Balti #2 – Grameen Khana, 310 Ladypool Road
Well for my second meal in the quest for the perfect Balti, I decided to go somewhere that I’d wanted to go for a while – Grameen Khana. This restaurant has had rave reviews since it opened two years ago, winning the Birmingham’s Best Balti 2009 award, and put forward as a Birmingham representative to the British Curry Awards, where they were pipped to the regional award by Lasan. I had a hunch that this place was going to give us a totally different experience to Punjab Paradise and I wasn’t wrong. From 50 yards down the road you’re hit by the neon sign, bright lights and double height glass facade, giving you a hint of the modern decor awaiting us inside – it’s all curvy walls, bright colours and waterfalls, not what we’ve come to expect from a traditional south Asian restaurant. It’s a bit in-yer-face and not to everyone’s taste, but I quite liked it. The menu is impressive – although much too large like most South Asian restaurants, it had lots of hints to its Sylheti roots, and nods to modern fine dining with ingredients such as sea bass, monkfish, and even quail in some of the dishes. Although sorely tempted to go for a whole roasted quail, I stuck to the rules and ordered myself a vegetable Balti and plain naan:
The Balti – Wow, this couldn’t have been more different from my benchmark Balti at Punjab Paradise. It looked totally different for a start – not as brown in colour, bigger chunks of vegetables, garnished with a generous sprinkling of fresh coriander, and a much higher vegetable to sauce ratio, which I like. In fact if you put the two Balti’s side by side, I would never say they were the same dish. The Balti tasted great, again, not at all similar to the benchmark Balti. This one wasn’t as balanced you could say, perhaps lacking the depth of flavour that the Punjab Paradise Balti had, but it did shout louder with fresh chilli, coriander, mustard, cardamon and cinammon all taking their turn to come out and whack you around the chops. This was a fragant, zingy Balti, like the cheeky loudmouthed younger brother trying desperately to get your attention. And that it did, I was hooked – the vegetables were not just carrying this sauce either, the perfectly cooked and marinated new potatoes (skin on), broad beans, french beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, onion and marrow were all delicious. The only downside was that I was given a clean plate and a spoon with which I was supposed to spoon the Balti out of it’s dish and onto my plate – surely this misses the point of ‘the Balti’?! I discarded the plate, not wanting to deny myself the primal pleasure of eating straight out of the cooking dish.
The Naan – This was better than Punjab Paradise, but still not great. It was well cooked, fluffy, and with a hint of cardamon, but it still had the giveaway smell and flavour of a chemically leavened bread – Mossiwar Hussain the owner confirmed they use self raising flour along with milk, eggs, and water. I’m starting to wonder whether I’ll find a decent yeast-leavened naan bread at all on this quest.
Overall I was mightily impressed with my experience at Grameen Khana, I can see why it’s had a high profile in it’s relatively short lifetime. It’s certainly not what we’ve come to expect from a Balti house, but for me it forces us to ask some deeper questions about the Balti. I can see why it’s not on Andy Munro’s list of ‘authentic Balti’s’ as it bore very little resemblance to the Balti that Punjab Paradise served up, and they’ve been at it since the 80′s at least. Can we even call this dish a Balti? Is it a different dish altogether, or is it simply a natural evolution of the Balti that has had to catch up with modern palates? After all the traditional Balti was once an ‘exotic’ dish, but now us brits know our cumin from our coriander, perhaps this daring, adventurous Balti is the future? These questions, I fear, need more research. What a shame I’ll have to visit a few more restaurants just to check…