Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fast food vs Indian restaurants.

Though I have never been part of the fast food bashing brigade, I have never been overly be fond of fast food either. I think there is a time and a place for eating a Mc Donalds once in a while yet I really don't like eating it too often either.

Life is about balance.

While I was waiting in Subway down Mill Road  the other day with my sister I couldn't help but notice that the prices were quite different from the last time I was there. A Subway meal deal coming to around £6.50 for a sandwich, cookie and a drink. 
Its the same with Burger King too. The other week while I was in there with my son it came to around the same price, being well over £6 for their biggest meal, a burger (which was smaller than I remember), chips and a coke.

I often find myself hungry a few hours after too!

Either way, it got me thinking. During my frolics around the local Indian houses in Cambridge you become familiar of the average prices of the dishes, especially when you order very similar things for the sake of comparison purposes on my blog.

A curry, whether it be a chicken tikka masala, a danska, madrass or vindaloo, usually come to around £5.50 in competitive restaurants. Rice, usually being just under £2 for plain boiled, means that both a curry and rice comes to roughly £7.50. 

Not too shabby? 

The Megnha, down Victoria Road, will in fact do a curry and rice for £5.95, which is in fact cheaper than most large fast food meals. Though this will not include a drink, it will include a much higher quality dish, prepared by a chef, rather than a part time student, and will be much more filling.
Not only that, but it will be presented politely and professionally by a well dressed Indian waiter, rather than a miserable under appreciated part time worker.

Its probably better for you too, with numerous studies showing the health benefits of curries, spices and herbs. Not only that but you will have enough money left over for a poppadom, which will get you a selection of sauces, such as mango chutney, lime pickle, and onion salad. 

Not to mention you will get a hot towel and a chocolate afterwards!

There is no doubting that the appeal to fast food is the fact that its...well, fast! 
Though for myself, more often than not, I go there when I am not really in any rush, I just fancy something to eat and cannot be bothered to cook, and fast food is something I have always associated with being affordable. 

The other appeal for me is its often conveniently located, but sadly this argument doesn't stack up against Indian restaurants as they are nearly everywhere. There is always one (sometimes two) in every village in my area. My example today being down Mill Road, there is 4 Indian restaurants! 
There is 6-7 if you include take away only places. 

So the next time you think about going for a fast food meal at any of the big chains, think about this...can you do better?  

Go on, have a curry! 



Friday, May 23, 2014

Sitar


We decided to hit Cherry Hinton (or Chinton, as its known to the locals) and try out the Sitar Tandoori.

Its been a while!

I have eaten here several times in the past during a brief period when I lived here and I remember it being a decent place to eat. That was quite a while ago now, so I thought I would visit and remind myself of its quality. 

As you can see from the picture above the place looks bright and bold, it stands out with its bright vivid colours and has a very clean and a well put together appearance.

When we walked in we were warmly greeted by two very well presented young men who showed us to our table. They pulled our chair out and put napkins on our lap. 
They immediately put out an Indian mix on our tables to snack on before taking our orders.
 Quite a nice touch.


While we nibbled we had a look around the restaurant and took in the decoration. The place, like the outside, looks clean and well put together. They have traditional decoration all over. Lovely paintings, nice wall paper and a wave like ceiling which looks incredible. Even some nice glass lightshades which add a real nice touch of class. It kind of reminds me of the Curry Queen on Mill Road.



The gentleman came over to take our orders. We ordered some poppadoms and a beer. We were pleased to see that they had Mongoose beer on tap. Its good to see something other than Kingfisher or Cobra beer. When they brought it out the beer was ice cold and tasted lovely, certainly more refreshing than the flat sour beer we had at the Kohinoor the other day. I am not sure it was down to the brand of beer or down to how its kept in the restaurant but I would love to know what everyone else thinks of Mongoose beer compared to the others.



When the papadums came out we were given a selection of three sides which were presented in a beautiful white china set. Unlike some china sets, these were quite large so we had plenty and didn't end up running out. 
Contrary to the usual sides served in a lot of other places, I was presented with a red onion salad, rather than a white onion salad. We were given the usual mango chutney as you would expect, but most interesting of all was a pink powder, which ended up being coconut. It added something unusual to the papadums and even gave it a nice texture to the crunch.

Be warned though, it makes one hell of a mess!

This was all very nice and quite different, though I still needed my lime pickle, so I ordered some more and I was pleased to find out they didn't charge us extra.
The lime pickle was a thick and incredibly strong, even for lime pickle - which I loved. Though some of the lime chunks were too big. Over all though the lime pickle it was delicious! 

The mango chutney served us well too, it was incredibly sweet and had a good texture. 

Yum yum. 

While we were eating our poppadoms we decided to order our mains. Looking down the menu we noticed the prices were about average. Certainly not as competitive as Mill Road but by no means expensive. 

One thing I did notice was how there was a larger than average difference between the cost of a regular curry and a tikka'd curry. The curry was £5.50 and a tikka'd version was £7.50. Usually you'd expect a tikka version of a curry to be an extra £1 rather than an extra £2 so it was quite unusual,. This intrigued  me, as lately I have struggled to tell the difference between a regular curry and a tikka version in other places, well, other than a few holes being poked in the meat that is. So I thought I would order a chicken tikka vindaloo and see if the extra pound would perhaps make the meat much nicer than usual competition around here.

We ordered a chicken tikka vindaloo, a vegetable madras and two portions of rice.
Nothing massive as we are eating out so much currently that we have decided to budget a little bit. 

Chicken tikka vindaloo - slightly darker than usual.
Vegetable madrass. 

We finished our papadums and the poor waiter had to come out and clean up the mess from the coconut powder. He was very polite about  it and incredibly chatty and approachable!

Our food came out quite quickly. The vindaloo was a darker colour than usual, but otherwise it all looked very good. Our rice portions were quite generous and cooked well. Nice a fluffy!

Both curries were very mild, which was a shame, as out of all the curries that shouldn't be served mild, it is a vindaloo and madras! 

The tikka'd chicken had an excellent texture, it really felt like the meat had been tenderised and was incredibly satisfying. The chicken had a vivid pink out colour and a creamy centre colour. I certainly see why they charged me an extra £2 rather than the usual £1, though I still think it lacked a little flavour. Something I have noticed is happening a lot over Cambridge lately. 


When we were finished we were given a some aniseed sweet mixture and a hot wet wipe. Unlike a lot of wet wipes these actually stayed hot once we had it out of the packet, though it was sadly still a wet wipe than a proper hot towel.

After we freshened up we decided to pay our bill.

When it arrived we were given an After 8 mint and a pretty average bill. 


Conclusion: Overall we were incredibly pleased with Sitar. Their staff were well presented and incredibly polite. They act the way you would expect from an Indian restaurant with the way they pull out your chairs and put the napkin on your lap. This is not always the case now days.
The place is excellently decorated and everything felt warm and traditional. I particularly loved the art work on the walls and the wave style ceiling.
The food was reasonable and competitively priced, though a little mild which was a bit diappointing.
You get everything you would expect from a traditional Indian restaurant and a little more. The spicy trail mix,  the aniseed mix, the After 8 mints and hot wet wipe for example. 

The Sitar was better than I remember and does everything you'd expect well, they even gives you a little extra. It keeps things traditional and offers a polite and proper service for a reasonable price. I would struggle to believe anyone would leave feeling disappointed. 

8/10
















Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The King Of Mill Road!

We have recently finished our tour of the Indian restaurants scene down Mill Road after being on a mini quest to find out which one on the famous street of culture and diversity is king.
Naturally its quite a hard thing to determine considering how many different factors there are in making a fine Indian restaurant, but as I have been to many of these places in the past I like to think I have a rough idea of their standards already, that being said, for the sake of this review, I have visited them all one last time to refresh my memory. 

There was a time when Mill Road was loaded with many traditional and British Indian establishments. Sadly as time has passed, and like the pubs in Cambridge, they have all dried up. Now we are left with only four  restaurants.

The Golden Curry, the newly refurbished Golden Curry. 
The Curry Queen, a traditional gem which hasn't changed in years.
The Kohinoor, a cosy and traditional Indian restaurant well known for its many promotions in the window and beautiful interior decorations, 
and finally the new kid on the block, Prana.  

As you can see from our previous reviews on this blog, we have gone into much more details about each establishment in full reviews. Today we shall be simply summarising them so we can help steer you in the right direction. In some respects the rankings might be redundant.

Links have been provided below to each full review for more detail if you need to understand why I reached the conclusion I did.

We will start with the place with the lowest score. This obviously is a hard decision as we enjoyed all the places we ate at.
We thought about this long and hard, and though we ended up deciding which ones we preferred over others, it doesn't necessarily mean they are miles apart.


#4 Prana

Though we really liked Prana in many ways, there were several things which really let itself down.

We couldn't forgive the ridiculous beer prices here.
Though the rest of the menu was reasonably priced itself, none of the beer that was available were on tap.  Not only that, but it was all bottles only, which came to a whopping £6 for little over a pint (660ml), and £3 for a small bottle (330ml).

Being located almost completely in a basement isn't necessarily a bad thing if done right, but while dining in here you really felt like you were eating in someones basement. It had poor acoustics and lighting with the decoration feeling very amateur. The waiter would disappear up two sets of stairs for quite a long time which made getting his attention or service quite difficult.

It wasn't all bad though! Prana does a mean curry and a decent saag aloo. All their pappadums and sides were excellent also. They like to make things hot and stick to the more, and I quote, "old school" way of cooking. This is really appreciated as I get really tired of ordering a so called "hot curry" and end up getting it mild, so Prana deserve credit here.

Their service is incredibly friendly, especially the older gentleman who can often be found sitting up stairs near the entrance. It was just hard to get anyone's attention while you were sat in the catacombs of the restaurant on your own.

If you simply want a decent meal without any consideration for surroundings (or just want a take away?), this might be your place. Just be careful when ordering a beer!

Full review here: Prana review


#3 Golden Curry 

Choosing between this and Prana was incredibly hard as they were mirror opposites. We had to give the Golden Curry the benefit of the doubt here as we went about a week after the reopening. Its main sign wasn't up yet, neither was most of its interior. They also hadn't had a chance to install the misty effect on the windows to give us privacy from the public outside as its on a very busy street. A lot of this has been sorted now and the place looks decent.

Unlike Prana, the Golden Curry served up an incredibly mild vindaloo and madras when visiting, though the meal itself tasted quite nice. Also, unlike Prana they have a lovely seating area which looks out on to the ever interesting Mill Road, which is great for people watching and letting the world go by as you eat...(No being seated in a basement here!)

So in a way the Golden Curry and Prana are polar opposites, offering two very different experiences. If you want a good hot curry and nothing else, than Prana might be for you, but Golden Curry offers a much more pleasant, open and lighter dining area.

The Golden Curry also gets points for supplying us with a decent hot towel and a shot of Baileys after the meal. This, along with the restaurants new look (and their beautiful fish tank) puts it just over the edge of Prana.

Full review here: Golden Curry review


2# Kohinoor 

Kohinoor stood out above the previous two, though choosing between this and the no1 was still quite easy. The Kohinoor offered a beautiful experience with incredible interior and exterior decorations which really made you feel like you were eating at a traditional Indian restaurant. The beautiful blue walls, furniture, and the lovely looking bar really felt cosy and the plants made it feel a bit homelier.
This coupled with the brilliant value promotions and general low prices on the menu means anyone can afford to dine here and still experience an authentic atmosphere.

They didn't get everything right however, the lack of online presence means that the numerous different opening times and phone numbers found on third party sites made organising a meal quite difficult.

The food was generally very nice, though sometimes inconsistent, which was what let it down a little.

For example...
They served us delicious dishes of rice but they were quite small portions.
The curry had a great flavour but it was very mild.
The service was fast but the gentleman was a little quiet and distant.
The pappadum sides were all varied from a poor onion salad, to an average mango chutney, to a divine lime pickle.

So a mixed bag.

The two of us spent just over £20 and we got an incredible amount of decent food. Much more than we would usually order.
 The naan was very good, the yoghurt was some of the best I had ever had and their rice was sublime.
Its just a shame they missed a few important things, this was probably related to the value they offer, as they had to scrimp on certain things to make it competitive. Its also worth noting that things like hot towels after your meal and mints were also not included, this might be a big deal for some people but didn't bother me considering how cheap it was.

Again, like I stated at the top of my review, it depends on what YOU want.

My last review of the Kohinoor was incredibly similar in criticism which were brought up by fellow Curry Crew reviewer Edmund, so I am fairly certain that this was a fair judgement.

"If you are looking for good value then the Kohinoor is your place, even without the promotions. Its beauty and style is unparalleled by anywhere in Cambridge"

Full review here: Kohinoor review


#1 Curry Queen 

Yes, though the Curry Queen didn't quite offer the value of the Kohinoor or a shot at the end of the meal and some fancy fish tank like Golden Curry, my fellow reviewer and I both agreed that this place got everything right. Don't get me wrong, not everything was perfect, but everything was at least done well.

The Curry Queen from the outside doesn't look much. If you walk past and look in you will probably think the interior looks very bland, but once you walk in you notice that it is a very fine and classy establishment.

There was very little to be disappointed with here. We sat there scratching our heads to try and pick a few things out to criticise and the best we could think up was that the two gentleman serving us were in street clothes rather being being dressed smart. Thats it!
This could even be dismissed due to their overly warm, chatty and friendly nature which really made you feel welcome and want to come back so really we really struggled to find fault.

The food we ordered was all to a high standard. The curries had a kick and the sides had a lovely flavour and texture. The beer was on tap, tasty and ice cold. Our pappadums were equipped with a selection of perfectly cut onion salad, a very sweet mango chutney (which wasn't too lumpy), and a divine lime pickle.
We were handed a proper hot towel at the end of our meal and a decent chocolate.

The bill came to about standard and we left feeling like we had a decent meal. When we left, the two gentlemen in the restaurant both came to shake our hands, say goodbye and open the door for us.
From my experience, the Curry Queen always offers this consistency of quality and I have never had a bad meal here.
I am not alone in thinking this either. Many of my friends from the Mill Road/Romsey area generally agree that Curry Queen is their favourite or most regular establishment for Indian cuisine.

So the Curry Queen truly is "The King Of Mill Road"


"The Curry Queen truly is a restaurant of substance over flashy gimmicks and style."

Full review here: Curry Queen review

Thanks for reading!











Monday, May 19, 2014

Kohinoor - The last step on our tour of Mill Road!

The weather has been great lately, hasnt it? 

The sun is shining, people are wearing shorts, heck, people have even been getting sun burned. Its been a real scorcher of a day in the fine city of Cambridge. 

So naturally, it was time for a steaming hot vindaloo!

Next on our list as part of our Mill Road tour is the Kohinoor. 

Well known for its good value promotions and beautiful decoration, the Kohinoor has long been established as one of the most consistent places on Mill Road. Especially during a time when Indian restaurants on Mill Road are slowly declining from 6 restaurants a few years back, down to just 4 - The Kohinoor must be doing something right!

The first ever Cambridge Curry Crew event was at the Kohinoor, which was actually the last time I ate there.  It has a real historic and emotional connection for me and shows how desperately it needed reviewing. If you scroll down the blog you will see guest reviewer Edmund Day's take on it, which he describes as good value, beautiful decoration but small portions. 

He even did a summary meme below, enjoy!

We were so amateur!

Lets see how much the Kohinoor has changed...

We tried going to the Kohinoor a few weeks ago. 
Sadly the restaurant doesn't have much online presence...as in, none at all.
We turned up following instructions from Yell.com page telling us it was open at 5:30pm, sadly the restaurant was not open upon arrival. First we blamed Yell.com for putting false information on the page but after looking closer at the opening times on the door we realised that the restaurant was supposed to be open, but wasn't!
We phoned them up to get no answer. After much searching on our phones (we are more determined than the rest) we found another number for the Kohinoor restaurant, we called and a gentleman finally answers and says that they weren't open today, so naturally we were disappointed and quite confused. So we decided to leave it for another day.

Second Attempt!

Today was our second attempt. My good friend and fellow reviewer Sonya Giles decides to treat me to a meal since it was vegetarian night on Mondays (she is a big vegetarian). When we first visited they had  a good promotion in the window which gives customers a vegetarian mains, side, rice, naan and a half pint for only £7.95. 

Taken the first time we tried to eat here.

Sadly, once we got in they had told us that this promotion, and many of the other famous promotions you often see in the window of the Kohinoor have actually stopped from last week. We were gutted as some of the promotions were fantastic. The gentleman who seated us was kind enough to give us the promotion anyway as we seemed to remember the deal from memory and made a bit of a fuss (though I have a feeling this is something you will not be able to get back in the future).

I will say, even without the promotions, the menu is still good value. A chicken tikka vindaloo being just over £6, a regular chicken vindaloo being just over £5 and vegetarian vindaloo being a meer £4.75. All curries are priced roughly the same too. Very cheap!



Being the only people in the restaurant on a blinding hot summers day, we were seen to quickly. As we took our orders Sonya took them up on the vegetarian promotions which they were kind enough to still let us have. I went for my usual vindaloo and rice. 
We noticed on entry that they had a fantastic selection of Indian beer on tap. Cobra beer, Kingfisher and one I have never seen before, Lal Toofan. 

So naturally we both thought we would try Lal Toofan to try something new.

 A fine selection - £4 each. 

While we sipped our beers we took in the interior decorating over papadums. 
The Kohinoor is beautifully decorated inside and out. It is painted head to toe in a dark blue with lots of plastic potted plants. There are shishas in the window and very traditional looking chairs and curtains. It really comes across as a beautifully decorated Indian establishment, something which is slowly getting rarer in Cambridge, especially with the rise of modern and minimalist Indian tandooris which go for neon lights and white walls. 

Easily one of the most beautifully decorated Indians in Cambridge.

The potted plants really make it look nice. The last time we came in here 4 years ago the plants had dust on them. I am glad they have had a clean!
From the outside you can see shishas in the window which make it look really authentic. 

Once we had done looking at the beautiful surroundings, we had a chat and finished our beers. I cannot say I am a fan of the new Lal Toofan beer. It was quite watery and incredibly flat. It was good to try and expand my Indian beer pallet but I think I will be going back to Kingfisher or Cobra beer in the future. 


The papadums were a little soggy, though not enough to ruin the experience, they just lost their crunch. The mango chutney was mediocre and the onions were not cut properly. That being said the lime pickle was absolutely incredible, the texture and flavour was just right. I was glad to see the sauces were served in the traditional metal containers with great portion sizes, though I was a little sad to see no yoghurt.


Luckily the onion bhajis came out with some yoghurt, but it came a little too late to be used with the papadums. The bhajis were incredibly nice and crunchy. We got four to share which was good considering that it only came under the promotion which Sonya had ordered. We dipped our bhajis in the yoghurt to find that the it was sublime. In fact it was some of the nicest yoghurt I have ever had. It had such a lovely texture and was brimming with flavour. I really couldn't fault them.
To think this came free as part of a cheap promotion was incredibly impressive. 

Our meal was brought out on silver trays. Looking by eye the portions look quite small, like Edmund mentioned in his review 4 years ago. Once we put our rice and curry out on our plate the portions did look a bit bigger, but I would still say they were generally quite small portions.

 The naan came free with Sonya's vegetarian promotion. It was incredibly sweet and had a great texture.

 Portion sizes of rice looked small but did end up being a little bigger looking once on our plates.

Once we had the food on our plates we got stuck in!

The chicken tikka vindaloo was mild, which was a shame, though still very nice. 
I didn't get my trademark hiccups like I do with every hot curry, which was not a good sign for me as I like my vindaloo hot. 
The chicken lacked flavour, which was disappointing really as it was supposed to be chicken tikka. The only way I could tell it was a tikka in fact was because the chicken had holes in it. 
It wasn't all doom and gloom though, the onion rice I ordered was sensational and it added a real crunch to my bite. I couldn't fault them there. The rice was probably the best I have had in Cambridge for a while.

Sonya enjoyed her vegetarian madras, though she claimed that it was quite mild too. 
She enjoyed the rice but claimed that the mushrooms from it were quite rubbery. I had a sample myself and sadly had to agree. The rice as a whole was done quite well, the mushrooms just lacked flavour and a decent texture. 

Once we had finished we both felt like we had a decent meal. I think we would have both been hungry if we hadn't had the promotions to add the side portion and naan. One could argue the portions are slightly small but they offer so much for a set price that its really hard to complain. They give you so much.

The bill came to a mere £20 and that included a pint and a half of beer. We had two mains, two rice, a side, a naan, a starter and two papadums. 
We would have gotten even more if I had ordered from the promotions too.  

The Kohinoor really is one of the best value places in town. 




Once we had our plates taken away we were given the bill and two chocolates. 

I couldn't help but think we were missing something though, something important, something cultural to the British Indian restaurant scene....

NO HOT TOWELS!
(Not even a lousy heated wet wipe!)

I was devastated! 

Only kidding, but still, I was quite disappointed. 
I assume that due to their fantastic value they had to scrimp and cut certain things to keep it so competitive. If you don't mind about the hot towel then the value is easily worth it but personally this is an important part of the experience for me. Luckily the curry was not hot enough to warrant a hot towel too much. 


Conclusion:
If you are looking for good value then the Kohinoor is your place, even without the promotions it is very competitive. 
I would recommend this place for students and people looking for an authentic Indian restaurant atmosphere as the interior decorating is marvelous. They have a brilliant selection of Indian beer too.
If you are a bit of a connoisseur like me and would rather pay a bit more for better quality then there are several places in Cambridge I would recommend over the Kohinoor. They place is disorganised with erratic opening times, no online presence and out dated phone numbers which can prove annoying if you have arranged to meet friends there. It is however, one of the very few traditional Indians in Cambridge left with such a beautiful decoration and feel to it so can be worth it once you make it.

7/10 

Thanks for reading.














Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nasreen Dar - "best samosas in town"

I was invited by the good folks at Nasreen Dar the other day to try the "best samosas in town".So naturally we were over there like a shot as I love a good Samosa.

The place is located on Histon Road, just around the corner from Castle Street, where a lot of the best Indian restaurants in Cambridge are located. 
The place has seating inside and out, and is surrounded by free parking in the residential areas close by. The place is set up as a market/cafe which has a selection of sweets and Indian style pastries to enjoy while lounging around on their sofa's an outside seating.


One thing I have learned about my curry journey is how there is so much more to Indian cuisine than the usual British tandooris all around the UK. Nasreen Dar is a cafe/supermarket which offers a large variety of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistania and Middle Eastern food. 

Most of their stuff it is buy to take home, being a supermarket, but there is a small selection of food to chose from in their cafe section.

Walking in, we were warmly welcomed by the people working behind the counter.
Being more of a shop than a restaurant they let you get on with it.

We had a look around and found an excellent selection of herbs, spices, rice, oils and foreign food. I was in paradise! I could have easily spent a fortune!


The store is absolutely packed with everything you could think of!
If I had a place like this around the corner I would spend much more time cooking at home than going out. Which would probably be welcomed by my gut! 

We found a freezer with pre made curries ranging from chicken tikka masala to very hot vindaloo. I really need to give these a go. They look like they are home made and come to about £1-£2 cheaper than the average curry in the restaurants in Cambridge. 

If anyone has tried these please leave us some feed back!

Yum!

Once we had done looking around we headed to the cafe section to get something to eat.

There is a selection of chicken, lamb and vegetarian samosas, breads, bhajis and a decent choice of sweet snacks.

 So naturally I had a bit of everything!

It was heated up in the microwave for us and we were given plates to go and sit down in the seating area.


We first tried their famous spicy chicken, which was delicious. It was a solid piece of chicken breast which went down a treat. It was so juicy and was incredibly good value.

The onion bhajis were the same, delicious and it had a great texture. 

Their samosas were the best I have had. They were very true to their word. After the disappointing cardboard samosa I had at Tayyabs in London the other week, I was well put off by them up until this point, I am glad I gave them another go as they were crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, just how they should be. The meat portions in them were generous, they were loaded with vegetables. They certainly didn't scrimp on these, they were packed.  The lamb, chicken and vegetarian samosas all scored very highly with both of us.

We treated ourselves to some of the sweet selections on offer. We had a Cannoli each for a mere 45p...and it was one of the nicest sweets i'd ever had in ages.
You have a choice from chocolate, white chocolate, lemon and pistachio. I couldn't recommend these enough, they were cheap and small enough for you to eat without having to worry about consuming 300+ calories, and a great way of taming your sweet tooth. 

Cannoli on the right

The prices for all the food were good value and I can safely say if I lived any closer then I would be in here all the time.

I completely forgot to try the Chai coffee and caramel which I have been recommended by so many people, so I will have to visit again soon. I might use it as an opportunity to try one of those frozen curries too. I will be back, oh yes!

Highly recommended.

Love this place!




















Monday, May 12, 2014

Pipasha - the local legend.

A restaurant which pops up often when asking people about their favourite Indian in Cambridge is Pipasha's. 

Located down Newmarket Road opposite the Cambridge UTD Abbey stadium, Pipasha's it isnt much of a sight to behold from the outside. Yet it seems to be a place many people choose over many other fine establishments in Cambridge. 

So I thought I would assemble the Cambridge Curry Crew and check it out for ourselves!


The response I received when setting up the event on Facebook was incredibly positive . Like I stated above, this place seems to go down well with the people.  We managed to get a respectable crowd of 12 people to the event. Some coming as far as Norwich.

A few of us decided to go a bit early and have a warm up beer at the table. We were greeted on entry and shown to our table and served immediately. I have been to Pipasha's quite a few times in the past so I am very familiar with their friendly, chatty and approachable staff.

Kingfisher beers were under £4. So by no means cheap, yet still respectable for the city of Cambridge.

We looked at the menu to see it was incredibly well put together. There was a great labelling system and it was printed in a very professional manner. It was easy to read and the vegetarian dishes were clearly labelled, along with heat gauges. 


The decoration in the restaurant was basic, but by no means horrible. We were seated next to a fire exit so most of what we could see to one side was a lot of health and safety signs. I wouldn't like to say the place was traditional or modern, it was just very plain. This goes for the same on the outside of the building too.

As people started to wander in, they were seen and taken to the table. They were served immediately and given drinks at a rapid pace.

When everyone finally turned up the staff were quick to serve the rest of us. We ordered 20 papadums and given our drinks all at a hasty speed. They gave us three side sauces with our papadums which were mango chutney, onion pickle and onion salad. I was very sad to see that Lime Pickle had been missed out and that there was no yoghurt.
They did however serve the sauces in a decent sized china container. They decided to go against the size and practicality of the old metal containers you see in many other places yet still have the classy white china to hold it. It was great to not have a big ugly piece of metal on your table but it was also good to have a container which didn't run out immediately. So many places go for white china but give you these tiny little square containers to hold them in which  often run out after a few spoon fulls and it drives me crazy.

 Good work Pipasha!


They asked us if we wanted to make an order while we were eating our papadums as there were quite a few of us and it might take a while to cook.

They took our orders and we carried on dining.

We were expecting a wait considering our numbers, and we certainly got one! We ended up waiting well over an hour for our food but this is to be expected anywhere considering our table size.

There were a few comments about the cost of the food on the menu. It was by no means a rip off in my opinion, but we did notice that a lot of the food on the menu was a little over average. You can certainly get better value in Cambridge, probably at a slightly better quality too if you know where to look. Most people who come here probably wouldn't mind too much in my opinion, people clearly come here for the  friendly customer service and geographical convenience. Pipasha is the only Indian restaurant for miles now The Shanti has closed. 


My chicken tikka vindaloo was delicious. I was so pleased to taste my chicken, which is something I have had a lot of problems with these past few months eating out. So bravo to Pipasha for serving a decent quality chicken in their dishes. The rest of you out there reading this need to step up your game as you cannot just cover your low quality chicken with spicy sauce and think we don't notice!

The rice was a reasonable size and good texture. Though going back to the price, I paid nearly £3 for it. So rightly so!

The vindaloo could have been hotter. I like a bit of a kick with mine, and though I got my usual trade mark hiccups every time I eat a hot curry, they didn't last long. I really didn't feel like I had a blinding hot curry after my meal, which is what a vindaloo is all about. That being said, its not all about heat, the curry itself was very nice.

There were little complains from any of the other 11 people at the table either, which is a great sign as usually you get at least one person with a problem on an order that size.

Smiles all round!

When we finished they were quick to take our dishes away, the waiters were great at being efficient with their time. They were always quick to pop up to take an order or take something away without hassling us too much. They have waiting down to a fine art in here!

After they had taken everything away nearly everyone declined a desert.

They brought out the hot towels, which were in reality, warmed up wet wipes. I did my usual sponge bath at the table with it and I was pleased to see that the thing did manage to stay warm for at least a little while. Usually when we get those pathetic little wet wipes they go cold immediately. So I wasn't completely disappointed. I would have still liked to have had a real hot towel.

We were given chocolates with our bill, which did come to slightly more than we were expecting. We were offered no aniseed sweets, mints or shots. Usually this is common, especially when you have a large crowd, so again, I did feel a bit disappointed but I was not surprised.

Conclusion: Pipasha impressed me and everyone else tonight. They managed to serve 12 of us around a table and they did it well. The food all came out at once, they were fast, efficient, friendly and nothing went wrong. Its so easy to make a mistake when catering for so many people yet they managed to serve all 12 of us without a single problem. They are defiantly good at serving groups at this restaurant.

The food tasted great and the rice served was with a good texture.
That being said, we did pay for it. The prices weren't incredibly competitive and the papadums disappointed  with the poor selection of side sauces. 
The decoration was uninspiring and didn't really fall in to any category other than "white". I know they no longer have to compete with The Shanti around the corner (RIP) but it really could do with a little work with the interior. 

I can see why this place is popular, the staff are incredibly chatty and welcoming which is one of the most important things for me. I remember coming here in the past and getting a very warm atmosphere and they will often chat your ear off. I love that in a restaurant and I think that good staff are what makes this restaurant so popular. 

Efficient, professional and friendly.

Pipasha.

7/10



Friday, May 2, 2014

Bollywood Spice

Bollywood Spice, aka The Slap Up, has had its ups and downs over the years. I have dined there for nearly ten years as a Waterbeach local and it has gone through phases of being quite good to quite bad. It was never the prettiest place on the outside, or inside for that matter. It did however, usually manage to do a damned good curry. 
Several years ago it was taken over and turned in to a Bollywood Spice. Here is my take...

The first thing you notice from the outside is the decoration. If anyone remembers The Slap Up, they would soon tell you it looks horrible from the outside. A plain white building which looks run down and located right next to a busy main road. Bollywood Spice has made a lot of effort to make it look more presentable and offer a bit of that Bollywood bling from the moment you lay eyes on it. 

The Slap Up
 Bollywood Spice

Bollywood Spice goes quite flamboyant with bright pink paint and a flashy red sign on the top. They have made a little court garden out the front of the door with lots of potted plants and a bench. 
It looks very beautiful and it certainly improves on how it was.



As you go inside you notice beautiful decoration all over. They have made a real effort to make this place more appealing. You can almost imagine the new owners walking in to the old Slap Up and going "we need to redecorate, hard!". They have covered the walls with stylish wall paper, which would be something you'd consider seeing in an overly flashy living room, which works in a restaurant. Its not just about being flashy though, they have managed to keep it very traditional at the same time. Its like a balance of modern yet traditional Indian decoration. As you can see below they have Indian dolls presented in a beautiful wooden stand and some nice art work on the walls.



Once you walk past the entrance you come to a bar, which was not there back when it was The Slap Up. The place looks and feels much more spacious now. There are some nice leather chairs for waiting, and a TV with some Indian music channel playing.

I noticed at the bar they had a selection of spirits on display and Mongoose beer on tap.

We were taken to our table and seen reasonably quickly. I felt the waiter didn't want to be there today. He looked quite fed up. A few attempts were made to make small talk but he wasn't interested, nor was he interested to make eye contact either.

When we sat down we ordered our papadums. We took this chance to take in some of the other decorations around us while we waited. Once again we were impressed with what we saw. Everything felt so new, despite Bollywood Spice being open for many years now, they clearly looked after the place. There was lots of modern neon lights, blue and purple mainly, with lots of traditional Indian decorations on the windows. The place looked and felt great. I can really imagine this place having a great atmosphere later on in the evening when its bustling with more life. They certainly get full marks for what they have done with the place. 

Bravo guys!




Our poppadums came and we were presented with an extra one free. We were sadly only given three sauces. Beetroot, onion salad and mango chutney. They were presented in white china, but unlike the white china in a lot of other places, they were quite large bowls which was great because in the past we have often made quite a lot of mess when given the smaller pots. 
Sadly though, despite the bowls being bigger, the portions were still small. We were also missing the lime pickle. Luckily they were happy to bring some more out at no extra cost. The portion were much larger than the other sauces, which was just as well, as I devour lime pickle like there isn't a tomorrow. The papadums tasted great, as did the sauces, though the beeetroot and mango chutney were a bit watery. The lime pickle was spot on and tasted fantastic, the texture was also just right. The onion salad was uninspiring but good enough.


Once we had finished our papadums, the gentleman took our orders. We noticed that the cheapest rice on the menu was still £2.50. The beers were about £4, which I am very sad to say now days is about average. We noticed that the curries on the menu were only £6, which works out cheaper than the Curry Queen and Kohinoor on Mill Road, so the place was quite competitive. Including the expensive rice id say it worked out about average.
We ordered two vindaloos and two rice portions. Money was tight today so we didn't get a chance to explore other dishes like samosas and saag aloo. 

The food came out at a decent time. We noticed once the food had been placed on our plates that the portions were quite small (it might explain the price?). The vindaloo had a good kick to it, just the way I like it, but it was hardly a hard hitting curry. The rice was cooked perfectly and was a reasonable portion. 



I was a little underwhelmed by the vindaloo myself. The chicken was cut up quite small, which I don't like, and though it had flavour I have certainly tasted much better. The potatoes were hard to find but were quite well cooked, again, nothing to shout about. The vindaloo was a thick brown sauce, more like a spicy gravy. It certainly done the trick but I was left feeling a little unsatisfied after. I really think the portions could have been bigger.

Sonya tried her first ever vindaloo. She took it like a real champ and managed to finish it with pride. Then celebrated with pride, accordingly!
She seemed to quite enjoy her meal, though she pointed out that she had no other vindaloo to compare it too.

Champion!

Once we had finished they took our plates and glasses away. We were presented with pre packaged hot towels. When I first saw them being brought to our table I was a little annoyed because I thought they were going to be warmed up wet wipes, however, when he opened them I was pleased to find out that they were quite decent. They were like a mini hot towel instead.  They were warm after opening them too which gave me a decent amount of time to freshen up. 

Once we had finished we were presented with a bill. The bill came with two chocolates each but no mints, aniseed sweets or any shots/hot drinks. We were quite pleased with the bill, being slightly below average for two. So we were happy. 

The overall conclusion of the place is that it presents itself well. They have clearly put in a lot of time and money in to the bar and the decoration, the place looks great. I can really see this being a great atmosphere in the later evenings or on a Saturday night. 

The food was average, so nothing to get too excited about, but by no means bad at all. The service was perhaps a bit below average, it just wasn't the warm friendly atmosphere you usually associate with Indian establishments. I am going to put his very distant service down to a bad day at the office. 

I really feel like the place has gone in the complete other direction. The Slap Up was once a run down looking venue which offered a warm service and great food. Bollywood Spice now offers a stylish and modern establishment with average food and service. I cant help but think if they pulled their socks up a little then this could easily be one of the best Indians in town. 

7/10 but so much potential.