“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was”

If you are a fan of one of the greatest sportsmen ever then you will recognise the quote above. This leads us into the July 2013 meeting of the Norwich Curry Club and a return to a popular venue which is still managed by one of the leading figures in the indian restaurant scene, Ali, the owner of the Ali Tandoori.

Despite my efforts, we were unable to be accommodated at the Merchants of Spice (price of popularity I guess) so as it was a very hot day, we went to the Ali Tandoori for a return visit.

There is still Bombay mix in the waiting area, there are still the regulars and there is the ever present, the Don of the restaurant to give you a warm welcome upon arrival, Ali himself.

Despite a lack of a real array of specials on the menu, the old classics are done well and the service was top drawer. Naga chicken still packs a punch with plenty of flavour, good quantity of chicken and some serious heat. 

For 9 of us, the bill came to £170 which if you factor in two rounds of drinks, is brilliant value for money. Nobody had a starter, but there was plenty of side dishes, naan, etc so you can’t really complain.

What makes this place though is Ali himself. A true Norwich institution.

 

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All aboard the good ship Curry

For a change, we went along to The Bengal Clipper in Norwich (formerly Bengal Spice, formerly The Clipper) to see how this restaurant had evolved over the past couple of years.

Before the “new” indian restaurants opened in Norwich, this was probably the one of the best restaurants in Norwich, but a couple of (not very imaginative) name changes and reports of below par food had meant that it was not one which we wanted to go back to and move away from the usual favourites. But, with some good reviews coming through it was time to give it another look.

This area of Norwich (St Benedicts) has undergone a bit of a transformation of late with some money being spent to make it to make it more of a destination and along with two particularly good pubs along the street (Ten Bells and The Plough) plus some other decent ones not far away (Rumsey Wells and The Birdcage to name two) the Bengal Clipper is well positioned to take advantage of this.

Inside the place is still a little outdated, but the most important things are the food and the service.

The Clipper was outstanding on the food front. The unusual “Fish Frezi” was a popular choice and this was superb. Some great flavours, no bones and a highly intense level of spice with some dried chillies being added to the fresh green ones that you always seem to get. Rice and side dishes were just as good with the Bindhi Bhajee being one of the best in Norwich. The waiter also brough some complimentary Tarka Dal without asking and we all received a free indian dessert to finish the meal off.

The service was very attentive without being over the top and the food is really good. Price wise this is not expensive and much less than some of the more well known indian restaurants in Norwich. And the flavours are much better.

So, if you fancy a change from the usual choices, or your favourite curry house is full, walk down St Benedicts and check out The Bengal Clipper. It is well worth a try.

The ultimate let down

Sometimes, even people from Norfolk leave the county, and I found myself in a place called Malpas, near Chester a couple of weeks ago. The locals told us of a great place to eat, which happened to be an Indian Restaurant, happy days I thought.

The Forts of India is on Chester Road in Malpas, and I guess it is a converted pub. It is right on a roundabout and parking is tight, but it is a very nice looking building. Upon arrival, at about 6.30 on a Saturday night, I asked if there was a table free for two. “No Problem, come in” was the reply so we were taken to sit down.

Now the sight which I saw on the way to my table was curry heaven. Peroni on draught! Normally, the usual suspects are around, Cobra and Kingfisher, but to see Peroni on tap, with the tap glistening away, was a sight to behold.

Poppadoms were soon popped up, and mains ordered. The food arrived and it was excellent. I ordered the lemon rice, which was an unusual rice option, but it really cut through the chicken jalfrezi and went well together.

As I was finishing off the main course, the waiter came to our table and said “will you be long, it is just that we have people waiting for this table in the bar area. They have been waiting for 30 minutes”

I had not finished, neither of us had, and we asked why he had been so keen to sit us down and not told us that we were working to a deadline? We certainly hadn’t eaten slowly either, nor been pondering the menu for a long time. In truth, we were probably about 40 minutes in total from arrival to this point.

The waiter walked away, and I guess it was the manager who then arrived to apologise but the table had been booked.

It was a shame this wasn’t pointed out when we arrived as we would have gone somewhere else. And it was also a shame as the food was excellent, well flavoured, quickly served (I now know why) and portions were generous.

So, my view is that if you go to the Forts of India, make sure you know exactly how long you have to eat before you sit down, as you may prove to be a real inconvenience to them. After all, we are doing them a favour by visiting the restaurant, giving them our money and eating their food, so please don’t eat slowly. Think about your fellow diners and allow them to sit at your table as quickly as possible.

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New Kid on the Block

In July it was time to try a new contender to the Norwich restaurant scene. Chutney opened up about a month ago on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich to a flurry of publicity. The local advertiser had a cover spread, there were discount vouchers available, and they served cocktails. Now cocktails in an Indian restaurant is nothing new, but was this just glossy veneer to cover up the food standards? Only one way to find out…..

Chutney is a reasonably small restaurant, with maybe 40 covers and the first thing that you notice when you enter is the vibrant colour scheme and neon lighting. Green is the dominant colour and the whole restaurant has an almost glowing feel to it. The chairs are very basic, almost canteen like but the restaurant is very light, airy and extremely modern. Personally, I like either the “old school” of alcoves, sitar music, flock wallpaper, bombay mix, etc, or the more upmarket heavy cutlery, dimmed lighting restaurants. This is neither and is maybe pitched at a younger audience or for more relaxed diners. Nothing wrong with changing the formula however and it is good to see something different.

The popppadoms arrived, were smashed and shared between the eight of us. Excellent range of pickles, very freshly prepared and all in all a great start. Kingfisher and Cobra’s ordered and then looked at the menu’s. For this month, we had a couple of members with us who are very “service” orientated and this meant that they were always going to be hard to please. Despite this, everything got off to a good start. We ordered our mains (no starters, so can’t comment) and waited to be served. Now, this is where the problems started. Everybody’s food arrived, apart from the food for the two people who are very vocal. It didnt help that our food looked outstanding and smelt amazing, leaving the “forgotten two” hungry, jealous and impatient. They didnt have to wait long however, but for them it did seem like an eternity I am sure.

I ordered the Goa chicken, mushroom rice and a bindhi barjee which were all excellent. Lovely flavours, generous portions and very well spiced. Goa chicken was madras-esque, with more flavour and depth. An excellent choice.

Everybody else had nothing but good things to say about the food and despite the modern appearance and somewhat more laid back approach, the quality of the food was very impressive.

Once cleared away, a free drink for all of us was offered which was happily accepted. Even the “forgotten two” were pleased with this gesture.

So, Chutney is pretty quirky, bright, colourful and in the heart of Norwich’s clubland, but dont let this put you off. The food is very good, the staff are friendly and attentive, and the portions are generous. Give it a try, you will be suprised.

 

Out of centre, but on target

For the May Curry Club meeting it was a return to a venue which is a way out of the City centre, which makes it more of a destination restaurant, than a “just passing and fancy a curry” type of place, but it is a restaurant which has a loyal following and has in the past been very enjoyable.

The Roti opened in Norwich about 3 years ago now and it still looks impressive from outside and the inside is no different. Definitely a bit upscale over the traditional, but they have left the overkill of Neon to other places and decked it out nicely. We arrived and after a few questions about the curry club, we sat down to look at the menu. All the old favourites are there, plus a few house specialities, but nothing of a real stand out nature in my opinion. Poppadoms arrived and the pickle selection.  Special mention goes to the pickles which were excellent. The Mango Chutney was average, but the others were superb.

A variety of main courses were ordered by us and amongst them we had the usual Jalfrezi, Dansaak, etc and I went for the Naga Chicken. This was a very rich dish, extremely intense flavour, and although advertised as extremely hot, it was a very pleasant Madras strength offering. Lots of chicken in the dish too, which is always welcome. A nice mushroom rice followed and then a slight wait for the Keema Naan. The restaurant also provided a free vegetable side dish of stir fried Okra for us all to share which was a nice touch and very appreciated. Whoever had cooked this had done an excellent job as it was amazing.

My only slight niggle was my Keema Naan. Other naans looked very puffy, light and were tasty, but mine was very buttery, very wet and not at all appealing.

Another highlight was the bill. For six of us, it came in at a very reasonable £19.95 which included two rounds of drinks. Forever the honest bunch, we did query it and there was a digit missing!

Although it is a little out-of-town, the Roti is well worth seeking out.  Although I wouldn’t say it topples the Merchants of Spice which is still our favourite, it runs it close. Another plus is the excellent choice of pubs nearby including The Trafford and the Kings Arms, both of which would make a good choice to visit either pre or post Roti.

 

 

 

 

 

Old School but still a good school

For the February trip we decided to visit one of the oldest curry houses in Norwich which the Ali Tandoori. No Bangla videos, no waterfalls, no neon lighting, this is still a restaurant with alcoves, bombay mix and the ubiquitous paintings on the walls, but looks as as we all know can only be skin deep, its whats underneath the pickle tray thats important.

We were seven strong in February, ,a mixture of idleness, apathy and “family commitments” diminishing the numbers somewhat and as we arrived at the Ali Tandoori on Magdalen Street, it was clear that there is little appetite to eat out on a Thursday night in this particular establishment. Half of the restaurant was empty and we doubled the attendance in one fell swoop.

Kingfishers arrived, poppadoms were smashed and as the menu was examined the usual banter started to flow. The bombay mix had been greedily gobbled by a few members so starters were skipped, so we headed straight to the main course. The waiters are very good, they are attentive, polite and dont call everybody mate, boss or buddy, other restaurants take note!

The food as always was very good, notable highlights included an excellent Sag Aloo, very moist and tasty garlic naan and a lovely chicken jalfrezi. The only odd thing with the Jalfrezi was the addition of a solitary chilli on top which was raw. Unsure as to the reasons for this, and it was unnecessary.

The atmosphere was great though, and sometimes it pays to go back to your old favourites and wonder why so many people are attracted by the often unnecessary additions to restaurants, when surely all that matters is the food, the atmosphere, the price and the overall experience.

Ali Tandoori remains a very good alternative to the “new” indian restuarant experiences in Norwich and is certainly one which holds it’s own food wise and value wise against the new kids on the block.

Ratings (out of 5)

Food – 4

Value -5

Atmosphere – 2 (not their fault, it was just quiet in there)

Overall – 4

Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate….

If you are a fan of one of the greatest lyricists of all time, you will appreciate my reference to Ali, one of the owners of the new restaurant in Norwich, called The Merchants of Spice. The first thing that you notice about this place is the greeting you receive when you walk in. Yes, we had booked ahead, but good manners cost nothing and it was much appreciated. The next thing is the decor. Luxury fixtures and fitting, the chairs, the lights, all superbly done and classy, yet understated. Just how any good restaurant should be.The Merchants of Spice was formerly a pub, more recently a very good restaurant and is now the number one choice for fine Indian food in Norwich.

The menu contains all the usual “classics” but the stand outs are the specials which among other things use the unconventional ingredients of crab and rabbit. These just had to be ordered.

Poppadoms were very fresh, the pickle tray contained home made mango chutney, not the overly sweet tat you sometimes get, and the onion salad is diced, not chopped, little things but a big difference.

Crab Massala was my own personal order with mushroom rice. The portions are generous, but the quality is fantastic. The crab can still be tasted which is essential, but the dish had lots of flavour. All eaten with very high quality heavy cutlery which added more quality to the overall feel of the restaurant. The rabbit bhuna was also well received, but so was the Balti, so it’s not just all about the specials, the regular orders were spot on too.

The prices are slightly more than the average restaurant but it is important to remember that this is not your average restaurant. In fact, there is nothing average about it at all, it is way better than that.

Quite simply The Merchants of Spice is the best indian restaurant in Norwich.

Go and try it for yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

Zin Zeera Norwich – Aurora Curryalis

It’s all about the lights. You can see them as you drive past Zin Zeera in the evening and they look great. I’m sure that they’ve picked up a lot of business by people drawn in by the light show, but it’s only good food and service that will keep them coming back and at least on one count, they have a chance.

Zin Zeera opened last year on the old Bottoms Up site in Hellesdon. The opening night was by all accounts a bit of a disaster with cold food and big delays causing some diners to walk out. We went as a party of eight (including 4 children) on a Saturday night and apart from the lights, the first thing you notice is that it’s massive. The dining area is huge and although it is very impressively finished, all sparkly floors and chrome, cosy it is not. This will be their biggest challenge, filling the place. We arrived at 7 and by 8.30, prime time for curry eating, the restaurant was at best a third full.

Because of the size, they have employed lots of staff, in fact they have a girl whose entire job was to hold the door open for people arriving and leaving. Bizarrely though, service was slow and inattentive. The waiter taking our order appeared totally distracted and kept looking back over his shoulder at the bar staff. No surprise that two dishes were missed from our order.

However, when the food did arrive, it was excellent. We had ordered a wide range of dishes from Korma, through Bhuna and Dhansak to Vindaloo. My Dhansak was the best I’ve had – rich, full of flavour and not floating in a pool of grease unlike some I’ve had. The rest of the party also enjoyed their dishes.

Once the staff had finally noticed we had finished, egged on by my fellow diners, I even broke the cardinal rule and ordered a dessert! I didn’t believe they actually existed, I thought the whole dessert thing was just a game where you looked at a plastic menu full of frozen stuff before saying no and sticking a hot towel on your face.

The bill came to £150 for eight which included plenty of drinks so value was good and we were even given a discount card for 10% off future bills and 20% off takeaways.

So in all, it was a thumbs up for Zin Zeera. If they can improve their service and find some way to fill the place so it creates a better atmosphere, they will survive. They may even make enough of a profit to pay the light bill.

Review by Scott Oliver

Hello world!

Its about time that the world knew more about Norwich Curry Club, so welcome to our Blog.

We are based in Norwich, England, and we will post any interesting moments from our culinary adventures to share with you all.