Zindiya, Moseley

Zindiya and I have grown up in Moseley together. I’ve been here fourteen months now, replacing them as the newbie in town two months after they opened. We’ve come through hard times together, mostly involving my hangover, occasionally stemming from their oh so fine cocktail list. And it’s amazing living so close to them; it’s impossible to have a bad meal there. I can easily recount the menu from memory, tell you what I want to eat based purely on my mood without looking down at the paper on the distressed wooden tables.

We’re also growing outwards together; just like my waistline after too few gym sessions and too many burgers, their menu is expanding. Which is obviously more bad news for my waistline, but absolutely brilliant news for everyone else. Over two trips I’ve managed to tick off pretty much all the new dishes and I can confirm they are b-a-n-g-i-n-g.

We kick off both visits with Zindiya’s Raj Kachori, a miniature version of the famous Rajasthani dish. The crispy wheat vessel is similar to that of pani puri, but here encases potato, lentil, chickpea, pomegranate, sev, tamarind and mint and coriander chutney; essentially all the elements of their chaat in a little bomb of deliciousness. Think pani puri evolved Pokémon style and you’re on the right track.

I might (definitely) have mentioned before that Zindiya’s chicken tikka is legendary, and it’s now joined on the menu by the Hariyali chicken tikka, a green version with fresh spinach, coriander and mint running through the marinade. Our heated discussion over which of the two is best nearly ended in violence, so you’ll have to be the judge; I’d probably order both to be on the safe side.

Authentic is a bit of an odd term to use whilst eating street food inside a restaurant in a middle class Birmingham suburb, but the moreish rounds of aubergine, fried in crisp gram flour batter and dredged though a sweet-sour tamarind sauce, remind me so much of my sub-continental travels that I think it’s warranted here. It takes the palate to similar places as the crispy aubergine dressed in honey, soy and chilli at El Borracho de Oro (which, if you haven’t already, is one of my Brum ‘must eats’) and is just as good at it’s Spanish cousin.

Keema pav is probably the least exciting of the new dishes that we try, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It’s a comfort food kind of dish – the Indian equivalent of a shepherd’s pie or a chilli – comforting, warming flavours that I imagine will come into it’s own once Britain stops trying to be a tropical country and gets all miserable again.

Zindiya’s sister restaurant, Tap & Tandoor, do a wicked chilli paneer so it’s great to see it on Zindiya’s menu (along with a chicken version for dedicated carnivores). The punchy Indo Chinese sauce is sweet and sour for grown ups; more spice, less sugar and Zindiya’s trademark quality ingredients.

As well as traditional street food dishes, Zindiya like to put their own twist on things. Dessert samosas are nothing new but instead of taking the safe option and stuffing them with chocolate, they’ve used Gajar Ka Halwa, an Indian dessert of carrot, milk, sugar and nuts, as the filling. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but trust me on this one. It works.

I didn’t think it was possible for Zindiya to get any better, but the new menu is so good that I can definitely see some of the dishes ousting old favourites when I order. Either that, or I’ll just get them all. Sorry waistline.

Zindiya is at 21 Woodbridge Rd, Moseley, B13 8EJ. WEBSITE.

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Itihaas, Birmingham

I love buying things when I’m on holiday. My best friend laughs mercilessly at me for the amount of – in her words – ‘utter tat’ that I manage to cram into my suitcase before my return flight. Notable past purchases include a hammock (for all that balmy English weather) and a Moroccan rug which I promptly ruined by spilling preserved lemons on. What a twat.

When I was in Kerala last year, I was more than tempted by shops and warehouses crammed full of antique furniture, including the most incredible carved wooden doors. Sadly they weren’t quite the right size for my suitcase, let alone my one bedroom flat in Moseley, so I had to make do with other essential holiday purchases (elephant puppet made out of recycled saris, anyone? Joking; that was my mum).

Luckily, Itihaas has a little more room (and reason) to fit out their gaff with these pieces, so for now I’m happy to make do with perving over their beautiful decor; especially because I always get dinner in the process. Tonight though, the main attraction is a preview of dishes from their forthcoming Spring menu, launching this weekend.

We start with soft shell crab pakora, lamb tikka and scallops in a coriander, tomato and garlic butter. Seafood cooked Indian style is a weakness of mine so the plump, sweet crab encased in a crisp, greaseless batter has me going a bit wobbly at the knees. The depth and spice of the scallops are another triumph, but the stand out starter for me was the lamb tikka; quality cuts, marinated and hung for long enough that the meat becomes more tender than my head on most Sunday mornings.

This is followed by lamb shank, cooked slowly so that it comes away from the bone with little effort, in a sauce with is rich with spice. The Makhani paneer is a dish I’d normally overlook on a menu, but the generous amounts of paneer finished with a velvety sauce mean this is now a must order. Soy tikka masala is another solid vegetarian dish, with none of the awful texture that is often associated with the meat substitute. All of this is accompanied by a range of quality breads, from paper thin roomali rotis to the more decadent truffle oil and poppy seed naan bread which is obscenely good.

A saffron and pistachio rasmali dessert is textbook in execution (though I’m not too keen on the presentation in metal ‘cocktail’ glasses), whilst our second dessert of chocolate samosa comes with a bourbon and almond kulfi which has the perfect balance of booziness and sweetness.

I know that a blog post singing the praises of a complimentary meal is never quite as believable as one without that dreaded disclaimer, but this truly was one of the most enjoyable Indian meals I’ve had in the UK. You pay for the quality, of course – this isn’t the place for your weekly curry – but in my opinion it’s worth every penny. The service is faultless, and even the simple fact that they regularly change their menu to keep it fresh is a sign that this is a place that cares.

Itihaas is located at 18 Fleet Street, Birmingham, B3 1JL. Find more details on their website.

I was invited to preview the new menu at Itihaas, and my meal was complimentary.

Itihaas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Masala Kraft, Mumbai

We’d had a long day; an early flight, travelling and the onset of a cold had all taken it’s toll so upon reaching the luxury of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel we couldn’t bear to leave again. Downstairs it was then, to Masala Kraft (one of the hotel’s numerous restaurants) for some ‘North Indian cuisine’.

The service throughout our meal was impeccable – polite down to the last detail – and the room, all dark wood and burnt oranges, is undeniably handsome. But there’s one big problem; there is absolutely no vibe whatsoever here. Zero. Nada. Nil. And that’s important. A restaurant shouldn’t feel clinical or unmemorable. If it does, then – even if the food is incredible – I’m unlikely to want to return. And the food wasn’t even incredible.

To begin comes a platter of poppadom shards, mixed with what look like prawn crackers, without any of the prawn flavour. It’s a bizarre plate, probably containing no more than one or two poppadoms if pieced together, and about seven of the prawn-crackers-that-aren’t-prawn-crackers. It’s a total over complication. Just give me a bloody poppadom please, with some decent chutney and pickles. I’ll be much happier.

We skip starters, though I note they are priced at almost the same cost (if not more) than some of the mains. Our first choice of main is a chicken pulao. a Biriyani-esque dish of rice layered with chicken curry, priced at 1750 rupees (excluding tax). Once you factor in that tax, it works out to be around £26. FOR SOME RICE AND CHICKEN. It’s good, and fairly plentiful, but in no way special enough to warrant that price tag; a few days later, a biriyani at least as good costs just 150 rupees.

Back at Masala Kraft I fancy dhal makhani, but can’t quite stomach paying near to £15 for it; I reckon if you gave me fifteen quid I could make enough dhal to feed every guest in the Taj. Instead I opt for Baigan Bharta; tandoor cooked aubergine cooked down with onions and tomatoes to a thick sauce. It’s £17, doesn’t come with rice (that’s an extra £7.50, thanks), and a huge disappointment, gaining the dubious award of being the only dish during our whole trip with no depth of flavour at all. It’s flat and thoroughly, thoroughly boring. I douse it with the £5 raita to try and give it some personality.

We drink two glasses each of Sula, an Indian wine that we become extremely familiar with over the two weeks; my Mum bloody loves a wine. By the glass it’s a little more that we’ve paid elsewhere for the same wine, but considering the location that’s to be expected. It’s better than the alternate option of foreign wine; I understand mark-up is necessary (as well as customs charges) but it seems crazy that a bottle of wine which you can pick up in Tesco for under a tenner appears on the menu at around £75.

We knew that the bill would be a lot, but £110 to me seems extortionate for the amount we had (two mains, rice, naan, raita and four glasses of wine). Especially when you compare it to the full tasting menu we had at Indian Accent a few days prior, which came to just under £170 including a bottle of the same wine we drunk this evening.

I’m not going to slate Masala Kraft for being so eye-wateringly expensive; it’s in the Taj, so of course it’s pricy. I don’t mind paying a lot for a meal (being able to eat out is what gets me through the day job) but it HAS to be worth the money, and this is where Masala Kraft fails miserably; I didn’t walk away excited about the food or the experience in any way.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone dine here when, for a fraction of the price, you can eat as well – or better – at any number of places in the city. Be adventurous, and leave Masala Kraft to those dining on expenses.

Masala Kraft is located inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai.

Masala Kraft - The Taj Mahal Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato