Asha’s: still dishing up variety ten years on

That race to the bottom that has blighted so many Birmingham curry houses is a depressing sight.

In the battle to undercut competitors, restaurants have skimped on the quality of ingredients and processes.
The end result is usually a culinary experience about as satisfying as assaulting your taste buds with a rusty blowtorch and easing the pain with a squirt of tomato ketchup.
A limited number of base sauces are created and pimped up with extra stuff to give the appearance of variety and choice, but the truth is that the dishes are virtually indistinguishable.

Hats off, then, to Asha’s, now a decade old in Birmingham, which continues to show real craft and care in its cooking so that dishes are distinct and thoroughly beguiling.

The decor

Located on the ground-floor of a characterless office block in the business district, the restaurant is anything but bland.
There’s a sense of the exotic about the warmly-coloured and luxuriously fitted-out interior, with plenty of Indian artefacts and paintings.
Tables are huge and nicely set.
There are plenty of tables set apart from the rest, creating a sense of privacy.
If I have a moan – and I usually have – its’s that the lighting is a little too subdued. But maybe that’s more to do with my failing eyesight and general decrepitude.

The service

There’s a small army of staff who are efficient, informed, friendly and absolutely charming.
Orders were taken swiftly, dishes brought to table freshly-prepared and empty plates taken away promptly.
Waiters ensured they checked things were fine without ever becoming pests.

The food and drink

Though it could never be said that I’m averse to eating the flesh of even the tiniest and cutest animals, nevertheless I frequently stray towards the vegetarian section of the menu at good-quality curry houses.

Thus after a starter of nicely crisp popadoms with four excellent relishes, I shared three meatless main courses with she who sat hungrily opposite.
Throughout all, there were nuanced and layered flavours of sweet and feisty spices.

Best, I think, was hare baingan ka bartha – a gorgeously textured and coloured dish of roasted and mashed aubergine enlivened with ginger, garlic, green chilli and fresh coriander.
There was almost a smokey background note amid the deftly-balanced spices.
Amritari chole was an altogether more tangy thing – soft chickpeas and new potatoes in a sauce with pronounced (but restrained) sharpness.

Khadhai paneer featured chunks of cheese made in Asha’s own kitchen that were pleasing of texture and soothing of flavour in a spiced sauce sweet with tomato and onions.
A roomali roti – a duvet-sized piece of thin bread – was an ideal tool with which to eat all three dishes.
My dinner concluded with a rasmalai – that milk-based dessert that’s so effective in neutralising the spices that have gone before.

Scattered with pistachio nuts, the milk solids wallowed in a rich liquid that put me in mind of the sauce in tins of Ambrosia creamed rice. And I mean that in a good way.

Need to know

It’s not cheap: expect to pay £35 a head.
But there are great lunch and set menu deals.
It’s child-friendly and accessible for the disabled.
There’s P&D parking nearby.

12-22 Newhall St, Birmingham B3 3LX. 0121 200 2767.

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