Manchester is one very rainy city indeed, with one source claiming it rained 53% of the year*. I’m not a fan of wet grey skies and I’m always seeking a pick-me-up in the name of great food or a good book to counteract the creeping dullness of drizzly rain.
It just so happened to be raining when I visited Asha’s Manchester (quelle surprise), nestled on Peter Street. As I exited the taxi and eyeballed the spitting rain, I told myself that I needed this to be good, to lift the weariness of soul brought on by the dastardly rain.
The namesake of Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle, this swish, plush restaurant and bar is stunning and comforting in equal measure. Dropping off coats at the ground floor concierge was a nice touch. I have been here before (read about the launch evening here), and although the food on the night was impressive, I needed Asha’s to hit it out of the park. Because we’ve all enjoyed great launch night food, only for standards to slip post-launch when real service kicks in.
We were greeted by Sudheer who showed us upstairs to our booth. The vibe is relaxed luxe, with a palate of deep purples and sharp blacks. Both food and drink menus were great. From classic curries, tandoor dishes and biryanis to signature cocktails, port and an enviable wine list to boot, there is something to suit even the fussiest of diners.
We kicked off with cocktails – ladies who lunch shouldn’t have it any other way. I had the Bollini (Bollinger Special Cuvée, peach), which was deliciously sweet with the muddled fruit.
My dining partner had the Maharajah’s Mistress (rose jam, curry leaves infused arrack, rum, champagne). You know that Mary Poppins kid whose jaw drops open like a goldfish? That was me when this awe-inspiring cocktail was presented at our table with a flourish. It was huge, and the chunks of Turkish delight only heightened the wow factor.
We started on poppadums served with a rainbow of delicious chutneys, here are these beauties.
They were scrummy crisp shards with a hint of coriander seed, and my favourite chutney was the mint with a subtle chilli kick.
I was privileged to enjoy samples of various dishes, so for the sake of brevity, here they are:
- Aloo matar ki tikki (pan-fried potato cutlets stuffed with mashed green peas, served with tangy chickpeas). The spicy mash filling was very well seasoned, whilst the creaminess of the peas provided a soothing backdrop to the cumin.
- Mushroom kurkure (mushrooms stuffed with cheese, peppers, crushed black peppercorns, lightly battered). One of my favourite dishes; the meaty mushroom married well with the black peppercorns and the cheese stuffing was the genius finish.
- Tandoori broccoli (mildly spiced broccoli florets marinated in yoghurt, cheese and olive oil). A great way to get some greens down you. The broccoli still had bite, whilst the curd-like topping was an innovative dressing.
- Paneer ka soola (tandoori shashlik of cottage cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, pineapple flavoured with Bengal gram flour and carom seeds). Wait – pineapple and paneer? I would never have put the two together, but it actually works. All you catch is the tail end of the tropical pineapple, which is wondrous on the swallow.
- Murg malai kebab (chicken breast, marinated in creamy cheese and cashew nut paste, cardamom, home-made green apple chutney). Marinated meat was a melt in your mouth revelation; I could have happily eaten a plateful of this versatile starter and nothing else.
- Tandoori murg tikka (succulent corn-fed chicken, marinated overnight in yoghurt, ginger, garlic and spices). Spicier than the murg malai, this packed a punch and also had a meatier texture, hailing from the tandoor.
- Chilli garlic king prawns (king prawns marinated in garlic, chilli, curry leaves). One very visually attractive dish; I loved the charcoaled edges which seemed to heighten the paprika and green chilli flavours.
- Gosht sheekh kebab (traditional minced lamb kebabs seasoned with ginger, garlic, spices, fresh coriander). A very good kebab, which was pungent in it garlicky glory.
- Kodi curry (Hyderabadi chicken curry, yoghurt, coconut milk, crispy fried spinach). Subtly sweet, this curry is perfect for korma lovers (lovely, but I prefer my curries spicier).
- Duck vindaloo (cooked with baby potatoes in a spicy onion and tomato gravy spiked with vinegar). The addition of vinegar gives it a sour kick which makes you pause for a moment – before you shovel more curry into your mouth. One of the most moreish dishes on the table and one that you’ll have to be vigilant about, to fend off stray forks from fellow diners.
- Boatman prawn curry (ginger, spring onions, turmeric in a coconut gravy). Traditional flavours of tarka spices, with a gorgeously generous hit of mustard and coriander seeds.
- Paneer jalfrezi (ginger, spring onions, turmeric, coconut gravy). Creamy with the zing of fresh tomatoes and bite of spring onion, this is one vegetarian dish that is filling and wonderfully spicy.
- Hare baingan ka bartha (oven-roasted, mashed aubergines, ginger, garlic, green chillies, coriander). Think baba ganoush with an Eastern twist. Great as a dip and perfect for naan to be dunked into.
- Dakshin korma (sautéed vegetables, ginger, turmeric, coconut gravy). Generous sized vegetables that still retained bite.
The rice was great (how on earth do they get each grain individual from the other?) and the truffle naan a dream to eat.
A special mention goes to the dal makhani (black lentils slow-cooked overnight with tomatoes, cream, butter). Don’t be fooled by this unassuming dish; the creaminess with a hint of warming spices and tangy tomatoes is a dream to eat. If you go to Asha’s and order one dish – please, please let the dal makhani be one of them.
I love it in Asha’s. It’s that magical place which welcomes you into the fold, and where the outside rainy grey world is but a distant thought. The food is superb, the service sublime. For a sumptuous banquet fit for a Bollywood queen (or king) that doesn’t cost the earth, hop on over to Asha’s. Rain soaked sari reminiscent of Bollywood movie optional.
Star Rating 1-10 (1: “I’d rather eat my own shoe, I hated it that much” – 10: “I’d pillage for a meal here”.)
Value for money: 9
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Address: Asha’s Manchester, 47 Peter St, Manchester M2 3NG. Tel: 0161 832 5309
*Source acknowledged: theguardian.com/uk-news/the-northerner/2014/jan/30/how-often-does-it-rain-in-Manchester*