Incase you didn’t know, Asha’s Manchester is a restaurant serving Indian cuisine and signature cocktails with award-winning status.
You may well have heard of Asha Bhosle. Her singing career spans over seven decades, and with over 11,000 songs under her belt she is the most recorded artist in music history. Not to mention the voice of Bollywood, the legend who has sung in hundreds of Hindi films in over 20 Indian languages, providing a voice for all the actresses who can’t quite muster her vocal range.
Over here she’s probably better known for her unforgettable chants on Boy George’s Bow Down Mister with Boy George and, of course, Brimful of Asha, the song written about her.
Her other passion is food. As part-owner of Asha’s, the global restaurant group serving up contemporary Indian fine dining and taking inspiration from all the places from roadside eateries to royal households Asha has encountered whilst touring as a performer.
A fully accomplished cook herself, she personally trained the first chefs in her techniques for almost six months prior to opening in Dubai in 2002.
Finally reaching Manchester a couple of years ago, Asha’s is just past The Midland Hotel on the corner of Peter Street and Mount Street in a Grade II listed building that used to house Baby Grand bar.
The unassuming exterior gives little away of the Aladdin’s cave you encounter on entering.
It’s an opulent palatial boudoir of gold, black, and purple with upstairs seating for over 100 covers and a sultry downstairs bar with private dining. I particularly love the hand-made light fittings giving the most wonderful patterns of reflected light and shadow.
This attention to detail continues with the menu itself, beautifully hard backed and bound, and, happily, not too long as some Indian menus can be. There are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options, but what is even more interesting is how many unusual ingredients have been used here, gearing up our expectations from the go.
Poppadums & Dips (£4.75)
The name somewhat underplays this pre-appetiser. Your usual mango chutney and chopped onion combo has been taken up several notches with some rather stunning home made varieties including pineapple, onion seeds and smoked chilli; minted coriander and garlic; tomato, ginger and prunes; and green apple (our least favourite.) Broken shards of perfectly crisp poppadums were dunked moreishly into these beauties, with pineapple and coriander our favourites.
Venison Samosa (£7.95)
The popular triangular Indian appetiser has been given a real facelift. Minced and tender English venison is a welcome alternative to your usual lamb or beef. Mixed with green peas, raisins and spices, the savoury parcels are then wrapped and deep fried producing the most puffy and flaky pastry. Delicately spiced, these are a must try.
Guinea Fowl Hariyali Tikka (£14.95)
This dish so perfectly represents how good Indian food should be – not too spicy hot and with layers of flavour. God only knows how they achieve it. Apparently the secret is in the marinating – twice! First in salt, ginger, garlic paste, lemon juice, and finely chopped green chillies. Second in yoghurt, cream, mint, fresh coriander, cumin, yellow chilli powder and garam masala. Finally chargrilled in the tandoor Indian clay oven giving a really smoky and intense flavour, then brushed with butter, lemon juice and kebab masala before serving. There’s absolutely no cutting any corners with food that tastes like this.
Lobster Panch Phoran (£32.95)
Panch Phoran literally means five spices, which this huge whole lobster has been cooked in. The typical mix consists of cumin, nigella, mustard, fenugreek and fennel seeds, to which Asha’a adheres using traditional methods and techniques. It’s quite a sweet dish, delicious and decadent with the lobster.
Kodi Curry (£15.95)
This chicken curry dish originates from Hyderabad, the capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana. Made with yoghurt and coconut milk, it is quite mild and creamy but leaps and bounds above your usual korma or butter chicken dish, with much more complex flavours. A real crowd pleaser that doesn’t scrimp on the meat.
Dal Makhani (£7.95 side portion)
My absolute favourite Indian dish, having tried one or two in my time spent in Dunagiri. Pulses of lentils, peas and beans are the most important staple of an Indian vegetarian diet being cheap, high in protein, and extremely healthy. Black lentils are used here and cooked overnight with tomatoes, cream and butter. The velvety result is dreamy.
Palao Rice (£4.50) and Truffle Naan (£3.95)
Both are light, perfect accompaniments.
Blood Orange & Caramel Kulfi (£6.50)
Having been filled up with savoury dishes, and not ever overly impressed with Indian desserts, we were tempted to give them a miss. But we ordered one to share, fully expecting the meal to take a downturn here. It didn’t.
This classic milk reduction fuses contemporary western and Asian desserts, with the result of a parfait meets an ice-cream. The added basil seeds, which I’ve never tried, are the icing on the cake. They might look a bit like frog spawn but add a wonderful caviar-like texture.
Apparently cocktails here are as good as the food, but as we went for lunch we decided to stick with the wine. Tim Adams Foxlee Riesling from the Clare Valley, Australia (£30 bottle) is dry and fruity and not as sweet as some Riesling wines. The citrusy and slightly acidic finish is great paired with this style of food.
The word Asha means hope. We were hoping for excellence today and we got it in spades. The authentic flavours and attention to detail have really raised the bar, the rich sauces and marinades displaying these true masters of spice.
The name and creative force behind this global brand may not have been cooking in the kitchen today, but head chef Ashwani Rangta and his team are lovingly continuing her legacy here in Manchester, bringing as much, if not more, joy and pleasure as her music. I can’t fault anything we ate today.
47 Peter St, Manchester M2 3NG