Thursday, 27 October 2011

1875 Restaurant, Menston


On Tuesday night I went along to a bloggers event at 1875 restaurant over in Menston. The night was promoted as an authentic Indian masterclass, so given my obsession with Indian food this wasn't an opportunity I was likely to pass up.

Proprietor Manjinder Singh Sarai led the introductions and talked us through the idea behind the restaurant. It's a fairly straightforward premise; serve proper Indian food as you might find in India, and only employ Indian chefs who've been trained in upmarket establishments in India (the Taj hotel group).

The general idea is to do something different to your average Anglo-Indian restaurant that's run by Pakistanis or Bangladeshis and serves dishes invented in Birmingham and Glasgow. Manjinder even went so far as to claim that 1875 is the most authentically Indian restaurant in the North of England. I'm sure there are other claimants to that title (Hansa's and Prashad perhaps?) but there really aren't that many places breaking the mould.

A word on the menu at this stage. Peculiarly given their dedication to proper Indian food, the menu and website describe 1875 as an Anglo-Indian restaurant (which is how I tend to think of all the bog standard curry houses) and go for a sort of 'big up the British Raj' theme. The spiel on the website states that:

'The year is 1875. The British Raj in India is at its highest and Queen Victoria is the first empress to India. The elite-ranking British officers, wherever they are stationed in India, by default got the very best regional authentic Indian food.'

I've no idea whether the bit about the food is true, but I somehow doubt it. If it's true it rather conjures up images of fawning servants (wallahs of various persuasions) fetching and carrying for an enthroned Brit in a military safari suit sipping on a gin and tonic. I'll bet they didn't get the very best regional authentic Indian food, the locals probably kept it for themselves and it was probably too spicy for our Victorian gent anyway. Manjinder did talk about the Anglo-Indian slant, explaining that it's part of differentiating themselves from all of the other Indian restaurants, but it still seems a bit of a strange idea to me.

Slightly dubious empire related theme aside, we were there for the food. If the food is good, then frankly who cares about that other stuff.

Chef Baljit with his spice tin

I'm happy to report that the food was good, some of it very good. For the masterclass part of the evening we donned aprons and attractive blue hairnets and headed to the kitchen with chef Baljit Singh, where we were shown how to make chapattis, naan breads and chicken tikka. It was apparent that everything is cooked from scratch on site as all of the raw ingredients were there; a big tin full of spices including plenty of whole, unground ones, big tubs of minced ginger and garlic, tins of tomatoes and coconut milk, and absolutely no bright red food colouring.

 a morsel of wonderful naan

The breads we cooked were good, the naan a particular highlight. The perfect combination of a light dough resulting in a thin, crisp finish with loads of little charred bubbles.

chicken tikka - fresh from the tandoor

The chicken was also very good, the use of thigh meat a wise choice for flavour and moistness (although the menu actually states that it's chicken breast). I'd love to have my own tandoor to cook food like this at home, but I'd have to spend my entire salary on gas, chicken and marinade ingredients so it's a rather distant fantasy!

from here comes deliciousness - I want one

After the kitchen showcase we returned to the dining room where Manjinder served us a variety of dishes. To start there were chicken samosas and more of the tikka. The samosas were reminiscent of those I used to buy from Mr Riaz' corner shop on Brudenell Road in Hyde Park, which is a big compliment, because they were bloody great.

Next were the vegetable dishes, a mixed vegetable curry that was a little bland for my tastes and a paneer curry that I really enjoyed. The sauce was hot and the paneer creamy and crumbly, not at all like the tasteless rubbery stuff you often get.

Finally we had the meat dishes, a beef masala and a Goan pork vindaloo. The beef masala was good but the vindaloo was excellent, my favourite dish of the evening. The pork (maybe shoulder?) had obviously been cooked long and slow, and fell apart in moist strands. The sauce was intensely flavoured, tangy with a long lingering garlicky aftertaste. Both of the meat curry sauces reminded me in style of those I ate at Delhi Grill earlier in the year, interesting as the chef at 1875 is from Delhi.

the aftermath - note the lack of leftovers

Overall the standard of food was very high, I enjoyed all of it but the vindaloo and naan bread were the highlights. I could happily sit there with a vat of that curry and a pile of breads and just keep on eating. We received excellent service as you'd expect, but if it's anything like as good on a normal night you'll be well looked after. I would gladly return to 1875 and spend my own money on a meal there.

Thanks to Emma at Culture Vultures for organising the event, thanks to the team at 1875, and thanks to everyone else who was there for the great company. You can find some alternative perspectives on the evening, accompanied by some good photos (yes I know mine are rubbish) here and here.

The 1875 Restaurant
Station Road
West Yorkshire
LS29 6JH

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