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Balti #1 – Punjab Paradise, 377 Ladypool Road

April 2, 2010

A huge responsibility was on the shoulders of the chefs and  staff in Punjab Paradise last night, not that they knew it as the cheery doorman (doorman?! amazing.) bounded up to us when we approached the door, and the slightly grumpy waiter barked us a welcome. I was looking at this place to provide the benchmark for my quest for the perfect Balti. It needed to give me something to compare all other Balti’s to.

The restaurant is actually lovely, the double height lobby with surrounding first floor gallery is very grand, we were ushered to our seats right away, and fresh popadoms were on our table before I’d even sat down, seriously. I ordered a vegetable Balti and a plain naan (as per rule #3), and it was about 7 minutes until it was out of the kitchen and on our table. This was fast food.

The Balti. Now this is what I was here for, an authentic Balti. It looked OK, honest, nothing fancy. Identifiable chunks of vegetable in a thick red-brown sauce with a garnish of fresh coriander, served in its traditional Balti bowl of course. It tasted good too, very flavourful but no single flavour shouting above another, a well balanced dish. The freshness of the tomato sauce hits the tastebuds first followed quickly by the depth of the spices – paprika’s definitely in there, cumin & coriander too, a well rounded garam masala mix for sure, and perfectly salted. There’s no discernible fresh chilli in the dish, but there’s definitely chilli in there, it hits you last and warms the back of your throat. This is perfect for me, I like heat, but not when it stops you tasting the other flavours. The token garnish of fresh coriander is not quite enough to balance the depth of the spices, I would have liked more. Carrying the sauce are a range of vegetables – carrots, peas, cauliflower, green pepper, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, and thin strips of aubergine (the star of the show!). Overall, a well balanced and pleasing Balti, a good honest square meal. Razi the Balti chef should be proud.

The naan. A big dissappointment. It was too thin and slightly over-done in the tandoor, making it more crispy than fluffy, and it had the giveaway alkali soda flavour of a bread made in a hurry with self raising flour. I asked the waiter to confirm this – he consulted the tandoor chef, and I was right. On the plus side it’s large for a ‘small’ naan, and brushed with a good amount of ghee.

Overall though this was a good start. The Balti was great, the restaurant was lovely, the waiter cheered up when I told him about ‘The Quest’. It’s quick though isn’t it? We arrived at 7.20pm and by 7.55pm we were scraping our bowls clean with the last scraps of naan. It felt a little too quick, but maybe that’s half the point…


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