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

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