It's like this at Asha's on Newhall Street in Birmingham, a stones throw from Colmore Row. Birmingham now has its very own brimful of Asha. Following on from the success of restaurants in Kuwait and Dubai, this is a place of serenity where the most passionate diners of Indian cuisine can sample the best, most authentic recipes and ingredients you can find this side of Bombay.
I have to say that while many of my favourite Indian and Pakistani restaurants in the city understand how to cook a few dishes very well, their menus are often boring, with little effort or time spent on the design, the look or feel, even the descriptions of the food. Asha's on the other hand understands how to create every dish, extremely well. Building something magical is all about creating a dream, hypnotising the senses into believing that you're really somewhere special, that perhaps for the time that you step into the restaurant, until the time that you leave - you are not even in Birmingham but somewhere far away.
With Asha's I felt like I was dining in the late summer at a presidential quarters that I visited many years ago after a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. As soon as we step into the place the ambience hits you. The space is large but intimate, decorated in warm, welcoming oranges, reds, yellows and blacks. The lights are dim but the restaurant glows. Immediately we are greeted by the manager Jaimon and introduced to our waiter Sachin, both with a true understanding of the restaurant, not just the food, which both know inside out, but also how every flavour, taste, dish, accompaniment, go together.
First off Sachin insists that we sample one of the amazing cocktails. My partner is driving so opts for a Mango Ginger lassi which has a melting creamy texture and my Ras Rush is a spectacle of red fruits and vodka.
A basket of freshly prepared papdoms arrives at our table shortly after - countless variations of sizes, flavours, some cheesy, some original each with it's own intricate decoration of chutneys and special dips to bring out the very best flavours. Asha's has a place in the Michelin Guide in the West Midlands and it's so easy to see why. With 4 new private dining rooms, the restaurant can cater for all small and large bookings, tailor made to your requirements.
Jaimon, the general manager was superb at juggling absolutely everything you could ask for in a perfect host, from darting in to the kitchen every few minutes to oversee things were going well, to effortlessly conversing with many tables of diners, guests, members of his staff seemingly all at the same time. Passionate about the restaurant we quickly began to understand a little of what makes Asha's tick, and Sachin's gracious service, and expertise added a further dimension to the meal.
From the Barrah Kebab - baby lamb chops marinated in ginger-garlic, yoghurt and spices to the Papdi Chaatdeep fried flour pastries, Indian savoury vermicelli, mashed potatoes, sweetened yoghurt,
and sweet and sour chutney, the starters were enough to feel as though we had private chefs cooking for us on a Ganges sunset cruise. The lamb had such delicate flavours that minutes after I had finished, I was left with no choice but to pick up the wooden skewers and suck the remaining spices clean.
Asha's is one of those experiences where you wish that you had more room to feast. Two, three courses is simply not enough as every dish, that each person orders, and all the plates that pass by on their epic journey to other diners' tables is the most tantalising dish you have seen for .....well a very long time.
For the main I go for sharing a Saffron Rice and happen to notice an entire page of the menu dedicated to various breads. The choice is endless and as I look up from our table, I can see one of the chefs through a glass window spinning the dough for a fresh garlic naan, expertly tossing the mixture in larger and larger circles before setting the bread to cook.
This goes perfectly with my Chicken Dhaba - a dish which perfectly mimics a joyful road side dish I sampled on the way to Himachal Pradesh in 2005. My partner, being vegetarian chooses an Aloo Mutter Gobi all washed down by a recommendation from Sachin - a cucumber lemonade. This is a refreshing combination of fresh cucumber, mint, fresh pressed lemon juice and sugar blended together and topped with lemonade, and with each mouthful of deliciously spicy food, this drink softened the senses and whisked you off into heaven once more.
The dessert menu was almost too much - every mouthwatering description jumping out of the page. So in true sampling style we went for the desert platter which included 4 of the restaurants signature puddings:
The RASMALAI - a Classic Indian cold dessert served with sweetened milk. The KESARI PISTA KULFI - a Home-made Indian ice-cream made with pistachio, saffron and milk reduction. The GAJAR KA HALWA - straight from India made with grated carrots and milk reduction, and my favourite, the sweetest GULAB JAMUN.
This was a restaurant to remember, and if you haven't been here, you can sample all of the above, for roughly £35 per head - including drinks. For food of this standard, that is extremely good value for money and a perfect reason for a return visit in the not too distant future.
Asha's world famous Chef master classes are now also back up and running, led by legendary head chef Guneet Singh Bindra. For more information and also for an interesting read, you can find out all you want to know by visiting www.ashasuk.co.uk or call 0121 200 2767 to book a table.