Review: Asha’s, Manchester
It’s been a funny old week at Northern Soul Towers.
From the glass half-full optimism of leaving work on Tuesday evening to the glass-empty depression of Wednesday morning, it’s been a week of lurching emotions, topped off by the full realisation of the horror of President Elect Trump. By Thursday, the gloom had lifted a little when Helen (Northern Soul’s esteemed Editor-in-Chief) and I decided that, in the words of Cornershop’s 1997 hit, what we needed was a ‘Brimful of Asha’.
If you were giving it some welly on the dancefloor in the late 90s, you may not be aware that this hit refers to the Bollywood legendary singer, Asha Bhosle. Now in her 80s, this astonishing woman has been officially acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist in music history, not least because of her prowess as a ‘playback singer’ – someone whose singing is pre-recorded for use in movies.
In addition to her singing career, Asha has opened a number of restaurants from Dubai to Birmingham, serving Indian food based on her own recipes. When Northern Soul attended the opening of her new outlet on Manchester’s Peter Street a year ago, we were impressed by its ‘culinary and cultural expertise’.
A year on, and this is where Helen and I took ourselves to forget the blonde, comb-over pall hanging over the world.
We were greeted by Iain Cartwright, general manager, with an open charm and a couple of Raj staples, the gin and the tonic. We chatted for a bit with the inevitable snipe at Trump until we were shown to our table in the sumptuous purple and deep brown interior of the eating room. The head chef, Ashwani Rangta, expertly took us through the menu with a warm and welcoming hospitality. He offered to select a selection of starters and mains that would give a fair sample of dishes that makes Asha’s a cut above the average fare. We readily accepted.
While we scooped up the homemade coriander, tomato, green apple and pineapple chutneys with light, crisp papadums, Ashwani met us with a platter of Scottish salmon tandoori, venison samosa (the stand-out starter), duck seekh kebab and barrah kebab (lamb chops). It’s clear that Asha’s is aiming higher than the ordinary British palate. By that I mean the (fairly) undiscerning palate that propelled tandoori chicken masala to the top position when it comes to the nation’s favourite dish.
Full to bursting before we’d really even begun, we asked for an extra ten minutes to digest before launching into the next course. When the next selection of dishes arrived, our tastebuds went into overdrive.
Ashwani left our table replete with a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Gosht vindaloo, sarson machli and kodi curry jostled with paneer jalfrezi, daal and a mouth-watering selection of breads, including an innovative cream cheese naan and, oh my lord, truffle oil naan. My god, that truffle naan. Truly the food of the gods.
Helen and I agreed that we’d never had an Indian meal quite as sumptuous or exotic. Full and happy as we were, Ashawni announced that some special deserts were on the way. And so followed a rasmalai with pecan praline and summer berries as well as a ‘I’ll fight you for it’ blood orange and caramel kulfi and a ginger crème brûlée. All as rich, sweet and creamy as the next, though the kulfi will always have a special place in my heart.
At one o’clock I had tripped into Asha’s with with a spring in my step. I waddled out three hours later. With Trump all but forgotten, I bid Helen a fond farewell with Asha’s words echoing in my ears: “Dinning on delicious food in the company of good friends is the best recipe for happiness.”
For more information about Asha’s, click here.
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Supported by funding from @HeritageFundUK, Betty’s Back! will explore James’s life and works in the context of the 1920s, when the portrait was painted, and will also reveal artwork by Betty Durden Green for the first time.