Jonathan Schofield experiences lovely lobster and a fine pudd
I reckon Indian food might be a bit out of fashion. Not in India and Pakistan, or among the communities from that background in the UK, of course, but it’s once-upon-time dominance of much of the UK dining out scene has poppadumed-off. Time was, everybody nipped out for a curry. Chicken vindaloos all round please, with a pint of Carling Black Label. But that seems more than a decade out of date. The cuisine is not currying as much favour.
If Wah ji Wah is to do well, that issue of consistency needs to be urgently addressed
I have had that ennui too. That weariness of the over-familiar. I remember once being in Naples on a holiday and having perfect pasta dishes in cute family run restaurants. After three days I was thinking, 'jeez, these pasta dishes are so perfect I'm getting sick of them, give me more choice, give me more joyous mish-mash of national cuisines.' British cities offer a nervous and bewildering variety of food styles. I like this, I like that my tastebuds have become tuppenny whores, going with anybody.
Thus, as the range of food on offer in the UK has expanded, Indian food has faded. A big problem is that many Indian restaurants have remained stuck in 1989, offering the same menus. They have became dull. Of course, more recent operators such as Asha's (my favourite), the Indian Tiffin Room (bit too kitsch decor-wise) and DIshoom (impressive but maybe too corporate and please stop explaining every bloody dish for 20 minutes) have upped the ante, but they are exceptions.
So could Wah ji Wah on King Street West relight my sub-continental foodie fire? Well, yes and no. The interior is well-designed, nicely lit, with good looking fixtures and fittings. The exterior is modest, but then it's under a multi-story car park. The menu reads well and the poppadum nibbles (£1.95) were entertaining - especially the yoghurt dip.
The starters of artichoke (£5.95) and scallops (£8.95) looked lovely. Unfortunately I simply didn't get any artichoke with the artichoke dish and it was dry as dust. The scallops were delicious, firm and rich with mustard and garlic. Top marks.
Mains offered a similar mix and unmatch experience. A tadka dal (£6.90) - lentils with lots of garlic, cumin and so on, lifted by coriander - was fair enough, a bit loose perhaps, a bit dull again.
The lobster pepper fry at £19.95 was a little piece of genius, the tail of the beast cooked in pepper masala sauce and loaded with curry leaves. It was the prince of the meal, it would have made doves cry. If it were to be 4p more expensive you could party like it's £19.99. The lemon rice (£3.50) was perfect, timed to the second.
I should have left it at that with the mains, but a couple of the days later I ventured back to Wah ji Wah and had a lamb shank (£15.95) and that needs some work. The flavours need sharpening more than anything else to bring out the best in the flesh.
Salvation came with the memory of the gajar ka halwa (£4.95) which was a superb pudding in consistency and flavour made from carrots and milk. Loved this one.
Service was good but then you'd expect that in a restaurant that was on both occasions fairly empty with the pressure off. On the second time the only other customer was a late middle-age Asian chap who was clearly from another restaurant and on a spying mission. He asked about every dish on the menu and what it might consist of. I wanted to shout, "Just bloody order, would you?"
Wah ji Wah means 'wow' apparently. The lobster and the pudding were that, but overall the experience was uneven. I can't say the restaurant has toppled Asha's from its top spot as my favourite Indian restaurant. I worry that it might not offer enough through its menu to prosper. More to the point, if it is to do well that issue of consistency needs to be urgently addressed.
Wah Ji Wah, 37 King Street West, Manchester, M3 2PW
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Nibbles 7, artichoke 5, scallops 7, dal 6.5, lobster 8, shank 5.5, pudding 7
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Calm and relaxing