Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Curry Crew 22 - Sylhet - Ely

After a short break from The Cambridge Curry Crew events we decided to boot up and start again. Having nearly every Curry Crew meet up in the city of Cambridge I thought it would make a refreshing change to come to the city of Ely (where I now live) and see what it has to offer in terms of Indian cuisine. 

The Cambridge Curry Crew Facebook group has been getting very active lately with a lot of new members coming in. I have had quite a few suggestions from the group, Twitter, and on local sites recommending The Sylhet which seems to have a very popular reputation within the city. Run by a Mr Ahmed, a man clearly very passionate about his restaurant and the work he does here, its the attention to small details which clearly makes this restaurant what it is and gives it the reputation is clearly deserves from people in the city.

Located on the busy road of Market Street, next door to the Montaz Indian restaurant and The Hereward pub, the place is quite easy to miss, yet once inside you realise that is quite spacious and well equipped to take any number of people. The Sylhet is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and has been open for decades, so clearly they have been doing something right all this time, which has only made me want to visit it a lot more. 

We booked a table for 8 o clock, so we were all pretty hungry by the time we got in to the restaurant. We were warmly greeted and shown to our table. While walking through I notice that the place is divided up in to two parts. The bar, which comes across as a take away in its own right, then a room to the left which is the restaurant, this separates the two parts of the business nicely. I also noticed that they had the two kings of Indian beer on tap, Cobra and Kingfisher, which is great to see after my visit to Zahza the other week where it was all bottle only.

We were handed our menus while we chatted and settled. I ordered myself a Cobra beer and the gang ordered a large plate of papadums with their drinks. The drinks came out quickly and the papadums not too soon after that.

The papadums came with the four side sauces you would expect to see - Mango chutney, lime pickle, onion salad and yoghurt. Each one was presented in white china pots and were prepared very well. There were no complains from anyone here and though the portions were small, they gave out several portions for each side of the table so there was enough for everyone. The onion salad, mango chutney and lime pickle were all chopped very well with good texture. There was a few comments about the yoghurt being a little runny but I felt it was absolutely fine and tasted great.

The Menu:
Looking at the menu I noticed priced were about average here. Curries coming to around £7-8 each and to have the curry tikka'd came to approximately a pound more. Rice was averaging at about £3 each and the naans were around £2.50. 
All the classics were on there from the popular curries, to tandoori grill, to dansaks and biryanis. There were a decent selection of specials too, though nothing overly exotic or unusual on the menu. 
Nobody should leave feeling disappointed either way.

Once we were finished the staff took our plates away and Mr Ahmed came out and greeted us personally. He told us a lot about the restaurant, his cuisine and a lot about himself too. You can tell that he is a very friendly and proud man who puts customer service at the forefront of his business ethos, and we could see how well it works with a full restaurant around us that evening. He was kind enough to tell us about his family history, the history of the restaurant and how he came to be here which for me added a real personal level of trust which is so important when dining at a restaurant and this only makes me want to come back here again. 

Braille menu - Incredibly impressive! 

Disabled Access:
Mr Ahmed also showed off (and rightly so) the excellent disabled access he had in the restaurant. The front door doesn't even need a ramp for wheelchair users as it is level with the street, and though The Sylhet isn't the biggest of restaurants, it was still equipped with a disabled toilet. He even had a braille menu for the blind which really impressed a lot of us at the table. It seems the man who thought of everything here and goes back to my point earlier about his attention to detail which makes The Sylhet Indian restaurant so popular with the locals of Ely. A lot of places could learn a thing or two from The Sylhet and I highly recommend anyone who uses a wheelchair to come on down and visit. 

Disabled toilets with lots of space for access.

While we were taking our main order the staff brought out some complimentary starter platters for us. An incredibly pleasant and welcomed surprised which consisted of what I assume was potato bhaji, chicken tikka and fried aubergine. All garnished with a side salad. 
Surprisingly it was the aubergine which stole the show at the table being so crispy and full of flavour, yet still managed to be light on the belly. I think the oil they used to cook it was a very high quality and it seemed to be the conversation piece of the table. 

For me though, the potato was the best. Cutting through it you see the spices and flavour go right through the middle and the soft fluffy texture coupled with the crispy outer shell was a perfect balance. I have never had this dish before but I could tell that they absolutely nailed it. 

A complimentary starter platter. 

The Chilli challenge:
Mr Ahmed knows I enjoy spicy food so he took it upon himself to toy with me and bring out some Naga chillies and Scotch Bonnets presented on a cucumber for me to try. For those unfamiliar, they are two of the hottest chillies around so my good friend Caoimhin and I decided to give them a go being the hot heads we are! This was a bad idea in hindsight as I struggled to taste my main course afterwards but it was great fun! 

Nagas and Scotch Bonnets - Try and your peril! 

The chillies certainly lived up to their reputation and were incredibly hot! I managed to consume 4 naga chillies and a scotch bonnet before starting to feel an incredible burn in my mouth and a torrent of hiccups which lasted the ENTIRE NIGHT (much to my girlfriends amusement). 

The Mains:
Our main meals came out shortly after the chillies were eaten... and everything came out together! Which is something a lot of Indian restaurants still fail to grasp (Are you listening, Raja?).

The food was presented well and all looked very nice. Portions looked a good size and the texture of my onion rice was spot on. I wish I was able to comment on the spiciness of the lamb tikka vindaloo I ordered as my mouth was still burning from the naga chillies, but the texture of the lamb was decent, though a little dry, but the rich smokey flavour of the vindaloo was all there.

 Lamb tikka vindaloo and onion rice. 

There seemed to be no complaint from anyone at the table which was a positive sign. I was also shocked to hear how quiet it suddenly got after all the fun and laughing talking to Mr Ahmed and the chilli challenge. Everyone really seemed to enjoy their food and I had little complaints on my end either.    I tried some of my friends chickpeas which were some of the nicest I have ever had. I ended up bringing some of their left overs home to have with me the next day. 

Chickpeas curry! 

Once our meal had finished the staff started to clean up. We asked for the bill and they were presented with hot towels and chocolates (as you would expect). The hot towels were good quality and the chocolates were very nice too. Both were exactly what I needed after a massive meal and some spicy chillies! Phew! 

The bill came to roughly what was expected for a group our size and the staff let us pay in cash or cards respectively. Once we started to leave we were seen out by the waiters who all took the time to shake our hands and wave us out. We left feeling like the evening was a fantastic success and not a single bad word was breathed about the service at The Sylhet Indian restaurant so I conclude that this was a night of success for us and the restaurant. 

The Sylhet Indian restaurant has really impressed us tonight, me especially. They seem to do everything, and do it well. The staff are incredibly friendly, helpful and warm. They take the time to talk to you and nothing is too much trouble.  In fact, I don't think I have seen customer service on this level in my life and I wish to thank Mr Ahmed and the staff at the Sylhet Indian restaurant for showing us such a warm welcome. 

The food was all very good and for an average market price. I really cannot imagine anyone leaving the restaurant feeling disappointed and I highly recommend their cuisine to anyone inside or outside the area.  
Everything was presented well and there were no complains from the entire table. The service was fast, polite and efficient with no mistakes being made, which for a table our size can be quite common. 
The starter platters was delicious and showed us some new types of cuisine which broadened our horizons in Indian cooking. Not to mention the chilli challenge which certainly put me in my place and I would love to try again! 

The disabled facilities were some of the best I have ever seen and living proof that a small restaurant can cater for the disabled. Now I am aware of The Sylhets disabled facilities I look forward to coming back soon with my friend who just so happens to be a wheelchair user. 

Its good to know that there is a place in my city of Ely which can compete with some of the Cambridge giants. I look forward to seeing Mr Ahmed and the staff of The Sylhet Indian restaurant again very soon. 


For anyone thinking of looking up The Sylhet Indian restaurant (01353669669). They have a take away service too which is only £1 for delivery. 

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Indian Ocean - Histon

I got a surprise phone call from my son yesterday begging me to take him out for a curry. Wiping away a tear from my eye, I realised that my son was going to turn out to be a little curry fiend like his dad, naturally, I couldn't resist. 

What better way for a father and son to bond than going out for a good old fashioned curry?

Tonight we decided to hit a place which I haven't been too since before my son was even born. Yes, its been 5 years since my last visit to The Indian Ocean in Histon and its a place which I drive past nearly every day. The main reason for my late return is that it opens half hour later than its rivals (the Curry Palace in Cottenham and Bollywood Spice in Waterbeach) so when I have had the choice I haven't really been willing to wait.

From the outside the restaurant is easy to miss hidden behind the Tesco on the main road. It comes across as a very small and basic looking establishment which doesn't look very enticing. Upon entering I noticed the place has two double glazed doors which are quite close to each other which will no doubt make wheelchair access impossible...this was disappointing as I have a good friend who I like to dine with who just so happens to use a wheelchair. 

The staff were incredible warm and greeted us on entering. We were shown to our table and they placed napkins on our lap. The first thing I notice about The Indian Ocean is the white pillars located along the restaurant for that renaissance feel. I can see some people enjoying this touch and I can see others finding this a little tacky. 

Looking at the menu I noticed that the prices were very reasonable with a basic curry for only £6.25. 
Beer prices were quite respectable too, though we were limited to only Cobra beer on tap.
There was a small specials menu with nothing too experimental on there but it still had a good varied choice for the every day customer.  

We ordered some drinks and papadums while we studied the menu for our mains. Joanna and Jack had an orange and pineapple juice while I had a pint of Cobra beer. 

When they brought out the papadums they only came with three sides - mango chutney, onion salad and lime pickle. The portions were HUGE and were served in a convenient spinnable metal container which made sharing incredibly easy. The sauces taste great and went down well, though the lime pickle and onion salad were very poorly cut and quite chunky which made it hard to spread on the papadums. 

Lime pickle, mango chutney, onion salad with papadums. 

Once we were done the staff came over, cleaned up and took our order. We decided to go for a chicken tikka biryani, a chicken tikka vindaloo, onion rice, a side vegetable curry, saag aloo and a peshwari naan. 

The staff here were incredibly attentive and polite. They were friendly and very good with my son who was chatting their ear off the entire time. They even let him help with the clearing of the table which for some reason he found enjoyable. That being said, the place was very empty with only one other couple coming in to collect an order so we did get their entire attention, this might not be the case when it is busier. 

We were pleasantly surprised when our food came out. All our plates were laid out pre warmed and everything was presented extremely well in metal bowls. All portions looked very generous and the colour and texture of the food was very vivid and exciting. We all couldn't wait to get stuck in!

Chicken tikka vindaloo with onion rice.

Once I tucked in to my meal I was glad to see the vindaloo had that rich spicy taste i've come to expect, though I was disappointed to see that it was quite mild for a vindaloo. The chicken seemed to be tikka'd, and by tikka'd I mean it had holes in the chicken. I saw little sign of any the red colouring which was a bit disappointing. 

The onion rice was a generous portion though the texture was a little dry. It tasted fine once it soaked up the the curry sauce which was the important thing.

Joanna and Jack both devoured their dishes. Joanna particularly enjoyed her chicken tikka biryani which looked absolutely fantastic from across the table. In fact, her tikka'd chicken looked really well done compared to mine. 

Smiles all round!

The peshwari naan was very decent. It was a good size and it had a generous amount of the sweet peshwari inside. My only criticism would be that it came out a little oily which then got on to all our hands. This with a 5 year old was a bit of a disaster! 

The saag aloo was a generous portion (especially considering it was only a side portion for £3.50). It was large enough for all three of us to share with all our own dishes and it was prepared perfectly. The flavour, texture and colour of the dish was all absolutely spot on. Top marks here!

 Chocolate and a respectable bill. 

Once we were finished they were quick to clean up our table and ask us if we wanted a dessert menu. We politely declined and requested the bill which they handed to us with chocolates and a very basic wet wipe. I was a little underwhelmed by the wet wipes which were cheap, thin, and didn't stay hot for very long.  The chocolates tasted great and the staff were kind enough to load Jack up with a handful extra despite the terrible mess he had left for them to clean up. Thank you guys!

"Hot towels" (Wet wipes!)

The bill was very reasonable considering there were three of us dining. Granted, my son is only 5 but he eats as much as most adults I know, so it was still a pleasant surprise to see our total bill at exactly £40. 

The staff walked us out the restaurant and shook our hands upon leaving. I have really enjoyed their formal and polite service which is something I have come to love and respect about Indian restaurants, yet is something I do not always see so much now days. 

I look forward to visiting again soon, hopefully I wont wait another 5 years this time!

Conclusion:  The Indian Ocean provided a very friendly, professional and polite service tonight. The food is  good value and incredibly competitive though its probably not good enough to win any awards. The important thing to remember is all the food was prepared to a decent standard with generous portions, and with prices like a vindaloo for £6, what can you really complain about?

I assume The Indian Ocean serves the village of Histon very proudly and is popular with quite a few locals as the staff are incredibly approachable and friendly, though I cannot see myself recommending it to people from out of the area, especially since there is such stiff competition in the area. 

The problem for me being that the place lacks that extra mile which most places are willing to offer now days. The interior is basic with a limited menu, the papadums only come with three side sauces, they only have one beer on tap, and the "hot towels" were very poor. 

Sadly for people who are wheelchair bound the place is simply inaccessible all together. There is a double glazing frame along the bottom of the door which makes it almost impossible to get in, and even if you manage it there is an awkward two door system in the entrance which complicates things. There is also no disabled toilets, though someone in a smaller chair might be able to use their reasonably wide toilets (if they can get in the front door in the first place).  

A  friendly, good value, reliable, text-book Indian restaurant. Just don't expect all the bells and whistles of some of the other establishments in the area. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A quick curry at Zahza - Trumpington.

My pal and I went back to the Zahza Grill in Trumpington for a quick curry after being turned away at Vujon in Harston because they had no wheelchair access. 
Known as a bit of a cursed establishment, this place has changed hands more times than I can count. Either way, it got a decent enough review last time so we thought we would swing by and see if it has stayed consistent. 

We decided to come to Zahza not just because it was close to Vujon and we were very hungry, but also because it has decent (and free) parking. It is also located out of town so it was easy to enough to get there without the horrible ordeal of getting in to Cambridge traffic. 

The place didn't have disabled access as you can see from the photo. It has a few steps and an awkward double doors which makes access impossible. Luckily they had a side door we could use which only had one step so we made it work. 

We were pleased to see that the restaurant was very clean and modern. They have really improved the place since the dark times of the Spice Merchant. 

I apologize for the poor photos, I have already broken my new phone!

We ordered some papadums and sauces which were brought out quickly. We got the usual four sauces. Lime pickle, mango chutney, yoghurt and onion salad. Each one was to a good standard so we were both pleased.

We took a look at the menu, and like last time we were very impressed with the wide selection of curries, burgers, grill and other types of cuisine.  This is clearly Zahza's strong suit - choice. We went for a text book curry, which were all listed at the standard price of between £7-8. I went for the lamb tikka vindaloo and rice. My friend had the prawn bhuna and chips. 

Our food came out very quickly. A little too quickly. The vindaloo had chunks of garlic and some odd bits of...fruit?  I had to pick them out which was not too appealing. The lamb tasted fine though was a bit fatty. The vindaloo was very mild. I was incredibly disappointed. 

The rice was fine and quite a generous portion.

My friends bhuna went down well. He let me try a bit and I noticed that the sauce was quite good, though nothing phenomenal. The prawns were tiny and very crunchy, almost maggot size. The curry was mild, as it should be. I was not really impressed. I am aware this is more of a grill place (which is why I had the mixed grill special last time) but it really felt like no effort at all was put in this main course. 

When we asked for the bill they brought out some chocolate mints and a hot towel. I was really glad to see the proper hot towel rather than a wet wipe like a lot of places. 

The bill came to about expected and we were on our way.

Conclusion: We were not blown away by Zahza this time around. Granted, this is a grill establishment which clearly doesn't specialise in curries. That being said the curry was clearly rushed and not much care was put in to it. The meat quality was not as good as it should be for a place which clearly celebrates meat, which is something I noticed last time too.

The service was polite and fast, the restaurant was very modern and clean. We were happy to get the full after care too with the mints and proper hot towel. Prices were competitive too. 

I would not recommend this place for any wheel chair users as there is no disabled toilets, ramp or much space to move around. 

For curries - 5/10

For grill 7/10