Thursday 31 May 2007

Full Marks (and Spencer)?

So at last, the Marks and Spencer Simply Food store has opened in Petersfield, in place of the old Somerfields shop. M&S are known for their high quality food, and it was good to see that this fairly small store has opened with a decent range of Indian dishes.

The main range has mainly chicken dishes of the sort that you'd find in a restaurant or takeaway: korma, CTM, jalfrezi and balti. Piri piri is the only recipe not seen on even the most basic menu. Other meats are represented by just lamb rogan josh and king prawn makhani. Maximum heat rating is three chillies - this feels like medium to me.

There are also some curries in the Balanced Meals section. These are a meal in a single tray, including rice, lentils, vegetables and so on. They usually work out at around 500 calories (more than a snack, certainly not a blow-out), but the only two I could see were keralan king prawn and red thai chicken curry. Both delicious, but I missed the Andhira lamb curry that has been available from other Simply Food stores.

There are several chicken curries with rice or naan outside the Balanced Meals section, including bhuna with naan, korma with pilau rice, CTM with pilau rice and CT balti with naan. Finally, there are some meals for two, and a tiny selection of Indian starters, rice and naans (including garlic).

Once or twice, when a restaurant hasn't come up to scratch, I've toyed with the idea of a Curry Club evening based on a supermarket's ready meals. Based on quality and variety of food, Sainsbury on its better nights could furnish one of these, Waitrose and M&S might just miss on variety. I have my doubts about Asda and Tesco after a couple of poor meals. Last Sunday night, a Morrisons' beef madras was superb! So maybe the ready meal Curry Club evening is a possibility, but I suspect that's not really where we want to go.

For now, I can't give M&S Simply Food full marks. They lose points for variety and price. But every dish I've tried has tasted good, and you can't beat the quality. It's a welcome addition to Petersfield's range of shops.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Shapla - Alresford

First visit was on the night of the fair, big wheels, candy floss, airguns, wonky pellets, prizes weren't worth winning anyway. There was a baby in a pram, sleeping in the corner of the gallery. Don't get me wrong I enjoy fairs, full of vintage atmosphere, buzz, the whirling waltzer, dizziness, mysterious ladies in tents, 'cross your palm with silver'... sadly no freaks or exotic animals, liberal democracy, there you have it. No concessions or compromise on curry club nights, just pure indulgence. At Shapla the food kept arriving, disappearing down our throats, the house wine kept flowing in same direction, a bit of belt loosening was going on around me.

The PLACE looks like it might once have sold antique furniture/family heirlooms of various aristo families living around Alresford from the outside. Inside it had warm and cosy feel of a tea parlour.

SERVICE? Staff lined up to greet the PFCC and were genial and efficient all evening. Waiters in well cut cream suits supported the gluttony.

PRICES were and are a little above average but there’s interesting variety on offer. I guess you could get out of there (indeed you might need rolling) for £25 having sampled the more exotic new additions to the menu for 2007.

Back in November 06 the FOOD was really flavoursome. Onion Bhajis had sweet and tender innards. Pilau rice, wonderfully aromatic. The prawns in the Prawn Korai tasted sea-fresh! So often they lose their taste in among the medium spices. The Methi Gosht, a delight as was the Chicken Special. Saag Aloo with good size chunks of potato and the Cauliflower bhajee was just the best I've ever tasted. Good breads as well, plain, garlic and peshwari naans.

So I returned, lunched with my brother on the way to Winchester a few weeks later. Had very well spiced Momo (minced lamb wrapped in wonton style pastry), brother had Mixed kebab, great tasting, natural looking chicken/lamb tikka. Mains included Prawn Patia spiked with chilli, excellent but too much for Tom who kept heading to the loo to cool off (?) and a Balti Dhansak, rich, lemony and earthy. Veg included a light, crisp Bindi Bhaji.

Shapla is among the best in the county, view confirmed by a family visit in April. Latest starters Jingha Noorani, Shapla Salmon and an indian mousakka of aubergine, curried mince, curd cheese, not forgetting a wonderfully presented deep fried sea bass tail. Among the mains; a series of welcome Seafood specials, from curry outposts including the west indies, as well as 2 or 3 Halibut dishes and a royal rich Salmon Amritsar – Dad’s choice. I took on a very powerful Jalfrezi, korma tasting Saag Paneer an antedote to the green chillies and revisited the Shapla Chicken Special, an enormous serving of tikka chicken, potato chunks, pineapple hunks in a filling swamp of creamy onions. Ground red chillies drove home sister Katy’s Chicken Chilli Massala, Mum had a mud yellow Butter Chicken with subtle aftertaste of mint. To round off this feast, rice, some rather dry, crisp rotis and Pinot Grigio to moisten our mouths.

Don't like ending on sour notes but staff were abrupt and rather arrogant this occasion, unacceptable regardless of it being bustling Easter Thursday.

Experience much more positive on a quiet Wednesday in June for curry club visit. New head waiter (?). Large bubbly poppadoms, luscious lime pickle and a peppery mint sauce succeeded by a Mixed Starter chosen at the chefs discretion (see menu)! Seems we caught him on a good day too! Served generous and appetising plate of chicken/lamb tikka, sheek kebab, stuffed mushroom and onion bhaji. Food highlights were still to come however. Arrived in form of excellent Lamb Jalfrezi, sour green finger chillies stealthily creeping up the back of the throat, superb Aubergine bhaji, juicy and smokey, a ginger tinged Chicken Bhuna Balti and Rossa, roast Duck breast in a cinnamon spiced resin. Worth passing mention, a Prawn Dhansak, savoury, none to sweet with a hint of lemon and CTM, fine as a definition of the formula. As aforementioned don't like ending on sour notes - sweet sherry to finish aroused much consternation!

NB House Red, pale in colour, vinegary and lacking body.

Willp2328 Score: 8/10

Tuesday 22 May 2007

Petersfield Curry Club - June meeting

We plan to hold the June meeting on Wednesday 13th at Sha-Pla, Alresford. We'll have drinks at Foggys first, and then organise taxis/cars/minibuses to get us there. We last visited in October 2006, and found that it's still excellent.

I'll send out the e-mail confirmation to members once I've booked the table.

Hox Brasserie - Salisbury

My dad's second recommendation, also in Fisherton Street. Five minutes' walk from the central car park, this one is past the three (!) 'private' shops and the station approach, under the railway arch and up towards the roundabout. Finding ourselves there after 21:00 on a Saturday night, with no booking, there was still a queue inside, and we weren't too optimistic that we'd get in. But a 15 minute wait found us a good table at the front, and the fun started.

For starters, we chose Jalpari Pani Pat - tiger prawns marinated with turmeric and herbs, and Chicken Cafreal, marinated and grilled pieces of chicken. The menu says 'goat spices' but I can't tell you what these are. Both dishes were delicious and beautifully presented.

Ruth chose Zafrani Tikka, chicken breast marinated in yoghurt, ginger, garlic, herbs and saffron, then grilled and served with an avocado chutney. Delicate flavours, and beautiful to taste. My choice was Lamb Madras, and this was truly wonderful. The flavours were instant, the power and heat crept up on you slowly. Apparently this version is made with coconut, poppy seed and red chillies, with a final tempering of star anise and curry leaves. The waiter recommended plain rice, which was a perfect accompaniment. We also had a couple of vegetable side dishes, mushrooms, and Bombay aloo. Very good food.

This place is not cheap, but I think it has great style and it's tremendous value for money. Our selection was fairly modestly priced and our bill came in under £50, though we didn't choose to take any wine on this occasion. The chef's specials include a Lobster Pepper Fry which seems a very good deal at £22.95, if you like lobster served this way.

The owner/manager came for a chat as we finished. He's been in Salisbury for about 12 years, running a take-away. His customers kept telling him that he should open a restaurant. When the chance came, less than two years ago, he took over a former Italian restaurant, gutted it, and turned it into the 130 cover dining experience that we can now enjoy. I think he'd do fantastic business in a place like Guildford, that has a large population in its surrounding area, and a real shortage of top class Indian restaurants. For now though, you'll have to make the journey to Salisbury.

Hox Brasserie, 155 Fisherton Street Salisbury SP2 7RP. 01722 341600. Visited 19 May 2007

Anokaa - Salisbury

My father recommended this restaurant, and it was a good call. It has immaculate service and presentation of the food. I chose Makmali as a starter - chicken with subtle flavours of garlic, mint and chilli. This was followed by Laknowe style lamb curry, fairly hot and served with beautiful saffron rice, both of which were quite excellent. I also ordered a cheese chilli naan, something I'd not tried before. This was fairly heavy, and didn't have much in the way of chilli. I was full before I could finish it. For drinks I chose a mango lassi (I needed to keep a clear head), sparkling mineral water and then tap. All served with a smile.

This place isn't cheap. With papadums, pickles, tip and so on, it's upwards of £25 a head even without wine. But my dad also told me that Anokaa means 'something else' in Hindi. And that's a good call too.

Anokaa, Fisherton Street, Salisbury. 01722 414142

Wednesday 16th May 2007

Let's start blogging!

We now have a good level of input from members to improve the content of the Petersfield Curry Club web site. But it takes time and effort to incorporate these and format them correctly. I'm going to change the model to allow input from trusted members. This will then be listed on the site. The new content model will reduce my workload, and allow a more rapid and responsive feed of news to our members.

At present I plan to moderate the blog to ensure that we only allow appropriate content. Let's see how it goes!