Asha’s, Manchester’s most sophisticated Indian restaurant, has just launched a summer menu.
It’s perhaps a curious move given the fact that, compared with Britain at any rate, it’s pretty much summer all the year round on the sub-continent. But maybe it’s in the Mancunian mindset that we don’t eat hot food in hot weather.
Which is another misconception, because it’s not necessarily heat that characterises top notch Indian dishes – it’s spice and the culinary skills used to combine these richly flavoursome ingredients to the very best effect.
High-end Asha’s provides a dining experience that is the very antithesis of what’s on offer on Manchester’s Curry Mile and dishes that bear little relation to the snacky street food you get in the Indian Tiffin Room or Mowgli.
This is a global restaurant group – part-owned by legendary Bollywood singing star Asha Bhosle – that has branches in Saudi, Kuwait and the oil rich emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain, where they don’t exactly scrimp on the best ingredients or penny pinch on a dining experience.
Asha’s menu features not just your run-of-the-mill samosas, but delicate pastries stuffed with venison; duck seekh kebab, guinea fowl tikka, organic Scottish salmon biriyani, truffle naan bread and of course, whole lobster, all impeccably sourced.
Then there’s the restaurant itself, discreetly housed in a Grade II listed building in Peter Street, which opens into an ultra-chic 100-cover first floor dining room burnished in gold, black and purple, with intricate filigree pendant lighting. Below is the Bolli Bar, a smart and sophisticated bar serving signature cocktails and small plates.
We began with pappadums. Okay, I know that some Indian restaurants have become a bit precious about pappadums which may or may not be the authentic way to start a meal. But when they’re this special, who cares? The crispiest shards are served with four taste-sensation chutney purees of pineapple, green apple and blueberry, tomato, ginger and prunes and minted yoghurt with coriander.
We started proper by sharing two of the summer menu’s outstanding fish and seafood dishes.
Seared Masala Scallops (£12.50) brought three delicate cushions of seafood delight flavoured but in no way overpowered by their exotic dressing of curry leaves, garlic, star anise, onion and tomato.
If the portion was on the small side, it was more than compensated for by the scale of the Monkfish Tikka (£16.50) – firm, flavoursome and meaty boneless fillets sourced from Scotland and cooked in the tandoor. Once again the dressing of pink peppercorns and chestnuts enhanced rather than competed with the fish’s delicacy and, served on locally grown rainbow chard and scattered with micro herbs, presentation was excellent.
Mrs K stuck with fish for her main course – that rising oceanic star Stone Bass in mild and velvety coconut and sunchoke curry (£16.95). The fish was sweet, moist and large flaked similar to grouper and luxuriated in a silky sauce of coconut milk and pureed sunchoke – a variant of the Jerusalem artichoke – lifted by fresh coriander and mustard seeds. All summer sweetness and light.
Having eaten lamb at Asha’s previously – in the sublime shape of Barrah Kebab – I was pretty confident that the spring lamb in the summer menu’s Lal Maas (£16.50) would be first class. And so it was. Cubed and tender as can be, it was cooked in yoghurt tomato sauce with a hefty but clean and keen red chilli kick.
Sides, at £3.95 a plate, were very good: lightly griddled tenderstem broccoli with sesame and micro salad. And who know that dunking Lancashire cheese stuffed kulcha flatbread into coconut curry could bring such joy?
We shared the summer menu’s one listed dessert – Pistachio and Liquorice Kulfi (£6.95), served on a stick like an aristocratic ice lolly, with almond crumble, summer berries and mango coulis and finished off our bottle of South Eastern Australian unoaked chardonnay whose pineapple notes provided a splendid foil for the spices.
Asha’s new summer menu is not a seasonal substitute for the a la carte’s intricate and sophisticated delights. Far from it. Lighter, perhaps because of the choice of fish dishes, but just as cultured and expertly contrived as the main menu.