Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cocum - The best value South Indian cuisine in Cambridge.

Boy, it has been a long wait.

I have been dying to try the South Indian restaurant known as Cocum for many years now. I often  work across the road on Castle Street and have to stare at it all evening, calling me. Tonight, my long wait was finally over and I managed to see what all the fuss is about with the Curry Crew 19's visit to Cocum. 

Located next to the two juggernauts of Indian cuisine in Cambridge, both down Castle Street too (The Maharajah and Cafe Naz), Cocum offers something different with a selection of more traditional South Indian cuisine rather than the usual British Indian food you are probably used too in 95% of other Indian restaurants in the UK.

Upon entering we were warmly greeted by staff and seated at our table. The place looks small on the outside, and the inside is no exception. Though it can still sit a large party if need be. The places goes with the "green theme" of the outside of the restaurant with the decoration on the inside. The place is warm and cosy with no complains on the lay out or decoration of the place. 

Upon looking at the menu we noticed that things were more expensive than traditional British Indian restaurants, though certainly cheaper than its only other rival in South Indian cuisine, the Rice Boat. Things like the mix pickle platter which is usually served along side poppadoms came to £2.95, which is something often offered for free in other places. Poppadoms were 50p each on top of that. Ouch!

That being said, the selection was impressive with 5 different selections of pickles, fish, vegetables and yogurt. Each one incredibly delicious and well prepared and presented. I was quite disappointed with the size of the portions. Personally I didnt think it was enough for me alone, especially sharing it with 8 people. We ordered two plates and it still ran out too early. Considering we had spent £6, and that didnt even include the poppadoms, I was quite unfulfilled. 

When they took our orders we decided to try something different. A friend recommended the Masala Dosa, a flemented crepe of black grain lentils served with ginger flavoured potatoes and side sauces. The dish came to just under £6 and if anything was a fantastic novelty and incredibly fun to eat. The rich flavour, incredibly crackly texture with a creamy center really wow'ed everyone who tried a bit. The sauces were a nice touch though not really needed as there was so much flavour in the Dosa alone. 
I will certainly be having this again and a great dish to share with friends. It was big enough to have as a main course or starters. 

It took quite a while for our food to come out. We put this down to the restaurant being quite busy, which is always a good sign. Not to mention we were a reasonably large group. We ordered a fish Biriyani, which is traditionally served in my experience with a curry sauce. This one however, came with none and was just a rice dish. After seeing the look of disappointment on my friends face the waiter, obviously quite used to this from other customers, offered to give us a curry at no extra charge. 

Ah, thats better!

The fish in the Biriyani was incredibly dry, though the rice itself tasted fantastic and full of flavour I think if anyone orders this to make sure they order some sort of sauce with it or they will be left disappointed. 
Make sure you get the curry sauce with this dish as it is not included with the order. 

 Lamb Cheera Curry

I went for the Lamb Cheera Curry which was a sublime dish. The meat, something which I feel is often scrimped upon in a lot of restaurants because they think the sauce covers the taste and texture, was done to near perfection. The sauce was rich and full of flavour. It went down a treat and was the envy of the table. I couldnt recommend this enough, really!

The rice, which I am sad to say cost nearly £3, was of decent quality and of an average size. As you would expect for the price. 

The plain naan was a very generous size and cut up in to four slices. It made the perfect companion to the Cheera Curry and was one of the  better value dishes on the menu, though nothing you cannot order from any other Indian restaurant in town. I really enjoyed cleaning the sauce from my plate with them! 

We were given some mid ranged hot towels in microwave packaging rather than the hot wet wipes I am seeing more and more now days. They did the job fine, though Cocum doesn't really serve anything hot enough to warrant using a hot towel but they are always nice to have.

Once we had finished, the staff were still too busy to take our plates away. We even had to wave them down to ask for the bill. 
We got our bill and it came to a reasonable price, though again, more expensive than a regular Indian you are probably used too. Its worth noting that Cocum maybe more expensive than that the average "curry consumer" is used to, but it is also cheaper than its rival South Indian restuarant, The Rice Boat. So for what it does, it offers good value. Remember, this is different cuisine all together.

The service was friendly and of a respectable quality considering how busy it was. You can tell this place is very popular as it was packed. All the food tasted fantastic, if you ignore the fish being a little dry on the Biriyani, but I am just being picky here.
Its certainly a place which considers itself more of a delicacy rather than the usual spicy slop in a bucket we are all used too. I highly recommend it for anyone who is a little tired of Indian food and fancy trying something a little different. I especially recommend the Masala Dosa and Cheera Curry and Lamb.  The quality was probably a little shy of The Rice Boat though it is noticeably cheaper. A very good balance of quality, value and cuisine. 

Good work guys!

See you again soon!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Curry Palace - Cottenham

I had the pleasure of being treated to a meal out by my friend at Curry Palace in Cottenham the other night.

I have often felt that the north of Cambridge has struggled to compete with the east (Tamrind, Sitar), the south (Kaz's, Rang Mohol and Zara) and the west (Lalbagh, Montaz) for decent restaurants. Offering nothing other than a few basic or mediocre Indians in the neighouring villages, which do the job but offering nothing too different or inspiring.

That is, until now.
I have always had the Curry Palace pegged as a very decent place to eat but until the other night I had forgotten the kind of quality they provide here.

The restaurant is much bigger than it looks from the front and in the back it is able to seat any amount of people required. Once you walk in you are presented with an incredibly beautiful bar which has a lovely water feature backdrop, similar to the one in Lalbagh in Bourne. This is not only a gimmick though as the restaurant has this as a common feature throughout the restaurant.

It should be noted that the restaurant has appalling wheel chair access which let the experience down for us a little. My friend, who just so happened to be a wheel chair user, had a terrible time trying to get in to the restaurants back door as there is a massive step and two very close doors in the entrance which makes access very difficult.

Once we were in, the staff were overly apologetic and were keen to make it up to us. We were given the menu and we took our drink orders. While waiting for our drinks and poppadoms we took in the decoration and admired the art work on the walls. The place looks great with the numerous water features which are bound to be the main focus of discussion, but they also had some beautiful canvas art on the walls too. 

Once our poppadoms arrived we decided to get stuck in. We were presented with four sides. Red onion chutney, mango chutney, onion salad and lime pickle, all in a large metal container which gave us excellent portion sizes.
Each one of them was more delicious than the last. I really couldnt get over how nice the lime pickle was in particular. The onion salad was perfectly chopped and the mango chutney was incredibly sweet, smooth and full of flavour. I asked the gentleman serving us about the sauces and he told us that they get theirs from an Indian wholesaler in London, where as many of the others get their from the Cash n Carry in Cambridge. Whether this is true or not, I dont know, who knows. What I do know is that they were the most delicious side sauces with poppadoms I have had in a long time.
The poppadoms were of a good size and average thickness too.
Bravo guys!

Once we had finished we took our orders. My friend went for a prawn korma and rice. I decided to go for a Curry Palace special called the Bengal flame, a lamb masala dish with rice. We decided to order some peshwari naan for good measure.  Looking at the menu prices were about standard for most Indian restaurants in the city, so was quite happy with that.

 Prawn Korma and rice.
Lamb bengal flame with rice.

The food didnt take long to come out and when it did it was well presented. My Bengal flame looked very similar to a jalfrezi in colour and texture, though it lacked some sauce which made it quite dry with the rice, but the lamb was very tender and had a very nice kick to it. I recommend eating this with bread next time rather than with rice as the meal was a little dry.

The rice was incredibly fluffy and done to perfection. No complains all round. The portion was respectable and didnt break the bank either.

My friends prawn korma was very well done. It certainly went down a treat and hardly anything was left on the plate. My friend said it was very good and had no complaints. I tried a bit of the sauce, and though I am not a huge korma fan, it did taste very good. Not too sweet either which is something I find in some places.

The peshwari naan was absolutely stuffed. I was so pleased with the size, texture and flavour. Once I tore open the bread there was so much of the sweet peshwari inside that it nearly came to the edges. 

I was very pleased to see that we were presented with traditional hot towels rather than those cheap microwaved ones you are usually palmed off with which are just warmed up wet wipes. Just what you needed after an incredibly spicy Bengal Flame!

Our bill came to roughly what we expected, no nasty surprises here. The waiter was very chatty and really made us feel welcome. The place has lots of open space, lots of beautiful art work and water feature decoration throughout. I really love this restaurant, especially the marvelous sides portions which came with the poppadoms.

The Curry Palace has won me over completely and utterly, and has won the crown for best Indian north of Cambridge. 

Keep up the good work!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

As I was going to St Ives (Part 1)...Montaz

As you may or may not know, I recently moved to the fine city of Ely. Naturally one of the first things I did was go around and sample all the Indian restaurants to see what the city had to offer. The conclusion I came too was that Montaz was the best all round Indian restaurant for dining in.

While doing some research on Montaz online I noticed that it has many sister restaurants located all around the orbital area of Cambridge.

As you can see by the website, they are located in St Ives, Brampton, Newmarket, Bourne, as well as Ely. So I took it on myself as a bit of a challenge to try them all. 

Over the past few months I have been in the St Ives area visiting family or my girlfriend, who all live in the area. This for me was the perfect opportunity to check out one of the Montaz restaurants and see if the chain had a consistent quality.

One I had found the place, located in St Ives town center, the first thing you notice is how different it looks compared to the Montaz of Ely.
Where the Ely restaurant was in an old Tudor house with wooden beams across the interior ceiling and with a very traditional Indian feel too in presentation, the Montaz St Ives comes across as very sleek, modern and very warm, inside and out. So in a way polar opposites.

I think I preferred the style of Montaz St Ives to the one in Ely, St Ives has a very warm feel to it with low lighting and orange and brown walls. I like the style and feels good being in there and the places comes across as very clean and new. The one in Ely is quite cramped, old and the English Tudor house just seems to clash with the exotic theme of Indian restaurants. Thats just me though, it might not bother most people. 

We were seen quite quickly once we arrived. The staff were very friendly and welcoming. We were given a table right near the window which was great for people watching. Upon looking at the menu the place seemed to be roughly average prices, probably a bit more expensive than normal. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the prawns were only approximately £4.25, which was a nice change from the £9 I experienced at The Rice Boat the other week. 

They had a selection of Cobra and Kingfisher beer on tap, which is good enough. 

There was a modest selection of food on the menu, nothing which would blow you away like at Lalbagh in Bourne, but the basics. They seem to do a lot of fish on their specials menu, which was a little out my price range to try tonight. 

I ended up going for the boring old curry, though I decided to go for the tandoori prawns too. I had the chicken tikka vindaloo with rice. My father went for the Biriyani. We also went for poppadoms (as you do) and some naan bread. 

The poppadoms: 

We were presented with some poppadoms. They were of average texture, but that wasnt where Montaz excelled. Their yoghurt was incredibly thick and full of flavour. It was served in a white china jug so the quantity was decent too. 

The Onion salad tasted nice, though nothing amazing. The mango chutney and lime pickle looked home made and were fantastic. I tend to find a lot of the chutney and lime pickle are the same most places you go, but it seems like the Montaz chain makes their own or gets it from a different supplier. Its worth a look for anyone who loves their poppadoms like I do!

The Prawns: 

The service was fast and effective. They were out within about 20 minutes. The first to come out were the prawns. Though I was pleased to see that they were under half the price that they were at The Rice Boat, we only received 2 very large ones, rather than 6 large ones. The Rice Boat was easily the better value for money here as they also tasted nicer than they did at Montaz. Thats not taking anything away from Montaz here, they were very nice too and went down lovely, there is no shame coming second to The Rice Boat.
I would recommend them to anyone. They were also presented with a nice salad too.

The Main Course:

Once our meal came out it was presented on a hot metal tray. All the food was well presented, especially my fathers Biriyani. I got a decent portion of rice and my vindaloo looked sublime. I really couldnt wait to get stuck in!

 My chicken tikka vindaloo didnt taste right. It had a very huge taste of tomato in the dish. It was very hot which was great, though hot in a different way, it almost felt like it was made spicy with hot sauce or some sort of chemical. It was not very appealing. In fact it was the first curry I havent finished in a long time. 
In their defence, the chicken was beautiful, its was succulent and had good flavour, its just a shame it was soaked in a horrible sauce. 

 The Keema Naan is always a treat, something my dad always liked to order when eating out at an Indian. I am more of a Peshwari Naan guy myself. That being said, compared to others I have had I did feel the meat stuffing inside was stingy, The bread itself was of good size and tasted great though. 


My dad was not too keen on his biriyani. He didnt like the texture and the flavour. Being his usual dish I tend to agree that he knows what he is talking about so I felt his word was enough to put in this review. The dish was very well presented if thats any consolation. 

The hot towels were provided, which was defiantly needed after that hot vindaloo!

Overall I was disappointed with the Montaz. For a place which blew me away in its sister restaurant in Ely, this place just lacked the quality of the food. The service and style of the place was great but without a decent meal, what is the point? 
I like to think that the place was just having a bad day, but sadly I have too many other places to try to go back and try again any time soon. I would love to hear feedback from anyone else who has been before or goes again soon.