Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to review Asha’s in Manchester – a contemporary Indian restaurant in the centre of the city. Like most good Britons, I love a curry, and I also know pretty much what to expect from an Indian restaurant. I’m happy to report that Asha’s completely exceeded my expectations, and provided some delicious surprises along the way!
First impressions count, and Asha delivers from the moment you step in through the door. The restaurant features opulent interiors with gold lanterns, beaded wall hangings, plush sofa booths, tarnished mirrored walls and warm wooden floors. Lighting is low and cosy, with pretty ornate shadows thrown by the lampshades.
The next opportunity to be courted comes via the hugely impressive and thoughtful menu. The innovation starts as soon as the poppadoms and chutney is brought out – anyone can rattle off the usual list of much-loved chutneys offered by restaurants up and down the country, but Asha breaks with tradition by offering four fresh flavours, including tomato and chilli, green apple and blueberries, fresh pineapple, and mint and coriander relish. These were all light and zingy, the perfect start to the meal!
Even my husband (who I’ve mentioned before is notoriously picky) found an unlikely favourite from the selection, plumping for the sweet and delicate apple dip.
The staff were super attentive, friendly and informative, letting you know how long your meal will take and checking in with you about possible allergies. The waiters take pleasure in knowing the menu inside out, and when serving will tell you how the dish was cooked and how spicy it is (all dishes are available in varying degrees of spiciness if you tell your waiter what you like!). Now, as I’m often invited by the restaurants to do reviews to feature on my blog, you’d think I’d be continually buttered up by wait staff and managers – but in actual fact, it doesn’t usually happen! And, I was pleased to note that we weren’t being given special treatment at all – the tables around us were all given the same treatment, and it’s obviously something the restaurant prides itself on (and rightfully so).
For our starters, we went with the traditional chicken tikka, plus a slightly more unusual salmon tikka, both of which were served on a fresh garden salad garnished with cherry tomatoes, radish, silverskin onions and dressed with an olive oil and coriander sauce. The salmon was soft, tender and flaky, with a creamy texture, while the chicken was flavoursome and had more of the characteristic smoky tandoori crust.
I have to take a minute to talk about the drinks, too! The table water was scented with cucumber – although you could also request to have it served plain. From the huge and tempting cocktail menu, I picked Asha’s punch – served in a teapot packed with ice, with Bicardi Fuego, cognac, honey mead, cherry wine, osmanthus flower tea, citrus and house grenadine, finished with champagne, it was utterly delicious, and served in a lowball glass.
I loved the way you could pour this yourself from the teapot – such a cute idea!
My husband tried two of their non-alcoholic cocktails, the first one was strawberry passion crush – a sweet long drink over crushed ice, with lemon, lemonade and rose water. This was sooo dangerously drinkable, it’s a good job it didn’t have alcohol in it, or we both would have been smashed! The second drink, pictured above, was vanilla berry: a long drink of crushed raspberries and blackberries lengthened with cranberry and apple juice and dusted with a fairy sprinkle of homemade vanilla sugar. Another imaginative and delicious offering!
Then, it was time for the main courses! I love aubergines, so I had to try the hare baigan ka bartha: silky smooth aubergine, cooked with ginger, garlic and green chillies, then mashed with satisfyingly crunchy red onion, dried red chillies and fresh chopped coriander.
Then a potato dish, aloo masala: peeled waxy new potatoes in a rich, oily onion and tomato sauce, studded with spicy cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. I’m a huge fan of waxy solid potatoes that don’t break down in the cooking and muddle the sauce, and this was utterly delicious! When it comes to side dishes, I’d definitely say they’re best shared between one or two people – they’re dainty portions, which is great to allow you to try lots of different things!
We selected a chicken and a lamb dish for the main curries. Muscat gosht, on the left, was tender lamb in a rich, thick gingery gravy. It was very oily and favourful, and the sauce is super concentrated just the way I like it, spiced with black cardamom, black peppercorn and coriander seed.
Murg makhani, on the left, was slightly tart, sweet and creamy – a classic interpretation of the British favourite, butter chicken. You can’t go wrong with this one here, even if you think it might be a less exciting choice, because it has a vibrant, complex and bright taste. The butter is added three times during the cooking process, with adds a complex depth of flavour without overpowering the dish (I told you the waiters gave you loads of information about the dishes!).
We also had a selection of naan breads, including truffle, garlic and sundried tomato. They were slightly dense and doughy, cooked competently enough – but didn’t standout as much as I expected them to.
By the time it came to dessert, we were stuffed, but we HAD to try the blood orange and caramel kulfi – one of the most talked-about dishes on the menu! And it was beautiful – a caramel milk icecream topped with basil seeds, which were soaked beforehand and really had a delicious, basil-scented taste. On the side was a caramel-crusted segment of orange, along with fruit and spears of hard sugar caramel. It was utterly delightful and hugely enjoyable!
I can’t recommend Asha’s highly enough – it wasn’t just a great meal, but a fantastic experience as well. The décor, the staff, the menu, the food, the drinks – it all came together to make a fantastic evening. The chain has restaurants in Manchester, Birmingham, as well as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Check it out at the website, here. (Also, they do Christmas party menus as well – book in and you’ll be the office favourite, I guarantee it!)
My only complaint about Asha’s was the fact that they don’t have a branch down south yet. Please, open one in Hampshire as soon as possible!
My meal at Asha’s was complementary – the opinions were my own.