Curries are so much more than just a super spicy vindaloo for the end of a night out, having had one too many beers.
This famous cuisine is all about the understanding of herbs and spices and having the knowledge to know how they all work together. Knowing the sequence in which you add them is also an important factor. From roasting and grounding the right combination of spices, to frying your onions in the correct fat, all this is key in the making of a unique tasting dish. And with so many spices, vegetables and protein options to choose from, the number of different flavour combinations and dishes are endless.
As a nation of curry lovers, we have embraced Indian cuisine and made it as British as fish and chips or Sunday roast dinner. Did you know that rumour has it, that Chicken Tikka Masala was actually created in Glasgow back in 1971?
The story goes, that when a bus driver finished work for the night he headed to his local Indian restaurant for a bite to eat and ordered a chicken curry. When it came out he sent the dish back complaining that it was too dry. Back in the kitchen, the chef happened to have a tin of tomato soup so he added it to the curry along with some yoghurt and spices, and sent it back out. Back in the dining room, luckily the driver loved it and told all his friends about it; and so the Chicken Tikka Masala was born. It has become one of the most popular curry dishes in the UK.
Another interesting fact, is that the word curry doesn’t exist in the Indian language, and it’s quite naive that we umbrella all Indian cuisine under that single word. The word curry as we use it, actually refers to the gravy or sauce in which the meal is cooked in. This again, is something the British brought back from India in the 18th century when the British Colonial government and the army returned to Britain.
For me, the best curry I’ve ever had was round November 2003 in Goa. I was sat in a very small, but very cool, candlelit beach hut with my wife then girlfriend, Long Island ice tea in hand watching the Sun disappear in the distance over Baga beach.
Out came my king prawn curry and it was like, discovering curry for the very first time. The prawns were so fresh tasting, as if they had just been pulled out of the sea. Since that holiday I’ve never been able to find a curry like it back in the UK, and I think that’s because a lot of Indian dishes we get in UK restaurants and takeaways are modified for British taste buds; but now I have found that true taste of India once again.
It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in. If you walk into a Spanish, Chinese or India restaurant they all look exactly the same as each other, but that’s not the case with Asha’s of Manchester. As soon as you walk in, you know you are somewhere special. Downstairs, you will find a beautiful bar area where you can sit down and enjoy one of many cocktails, as well as seating if you fancy a quick bite to eat. Upstairs in the main restaurant, the first thing you’ll see is a painting of Asha Bhosle. Asha is a famous Bollywood actress who spent her childhood travelling around with her father’s theatre company. Over the years, Asha refined her musical talents along with her culinary interests and seriously attempted to learn the diversity in India food. This lead her to opening her first ever restaurant in 2002.
In the main restaurant, purple velvet booths line the brick wall, while in the middle of the restaurant charcoal coloured tables and chairs fill the space. The whole restaurant is beautifully lit, thanks to the large windows wrapping around the side of the building and stunning gold lights hanging from the ceiling set the right atmosphere. Asha’s is like no other Indian restaurant I have been to before.
We started off our Indian experience with a few mocktails, I had the Smoke & Mirrors which comprises of Seedlip spice 94, English strawberry, Chai spice cordial and topped off with a smoking cinnamon cigar. This mocktail smelt and tasted like Christmas. My wife went with the Espresso martiNO (Seedlip spice 94, fresh espresso, vanilla and coffee beans), and my daughter went with the Watermelon Cooler (Seedlip spice 94, Watermelon, basil and citrus).
Whilst we sipped away at our mocktails, Chef Bobby, who is the corporate chef at Asha’s, also a 2016 MasterChef Professional Top 10 contestant, along with Head Chef Ashwani Rangta who has more than 13 years’ experience in some of the very best hotels and restaurants around the world, explained to us the ethos behind the restaurant.
Chef Bobby, along with 3 colleagues, travels around India trying different styles of food; and eats in all types of restaurant, markets, homes and street kitchens finding new and exciting recipes to bring to the UK. Once back, they take everything they have learned and experienced, and try to replicate and refine the dishes for the restaurant. Their last trip took them to Mumbai, where they drew their inspiration for their new September menu.
After having a chat with the chefs, we decided to choose 3 dishes from their small bites menu. Chef Bobby would also prepare for us a few dishes from the new inspired Mumbai menu.
From the small bites menu, we choose Venison Samosas, Monkfish Tikka and Murgh Makhni (Butter Chicken). From the new menu Chef Bobby chose the Vada Pav Sliders, Machli Tawa Masala Fry, Salli Boti, and we also had a prawn curry although I cannot remember what it was called; but it was very similar to a korma.
As we eagerly waited for our food to arrive we happily tucked into some poppadoms with 4 different types of chutney. The poppadoms didn’t arrive with the usual suspects that you come to expect from your local Indian restaurant. There was no mango chutney, no mint yoghurt and no diced onions in sight. Instead, we had mint and coriander, tomato, apple and pineapple chutneys. My favourite had to be the apple chutney as it was so tasty and was a vibrant green colour. I’m sure if the lights got turned off it would have glowed; I need that recipe. I could sit at the bar all night with a cold beer and a mountain of those poppadoms.
First to the table came the Venison Samosas and Monkfish Tikka followed by the Vada Pav Sliders and the Machli Tawa Masala Fry. When you bite into the samosa, the first thing that hits you is the super crispy outer casing followed by the venison, which was just to die for. The monkfish and the Machli Tawa Masala Fry were cooked perfectly, not over spiced and both just melted in the mouth. Next was one of my favourite things that we ate; the Vada Pav Sliders, which are turmeric potato vada, tamarind, green chilli and dry garlic chutney. They were like nothing I’ve tasted before; flavour in abundance, little mouthfuls of pure pleasure; no other sliders will compare to these from now on. After eating our starters we couldn’t wait for the main courses.
Out of the kitchen came a procession of curries that filled the air with that fantastic aroma that comes with Indian food. In front of us we had 3 very different curries each one perfectly balanced and not over-spiced, but hitting hard with big flavours. One thing that I did notice was unlike other Indian restaurants that I’ve visited in the past, there was not a big puddle of fat sitting on top of the curries. Although all 3 curries were very tasty and very unique my favourite had to be the Salli Boti, a slow-cooked leg of lamb which comes with crispy matchstick potatoes and a pumpkin pickle. This dish also came with instructions from the kitchen, to place the matchsticks and pickle onto of the curry and the combination of the super tender lamb, the crispy potatoes and papaya was a match made in heaven.
I’ve said it time and time again that food can act like a time machine and with one mouthful of these curries, all the flavours, colours, sounds and sight of India came flooding back to me. I was instantly transported back in time to my holiday in South Goa all those years ago.
Asha’s has come a long way in just 16 years, and has become a global Indian restaurant chain, becoming a firm favourite of regional and international diners. They are now open in 13 locations in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar in the Gulf; and Birmingham and Manchester. If you love Indian food and are looking for something a bit different from the norm; you need to give Asha’s a try, A true taste of India but with a modern look and feel.
Now time for the rating….
Service = 5
Atmosphere = 5
Food presentation = 5
Food quality = 5
Waiting time = 5
Value = 5
Total 30 out of 30
0161 832 5309
47 Peter Street, Manchester
Check them out on social media