Friday, 30 November 2007

Aubergine - Albert Road, Southsea

A while ago I let my instincts guide me to Aubergine indian restaurant on Albert Road, Southsea. The PLACE had been open a month and looked new from the street, arctic white, creaseless table cloths, immaculately folded napkins, red roses, purple cream wallpaper, high back leather chairs bla bla bla. Shame some oik had already cracked the crystal clear window.

Another responsible for helping these guys write their menu, or not helping. PRICES are very fair but when reading a la carte, one is faintly alarmed at what appears to be on offer. Examples? The Luck Now Ke Keek Kebab, ‘Minced of Lamb with chefs Spiced on coriander, cheese, moulded on to skewers’ (wince) and oh! to learn of the carnal delight involving ‘fresh bottom mushrooms’! Maybe the menu was written by a pigeon. The potato and cauliflower in Aloo Gobi are ‘cooed’ with onion, garlic, ginger, tomato and coriander.

Sometimes I am adventurous, my companion Mikey is so in we went. Greeted with beaming smiles, the 2 waiters were genuinely warm souls, proud and happy happy to have customers. So I say SERVICE was lovely. After settling in Poppadoms and dips didn’t really hint at what was to come, except perhaps a market fresh onion salad. And what was to follow! Immediately superb Chicken Tikka. 4 golden brown encrusted morsels of perfectly textured poultry, beautifully arranged around a crisp bouncy nest of shredded lettuce and raw cabbage with overlapping swirls of what may have been coriander and onion chutneys. A prawn puree said to taste as good as it looked. 2 standard starters rendered quite special.

Expectations rising main courses were next and didn’t let slip. In polished copper pots shaped like minarets Goan Machli and Sylheti Gosht. Large chunks of outstandingly cute tasting Telapia fillet in Mikey’s coconut infused concoction surprised and delighted in equal measure. How a curry can come over hot and mild simultaneously I don’t know but this one did. Meanwhile on my side of the table the aromas enthusing from my lamb dish for once tasted as nose suggested, spices tantalized the roof of my mouth. Pilau rice was first rate, moist, flavourful, threaded with saffron and onion. On the side but by no means in the shade Tarka Dal a warm marriage of yellow lentils, garlic and cherry tomato. Paneer Kadhai, ripe cubelets of cottage cheese bathing luxuriantly alongside small, sweet hunks of green pepper in a rich silken amber gravy.

Yes first time the FOOD was better than any place on Albert Road. It would’ve been appreciated by anyone, everyone. The house white more of a girl thing though. Sweet, honeyed nectar, desert wine. And there! I almost forgot! We were given a complimentary rice pudding square to round off the meal. Willy Wonka eat your heart out! This last surprise - instead of same old chocolate mints - light and foamy, a great palette cleanser whether prepared by the pastry chef or plucked from the fridge.

...I really wanted to go back but having built Aubergine up so much in the corridors of my mind I was worried another visit might be a let down, leaving me lost, unhinged…Still I resolved to enter through the doors of the restaurant again because I really thought (and still do) the team deserve success, its early days yet. To become established takes time while any favours from publishers would be welcome (the menu!).

On returning with pocket dynamo Steve in luxurious spring sunshine, salt on our lips, smiles splashed with rum (aperitifs at The One Eyed Dog). Complimentary poppadoms followed by an elaborate mound of chicken chat. Light, tangy, topped with salad leaves, cucumber strips, beetroot shavings adding a sweet dimension every other mouthful. For main course there was Rogan Gosht. Well stewed mutton though gravy similar to aforementioned Sylheti Gosht. Excellent Channa Pindi, chic peas in smooth Madras strength sauce giving a gorgeous earthy Bombay mix flavour, both accompanied by attractive pilau rice.

...Aubergine is a discovery I’m quietly pleased at having made, so far its having more success than the Ramsay equivalent. The locals are keen and the press are on board thanks to an excellent write up in the News. Indeed this tempted me back Thursday evening.

The restaurant is open for Xmas day! But at least they're not serving til 3am anymore. The waiters looked tired, ditto the table flowers. Nonetheless I had for myself aforementioned Prawn Puree. Juicy prawns in sweet ever so slightly smokey tomato onion jam, wrapped in a fat eggy pancake cigar. Next a main course of ‘Mahi Tikka Ajwani’. 6 Salmon morsels arranged in sun dial fashion around a shredded salad with drizzle! Fish with a honeyed crust given dynamism by herby, thymey tasting ajowan and an ever present garlic ginger twang. A good portion of soft golden orange pilau rice and Saag Aloo (bit too salty, oddly flavoured with parsley but nonetheless a decent contrast to the Salmon) completed a good meal at 15 pound a head.

At last in SUMMARY Aubergine isn't a run of the mill joint at all, blessed with a kitchen capable of some outstanding dishes available at low prices. Recommended pre-post theatre.

willp2328score: 7/10

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Madhuban - Liss, 23/11/07

Several men and women (do they compete as well or just drink and shout?) sporting darts playing girths eating in the cosy confines on a crisp late November evening. Friday 7.30 pm, already filling up, service is brisk without being impolite. Simply get your order in and be confident the food will arrive in good time without a rush. My brother and I settled in for a long evening.

Starters of a quarter Tandoori Chicken, plenty of flesh underneath sharp tasting sour yoghurt crust of lemon juice, paprika and Keema Khumbi satisfied. Though easy to please Tom’s Khumbi consisted of 5 button sized mushrooms strategically placed around an overlarge salad of slippery onion that looked sat on. To follow he thoroughly enjoyed Dhaba Gosht on my recommendation and an excellent stuffed paratha, with a gooey filling of cheese and soft onion. On the plus side Jardaloo Sali Boti had grate tranches of super succulent lamb off the bone in a medium to mild stew curried with woody sweet cinnamon, fragrant indian bay leaves and dry, musky tumeric. On the down side it was ever so slightly rich but not rich enough with ground almonds and had no obvious vinegary tinge. The choice accompaniment Bombay Aloo - starchy potatoes in a tomato onion mush with hint of chilli resin - was faultless, rice too. In the end we left content, passing Saaki, still open but looking lonesome, on the way to station. Even on average form the Madhuban still eclipses the little place.

willp2328visit: 6/10

Thursday, 15 November 2007

December

Whatever the web site says at the moment, please note that we've decided to give Paradise a chance in December. The food quality has never been an issue there, only the service. So let's see how they do.

Saaki - Liss, 14/11/07

I am faintly embarassed by the naive optimism I displayed after suggesting Saaki had refreshed it's operation. Exactly 7 days previous I had enjoyable food but having just had a pitiable curry club meal it's difficult to reconcile the two.

Perhaps success has run out of the family to paraphrase the menu. Clearly I was fortunate a week ago to get in and out beforehand. Never seen as many glum faces around a dinner table since the last supper. Just as well no other diners endured Saakis labours.

Things began in uninspired fashion and got worse. On the starter platter: an eruption of lettuce leaves hiding small and chewy Onion Bhajias, Garlic Mushrooms with tomato ketchup sauce as well as Aubergine slices, tasting of oil and lemon juice. Sloppy but just about passable for restaurant food. Another 10 minutes and we were served the mains. Oh dear. Aforementioned Lamb Kazana was ok but the pilau rice had more flavour than a bizarrely titled Fresco King Prawn. Korai and Madras curries were terrible. The former with scraggy lumps of chicken, insipid except for saturated coriander leaf, the latter, yellow in colour, showing a complete absence of paprika, cinnamon, tomato puree, fresh tomatoes, nothing but chicken stock in a watery gravy astringent with chilli powder. Bombay Aloo, alais "spicy potatoes" barely registered on the palate. Although I've had worse pumpkin and mix vegetable dishes elsewhere both looked jaundiced.

After possibly the worst indian food in memory I could never return to Saaki confident of a decent meal.

willp2328visit: 2/10

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

November meeting - reminder!

Just a quick update to remind members that the November meeting will be at Saaki in Liss on Wednesday 14th. Drinks are from 19:30 at the Whistlestop, where no we'll doubt say hello to some old friends, before crossing the railway line for dinner at Saaki from about 20:30. This is our one Curry Club visit to Liss in 2007, although I know that there have been several private trips to the Madhuban.

Once again, a shortage of replies to the monthly e-mail. If you're planning to come (or not), an e-mail would still be very welcome. contact@... or webmaster@... - either will do.

By the way, the December meeting is back at base in Petersfield (Foggys/Paradise)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Jaipur - Albert Road, Southsea

While Rich and Aaron busy stationing the car (took 20 minutes) I made my way to Jaipur. Hides itself as well as parking spaces on Albert Road. PLACE is small but really quite roomy. Modern art-deco space, off white walls displaying impressionistic acrylic landscapes, filled out with bambi brown furnishings. Pristine. Rowdy gathering of Pompey harpies slowly built to crescendo. Someone’s birthday! Wood floor meant whole place drowned in sound. Still SERVICE remained restrained, polite.

An adventure in taste! So declares the restaurant’s menu. Won’t cost you the earth either. PRICES £3-3.50 Starters, circa £6 for sweep of House Specials, £3.45 Veg, £2.20 pilau.
Certainly a change from formula curry. Best part of meal, our selection of curry mains. Goan Lamb, homestyle intensity of flavour, ingredients made themselves known – coconut, root ginger, fat red, green chillies, sour lime leaves. Refreshing and lovely. Jaipuri Lamb, various strong, warm and bitter sweet overtones from cassia bark, ground cinnamon, cloves. Manchurian Chicken, honey rich, thick dark and viscous. Heavy but sumptuously sweet. Starters had been fine if unremarkable. I chose the Nargisi Kebab, 4 breadcrumbed meat and lentil nuggets. A Bhindi Bhajee had familiar butter tea taste while 2 pilau rice and a Misi Roti (unleavened bread stuffed with spinach) were ok though not truly memorable.

...However, the lingering memory of the curries presuaded me to take my two sisters along, still on unviersity hols. There's a dreadful Paul McCartney song called 'Riding into Jaipur' (Mock raga, Paul attempts George). We didn't ride in but trudged wearily over the threshold, me after a hard days work, the girls after a hard afternoon shop.

First up favourite Chicken tikka served on a mediterranean salad including green, red peppers. Satisfactory beginnings. Once again more than pleased by my main course - an excellent Lahori Lamb. Cubes of pale pink meat warmly spiced with cinnamon, pepper mixed with aromatic cloves, nutty chana dal. Alongside, a pilau rice and Bhindi Khukure. Parsnip flavoured crispy okra shavings, light and original. Girls thought it was the tops, better than the Madhuban. I don't know if I'd agree, the starters I've had haven't wowed but the House Specials are especial, quite removed from what one would come across elsewhere along Albert Road.

...Another outing with Zoe and Dave confirmed feeling dishes are prepared upon order with little reliance on stock sauces at least our cricket loving waiter said so. He took quite a liking to us, was keen to chat and revealed he too has played with Keech, Prittipaul and Maru (of Hampshire CCC). Broke into folded poppas, dips and a good bottle of Casilero Del Diablo Chardonnay, zingy, fresh and ever so slightly fizzy. Discussed Britney going off the rails, was she stoned at the MTV awards or merely disinterested? Will the dentist come to the rescue of the kids teeth before they are destroyed by Ms Spears milk shake, junk food diet!?

Putting aside this matter of international concern the meal proper began with a superb Shami Kebab. Lean lamb burgers pungent with ground cumin tumeric, tart chives and garlic, each flavour taking turns to leap gleefully onto the tip of my tongue. Ajwani Aloo, baby new potatoes in a tangy preparation of, juicy tomatoes, bitter curry leaves and glorious thymey ajowan seeds, deserved equal praise accompanying a lovely Fish Shorisha. Succulent chunks of oily white fish similar to Haddock in a mustard and ginger sauce. Zoe's Pasanda contained deliciously tender lamb in an almondy sauce with a hint of red wine, Dave was perhaps the least well off in that his Badami curry came with tough chicken pieces an elementary error I would have found hard to overlook had it been my choice.

In SUMMARY individuality in the cooking really impresses.

Willp2328 score: 7/10

Friday, 9 November 2007

Saaki - Liss

Alas I am no Columbus! This week t’was my intention to explore uncharted territory, to The Agra Tandoori in Havant but on Wednesday eve I ended up in Liss. Saaki, on the banks of the River Rother, once a foaming torrent now a quiet trickle. Inside the PLACE resembles a Mogul marquee, rich maroon, an enormous glass chandelier suspended from the tented ceiling.

‘Success runs in the family’ announces the menu. One illustrious relative, ‘a man of many parts’ opened the first indian restaurant in Britain before Waterloo then became shampooing surgeon (chief hairdresser or carpet cleaner?) to royalty no less! Yes, the restaurant had between 20 and 30 diners ably supported by 2 waiters, presumably heirs to Sake Dean Mahomet. SERVICE allowed for my companion and I to enjoy a slow relaxed evening out. At the end, we slipped away into the night with a takeaway menu as a keepsake only to find on 2nd glance we could have got £5 off our £30 bill! However, I was spared going back 3 years, building a time machine etc.. on 3rd glance the offer expired October 31st 2003 and why bother? PRICES are such a 4 course meal comes to £15.

Our FOOD consisted of a stuffed Pepper and a delicious savoury Lamb Kebab wrapped in a Chapati followed by Prawn Patia, which caused a highly satisfying bitchy chilli kick at the back of the throat and an average Chicken Tikka Dupiaza. The best dish, ‘Misti Lou’, not a dewy eyed prostitute but a gorgeous Pumpkin bhaji.

...A year later I find Saaki apparently revitalised, now boasting a smart website and an up to date takeaway menu featuring some new dishes also available to eat in, just as well for Rich, Aaran and I. A long temper is needed, the on duty waiter (just one this time) strolls around, chefs cook and serve. Still everyone was happy.

Happier when our meal arrived of course, perfectly content with big lumps of tart, spicy Chicken Tikka glazed with a camel brown crust. Aaran likes Aloo Chat and he loved Saaki’s version most. Curries were better than in November 2006. On the table a hot creamy Kazana. Good quality cuts of chicken breast smothered in a dark orange sauce pleasantly fragrant with cinnamon, mild sweet cardamom, thickened with almond flour and coconut, blended with hot green chillies. Lamb Saag, touch gloopy but holding distinct flavours of cumin enriched creamed spinach, fenugreek and coriander. As well as Chicken Dhansak. A hearty mix with pleasing afterkick though perhaps too redolent of chilli powder. Pilau was tasty enough to come through and complimented the Kazana beautifully and helped support side dish of Mita Aloo. Diced sweet potato whipped up into a light, fluffy, creamy treat.

...Revisiting my write up on the above visit I am faintly embarassed by its naive optimism after a pitiable curry club meal. Only 7 days seperated the 2 but there was a world of difference in experience. Perhaps success has run out of the family to paraphrase the menu. Never seen as many glum faces around a dinner table since the last supper. Just as well no other diners endured Saakis labours.

Things began in uninspired fashion and got worse. On the starter platter: an eruption of lettuce leaves hiding small and chewy Onion Bhajias, Garlic Mushrooms with tomato ketchup sauce as well as Aubergine slices, tasting of oil and lemon juice. Sloppy but just about passable for restaurant food. Another 10 minutes and we were served the mains. Oh dear. Aforementioned Lamb Kazana was ok but the pilau rice had more flavour than a bizarrely titled Fresco King Prawn. Korai and Madras curries were terrible. The former with scraggy lumps of chicken, insipid except for saturated coriander leaf, the latter, yellow in colour, showing a complete absence of paprika, cinnamon, tomato puree, fresh tomatoes, nothing but chicken stock in a watery gravy astringent with chilli powder. Bombay Aloo, alais "spicy potatoes" barely registered on the palate. Although I've had worse pumpkin and mix vegetable dishes elsewhere both looked jaundiced.

In SUMMARY after possibly the worst indian food in memory I could never return to Saaki confident of a decent meal. Its hard to reconcile the PfCC meet with previous visits. Except to say unlike the d├ęcor the cooking isn’t fit for royalty. Nonetheless, there aren’t many curry houses adopting their laid back approach to dining and mores the pity, I like this at least!

willp2328 score: 4/10

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Blue Cobra - North End, Portsmouth

The explosion of new ‘contemporary’ indian restaurants has reached epidemic proportions, there are 3 along Kingston-London Road for chrissakes! Saffron, Ghandi etc. All opened in last 12 months, sport trendy bars, cool furnishings, soft seats, big square plates to eat off. Fresh presentation, rejuvenation, changing perceptions of the curry house, they’ll be known as curry lounges far into the LED future if the trend continues.

Essentially Blue Cobra is as above, the PLACE is chic, SERVICE efficient and highly professional. Busy Wednesday (the norm?), 2 big parties plus several couples including my sis and I, no sweat, despite my best efforts…Almost drowned my Lamb curry in wine, replacement pulao rice arrived in blink of eye…broke stem of glass, cleaned up just like that. In fact I was probably most annoyed by my misdmeanours.House White was lovely, clear, fruit driven beauty, Gosht Kata Massala, warmly spiced in ginger with moist onions. Fortunately delicious smoky Saag Aloo salvaged completely. FOOD too good to waste, Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi smelt hot and sour, gooey Motor Paneer tasted just right in tandem. To start and finish given complimentary Poppadoms, chutney tray (NB. best Lime Pickle!), shot of Baileys cream. Nice touches extended into the kitchen. Starters: Mixed Kebab, tender Lamb Tikka in red yoghurt marinade, excellent Chicken Tikka in herby green marinade, melted cheese atop, Sheek Kebab with caramelized onions. Chott Potti, light sauce, allowing for creamy texture of chic peas. (NOTE: side salad came with Beetroot malt vinegar preserve!). If the staff weren’t so pro they’d probably be dreading my return, but they can cope with social hand grenades like me easily so I will return, soon, though not before a hair cut and a change of clothes (does white wine stain?!).

...And I did, within a week! Enjoyed tart Aloo Chat*, Chicken Green Massala, medium hot, heady concoction with coriander paste, Bhindi Dupiaza, sweet, buttery, moist, chunks of onion and Tarka Dhal tasted straight from the garlic earth. Smattering of fellow diners, nevertheless allowed to linger longer after table cleared - an hour at least.

*FACT: Chat Massala = same flavouring found in Bombay Mix

...Third visit, a quiet Monday in August (everyone’s in Spain), I notice they've received a customer excellence award over the summer. Impressed again with the food. Between discussing my annual attempt to reconcile the ‘50 greatest rock albums’, (3 Diamond Dogs – Bowie 2 Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd 1 The Queen is Dead – Smiths) I chowed on a fillet of charcoal grilled Salmon, oily and succulent, especially tasty with retained mint sauce, then a smarting Naga Chicken. Large cubes of tandoori bird flesh in a juicy, sour chilli-tomato gravy. A large helping of potato in a cheese based onion paste enriched with crushed garlic and chives was much appreciated as well.

...I like taking friends here, particularly those with a student mentality where spending money on the good things is concerned. The restaurant is an hours walk from the nearest establishment offering some student quick fix. Dave studying for a masters in Geology but he's not one for slumming it. Apropos he's also a Swansea City fan with a sense of humour - essential when your teams best player of all time is Lee 'Beer Gut' Trundle and your teams next opponents are Billarickey (yes it does exist outside popular song).

To begin he had a foot long Sheekh kebab, 2 minced lamb sausages and Makhani Chicken, fattening, butterscotchy and thick with cream - homogenous but delicious all the same. I had a stuffed pepper, charred and juicy, bulging with chicken in a coriander and green chilli paste that left the tongue tingling. This was followed by Tava Gosht. Delcious bbq lamb in a moist onion based curry, mellow, bitter and fruity with panch poran (a mix of whole cumin, fenugreek, nigella, black mustard, fennel seeds), ably supported by very dry, starchy chana massala and popcorn like pilau with red onion tarka. Happy days living as a prole in the lower middle income bracket!

In SUMMARY Blue Cobra has a fair bit over the Albert Road equivalents.

willp2328 score: 7/10