Liverpudlians have their bowls of scouse, Manchester has its tarts and Eccles folk can proudly point out their cakes to visitors.
But Bolton has been lacking its own signature dish and that just isn’t right. Step forward the Bolti – a unique curry, devised and born in the heart of Bolton. I had to try it, so off to the Royal Balti House I went.
Bolton’s oldest Indian restaurant (it first opened its doors under another name back in 1969), the Royal Bolti House has gained a solid reputation for decent food, and picked up a handful of awards over the years. Inside, it’s a classic curry house – patterned wallpaper, fish tank and friendly waiters. One wall is completely taken up by an impressive array of news clippings – five-star reviews, celebrity diners (Paddy McGuinness is a big fan) and plenty of articles about the newly-created Bolti.
“We’ve run out of space,” manager Keith proudly tells me. “We’re now having to put the newer articles over the older ones.”
The Bolti officially launched at Bolton Food and Drink Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend, but it’s been on the menu for the past couple of weeks for regulars to try. It’s gone down a storm, selling out within hours.
When we arrive, my partner and I are quickly greeted and shown to our table, where a drinks order is taken and menus handed out. The menu at RBH is huge. Seriously massive. There’s everything from traditional curries, like buhna and rogan josh, to chef’s specials and even some noodle dishes. Obviously, I have only one thing on my mind, though – Bolti.
Our drinks arrive promptly with some poppadoms and a selection of dips, and we order our food. For me, it’s not an Indian meal unless there’s an onion bhaji, so that’s my starter sorted. My partner goes for the tandoori chicken chilli. Our mains order was easy: “Two Boltis, please.”
I plump for a meat-free option, which is packed full of vegetables and chickpeas. My partner opts for the ‘special Bolti’, which comes with a bit of everything – prawns, chicken, lamb and plenty of veg.
Like pretty much everything on the menu, the Bolti can be made to whatever heat level the diner fancies. Being a wimp, I go for mild/medium, but my spice-loving partner requests his hot.
Without too long a wait, two generous sized bhajis appear. They’d be perfect for sharing. Not that I did, mind. Thinly sliced onions, delicately spiced and deep fried until brown – it sounds simple, doesn’t it? But so often onion bhajis are doughy, floury or bland. Not these bad boys, though. Perfectly spiced, with a hint of something slightly sweet and a subtle nutty-flavour, they fall apart on the plate, but that doesn’t stop me from using my hands to cram as much in my mouth as I can before my partner gets a chance to ask for a bite.
My partner’s chilli chicken was also spot-on. Tender chicken with a real chilli kick. Usually, he likes to complain that everything is too mild, but this had him reaching for a glass of water. High praise indeed.
Starters demolished, the Boltis arrive with rice and a naan bread, and the smell is unbelievable. This is an astonishingly aromatic dish.
In the background, the curry is flavoured with traditional Balti spices. But the key ingredient – and what makes it unique to Bolton – is the addition of Lancashire Sauce (made a few miles away in Ramsbottom). RBH’s chefs have also added achari pickle, which gives the curry a wonderful tangy flavour. It’s unlike any curry I’ve ever had before and the addition of the Lancashire Sauce does an excellent job of enhancing the spices while the pickle adds a fresh, sharp taste.
Heat-wise, my dish was perfect, the right level of spice, yet still mild enough to notice all the other interesting flavours. My partner would have liked a little more spice (see what I mean?) but we both left clean plates.
The staff at RBH are faultless: friendly, knowledgeable and wizards in the kitchen. Nothing is too much bother for manager Keith, who is happy to chat away and explain the menu. He proudly tells us that around 90 per cent of his customers are regulars, and it’s easy to see why people keep coming back.
After our mains we’re far too full to even attempt a dessert, but Keith comes over with a Baileys (for me) and a brandy (for my partner).
While we’re sipping our drinks, Keith points out a large party, who are there celebrating an engagement. “I’ve served three generations of that family over the years,” he tells us. “At the end of the table, that’s the grandmother – we call her nanny. She came in here every week up until her husband died, now she comes in about once a month, with her family. We look forward to seeing her. We feel like her family. We treat her like family.”
And that’s the thing about Royal Balti House, you really do feel like you’re eating with family. It’s like going for a meal round your favourite uncle’s place, except your favourite uncle can’t knock up a curry like this. Not even close.