Restaurant review - Asha’s Manchester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 October 2017
Asha’s in Manchester won City Restaurant of the Year in the 2017 Cheshire Life Food and Drink Awards. Louise Allen-Taylor returns for second helpings.
You know, even before you have dunked your first poppadum, that Asha’s is a little bit different from the average Indian restaurant.
In place of the usual suspects of chutneys and dips we are presented with a platter of relishes which sparkle like jewels and deliver more nuanced flavours. There’s a chunky amber-coloured pineapple chutney, green apple and blueberry, ruby-red tomato and chili and, best of all, a minty yoghurt which is raita but with added zing.
On second thoughts, you know Asha’s is a bit special even before you reach the table. The main dining room strikes you immediately as a cunning mixture of exotic east and cosmopolitan west, with booths in purple and grey, filigree lampshades throwing dappled light, bronze-like pillars and beaded curtains.
The Asha’s formula - the brainchild of Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle - is already a proven international success, with restaurants in Birmingham, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
There is the odd splash of ostentation in the menu, for instance, Lobster Panchporan (£32.95), a whole lobster simmered with five spices, peppers and prawns, and the £69.95 ‘Emperor’s Platter’, with a whole tandoori lobster as its centrepiece. This platter is billed as ‘perfect for sharing’, though what self-respecting emperor wants to share?
Elsewhere, Asha’s features familiar-looking dishes with the odd twist: venison samosa, say, or a biryani made with Scottish salmon, but nothing to scare away the conservative curry-lover.
For those with smaller appetites and sophisticated thirsts, Asha’s has a BolliBar cocktail lounge serving small bites such as chicken malai kebab and Indian-spiced calamari, cocktails including a Manchester Tart and an intriguing-looking rasmalai - a classic Bengali dessert pepped up with vodka and white chocolate liqueur. Drinkers and diners alike can enjoy the finest wines and champagnes from their cellars. And as you might expect, there’s a good range of beers too. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and an IPA.
We start with tandoori murg tikka (£13.95) - four de-boned chicken thighs, marinated overnight and cooked until mouth-meltingly tender, with delicious burnt edges, leaving a lingering afterglow of heat and spice. It’s an exemplary version of a familiar dish.
Our other starter of paneer ka soola (£11.95) is another tandoori dish of yielding cottage cheese in a subtle marinade with green and red peppers and pineapple. Yes, that ‘70s dinner party combination of cheese and pineapple...it never grows old!
Onto the mains, we take it as read that Asha’s can do the classic curries well, so we opt instead to test two dishes from the ‘creative curries’ section. Muscat gosht (£16.95) is a lamb curry with a thick, dark, spicy gravy which has a depth and mustiness about it without being over-hot. Kodi curry (£15.95) is billed as a hyderabadi chicken curry made with yoghurt and coconut milk, and is indeed rich and coconutty - perhaps a good sideways step for the korma-lover.
It is at this point in the meal that many Indian restaurants have little to offer beyond a technicolour menu of bought-in ice creams or a diabetes-inducing bowl of gulab jamun. It’s worth saving some room for dessert at Asha’s, however.
A classic lemon tart (£6.95) proves, more accurately, to be a classic lemon meringue tart, with a raspberry and mint coulis on the side. More impressive is the blood orange and caramel kulfi (£7.50) - a very fancy puck of ice cream, topped with basil seeds, and from which bridges of caramelised sugar reach out to a slice of cinnamon-flavoured orange and a sliver of desiccated pineapple.
We leave very well satisfied, in fact - and I think you knew this one was coming - we’re brimful of Asha’s. It’s fabulous!
Asha’s, 47 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 3NG, tel 0161 832 5309 , ashasmanchester.co.uk