wharf for drinks at Living Room and Zinc.  When the anticipation of the area was high and the proximity to Brindley Place offered a new oasis of class to an end of Birmingham desperately needing it.  It was a short lived love affair.  Unfortunatley, the bustle of Broad Street is the dominant gene here, with those units now home to the tacky bluster of Rub’s Smokehouse and, even worse, Jimmy Spices buffet.  No one dares come Broad Street for class.  They come on the promise of bad booze, bad music, and, dependent on how successful the evening has been, a shag, a brawl, or a chicken Balti to finish.  The Holy Trinity is all three of those in the same night.


So please forgive my disdain for all that’s on this kebab stained hell hole on earth, because there is some good stuff happening if you scratch deep enough.  I’d mentally tarnished Gateway to India before I’d arrived as just another curry house fulfilling the needs of drunks.  The reality is that it could end up shovelling out an endless stream of Balti dishes to pissed-up idiots at 11pm to make a living, if we don’t make the most of what they do well.  And the bits they do well are as good an example as any I’ve tried.  My preconceptions were miles off and I have no problem admitting that.


We ate most of the street food dishes and almost all were excellent.  Samosa chaat have a heat that builds gradually from the curry outside the samosa, with the potato and pea filling aromatic with masala and cumin.  Pani puri are properly delicate, the choice of two spiced waters unique (he says) to this city.  Have the tamarind one.  Bhel puri is light with plenty of spiced sev on top of what can only be described as Bombay mix.  It’s a dish of textures first, flavours second.




It’s hard to eat aloo tikki chaat and not compare it to the majestic version at Zindiya.  This not quite as good, though still holds up on its own thanks to a thick green mint sauce that makes the potato patty and chickpea curry bounce off one another.  If we’re staying with that same comparasion against that place in the Moseley, the dosa here wipes the floor with it.  It’s as good an example as I’ve eaten – India included.  The thin pancake-like casing is the size of my forearm, a carrier for a rich potato filling that pops with mustard seed and cumin.  It’s served with a tomato chutney, coconut chutney and a thin vegetable curry.  It is outstanding and will cost you just a fiver.  If you work close by and choose a generic sandwich shop over this for lunch, you and I will never be friends.



The chickpea curry makes a return with Chloe Bature, a deceptively simple dish that requires tearing up a whoopi cushion of  fried bread and filling with carbydates.  It is my kind of dish.  Likewise a Pav Bhaji that that is a buttered bun to be dunked into a thick vegetable curry that has a healthy kick of chilli.  I used to get called weird for a dinner of buttered white bread and a madras curry sauce, now it turns it that it’s ‘a thing’.  Who’s weird now.



Let’s pause for one second.  Stop the writing here and you have a solid 8, maybe 9 out of ten.  It is that good. These dishes are what they do best, and glance your eyes back and you’ll notice no meat.  Vegetarian food is rarely seen as sexy, especially so close to the bravado of Broad St, yet this is knockout flavours delivered for a pittance: The most expensive of the above dishes is £6.50, the majority sit at a fiver.  Come here and eat from the street food menu; I will bet my house that you wont regret it.

But plough on we must, there is food to eat. A Viceroy mixed grill is generous in size for fifteen pound and would comfortably feed three.  We like the fat cubes of chicken tikka that are pale from hung yogurt, not red from dye, less so the chicken wings and sheekh kebab that could both be ramped up a notch on the flavour level.  Best are the lamb chops that have been packed with marinade and left until the meat begs to be cooked.  These are as tender as you get, a prime example of how best to treat this cut of lamb.


Full to the point of bursting, curries arrive.  A lamb saag is all metallic notes of spinach and not much else, even if the meat is cooked to point that knives become redundant.  Chicken Jalfrezi lacks heat but makes up for it with some deft spicing.  Best is the dhal that is smokey and rich with butter that I take home and finish off the following day.



There is a final swansong in a lobster, meat removed and mixed with garlic, tamarind, and clarified butter, before going back into the crustacean.  The meat is delicate, the tamarind match a new one for me that works in a sweet and sour sauce kind of way.  At £22.00 it’s not cheap but shows better value to me than the twelve pound curry offerings.


So, what we have is a meal where the street dishes were excellent and everything afterwards merely good in comparasion.  Which, in a self righteous kind of way takes me back to the start of the post.  This restaurant does something as good as anywhere in the city, and that is vegetarian street food dishes.  That dosa, that samosa chaat, that bhel phoori, they need people to eat them.  Failure to do so will result in the pissed brigade taking over and this place just turning into yet another generic curry house in order to stay alive.  It’s better than that.  Regency Wharf once again has a restaurant worthy of our attention, I can only hope that diners reward this with a visit.

7/10  

I dined in the company of Delicious PR and did not see a bill for the meal 

Zindiya, Moseley

I started my last piece on Zindiya with the words ‘Chicken Tikka’. Well I would, wouldn’t I? I’m so bloody predictable at times. A fully committed carnivore whose eyes wonder to the grill section of the menu, even when, as the case is at Zindiya, the majority of the menu is vegetables and other lovely stuff that leave a far smaller, morally larger, footprint on the planet.  Despite that bolshie, macho attitude I like to display I actually really love vegetarian food – about half the meals I cook at home are – and none appeals to this side of me more than Indian vegetarian cooking.  I hardly touched meat in India because I never needed to.  The ability to turn vegetables into a meal of their own is something that the Indians specialise in – they have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world.

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I’m in Zindiya with someone who has never been here before, and when it comes to India, well, she’s been there, done that, bought the tea set.  We never meant to order a (mostly) vegetarian meal, it just kind of happened.  A lot like our relationship.  I insist on some dishes because I know they will be good, she insists on okra because she is a sadist.  The lady fingers are the first to arrive.  They have crunch and are a million miles from the gloop that I associate them with.  She did okay with this choice.  She can stay another week.

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What follows is a masterclass in vibrant and light Indian street food dishes.  No one, and I mean no one, does this as well in Birmingham as the team here.  The Aloo Tikki Chaat is a prime example of this, the potato cakes being delicately spiced, the surrounding chickpeas more aggressive in heat.  It’s topped with soothing yogurt and the most vibrant of mint sauce.  It sings.  The green pucks that are the Hara Bhara Kebabs are new to me.  The potato and spinach patties are denser than Aloo Tikki and need the mint sauce to revive them.  No such problem with the kati roll filled with cubes of paneer and coarsely chopped raw vegetables.  I’ve eaten this dish a lot because it’s wholesome and complete.  It’s a meal in itself and a bargain to boot at £6.50.

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Papri Chaat is my highlight of the night. Pops of crispy dough wafers nestle amongst chickpeas, potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, giving a perfect contrast of texture. The spicing is beautiful – all depth rather than heat – giving the dish a complex flavour that demands another mouthful. It’s absolute heaven in a dish, and a bargain at only £4.  If you thought that paragraph was too good to be mine, it’s because it is – I’ve nicked it from my girlfriend’s blog because she says it better than I ever could.  Take a look at http://www.noshandbreks.com and see how much better her pictures are of the meal.  It’s not even funny how superior she is.  Anyway, back on my (award winning, had you not heard) blog,  I’m not crazy about the taco-like presentation of the dosa, but the flavour is there in spades.  The potato filling is spiked with mustard seed and turmeric, all neatly folded into the rice batter pancake that probably doesn’t need to be so neat.  The sambhar and coconut chutney it comes with could make anything taste better.  Maybe even tofu.  Those two dishes showcase what Zindiya does at it’s best; deft spicing and vibrant cooking that wont leave you sagging with a heavy tummy for the rest of your evening.  The lightness of touch here is astounding considering the bold flavourings.  We get Chicken Tikka because Claire has never tried it.  It is still the best version of it’s kind I have ever tried.

IMG_9745IMG_9746IMG_9748There was a dessert, but I was too busy working through the cocktail list to tell you what it’s like.  What I can say is that everything has improved since it opened.  The service is sharper, the food on a constant incline.  It is ready to be rolled out across the country and embraced by those far and wide.  Tonight they served up the best vegetarian meal I’ve eaten in the city, despite not being a vegetarian restaurant.  Just don’t forget the chicken tikka.  See, I’ve gone there again.  I’m so bloody predictable.