Forget everything you knew about Indian food and make room to learn it all over again, writes James Howells
The Indian restaurant has been a staple in British neighbourhoods for generations. Ubiquitous names of establishments seem to fit into the high-street horizon to a point where ‘Tandoori Inn’ or ‘Spice Society’ can sit comfortably next to a coffee house or antique shop in a myriad of British familiarity.
Despite the stigma attached to these places they are institutions in their own right, frequented by all walks of life, from boozed up spice-seekers to old regulars, just as any respectable neighbourhood joint should. Those of us who have explored India are quick to turn up our noses at these places and scoff, boasting that it isn’t ‘authentic’ or ‘proper’ but we know that, and it’s still good. Until recent years this was very much the perceived view of Indian cuisine, but the wave of high-end Indian restaurants isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Although it is a young one, the landscape of contemporary Indian cuisine is far from high-street recognisability, but has a well-deserved and well-earned place there. When famed London restaurants Zaika and Tamarind got their first Michelin stars in 2001, it blew open the world of contemporary Indian food, including Gymkhana which earnt the first ever 10/10 from Giles Coren in 2014. Since then the cuisine has gone from strength to strength, and the casual curry house has become a thing of the past and fine-dining Indian cuisine is becoming a frequented sight.
Nutmeg at 10 The Mall, Clifton is home to chef Arvind Pawar and his very clever and very inspiring ‘Menu 29’ which features dishes representing each of India’s 29 states. Much like Chinese food doesn’t really exist in China, India has vast differences in its cuisine varying from region to region. The menu states where each dish is from and the inspiration behind it, an amazingly personal and new concept that works very well.
The meal starts strongly with pleasantly small, still-warm poppadums and three accompaniments, apple, tomato and onion and mint and coriander. Ridiculously good. The starters are where chef Pawar and his team’s elegance and refinement really shines. Tulsi scallops from Mangalore, Karnataka (£7.00) with tulsi (holy basil), green chillies, garlic and mustard oil are perfectly delicate scallops plated wonderfully with enough subtle spice to not overpower the scallop, but instead accentuate its natural flavour. Lal Mirchi tikka from Kashmir (small £4.95, large £10.95) consisted of chicken, sundried chilli, yogurt and Kashmiri spices cooked in a tandoor. This dish may be familiar to some, but it’s simplicity is elevated to new heights here. Fantastic.
The talent continued into the main courses with Sharabi Jhinga (£17.50) from Odisha, a dish of king prawns marinated in mango, Kashmiri chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander, which was perfectly spiced and brilliantly cooked. The lamb shank (£14.95) from Telangana was a whole shank slowly cooked in a Nawab kitchen spice. A huge portion, but all of it comforting and exotic, yet very familiar. As is to be assumed these days, the kitchen uses all-local suppliers such as Ruby & White butchers and Bristol Sweet Mart.
Although this sort of decadence is miles away from a booze-infused takeaway, it just really goes to show you can’t beat a good curry.
10 The Mall, Clifton
0117 360 0288