Glamorous smokescreen at Lazeez
Mar 28 2007 By Alison Davison
Lazeez Signature * * *
The Mailbox, Birmingham, 0121 643 7979
Just when you think you've got all Birmingham's new Indian restaurants safely done and dusted, the old ones start reinventing themselves.
To be fair, Café Lazeez morphed into Lazeez Signature ages ago but it's hidden-away corner of the Mailbox is too easy to overlook so it was only recently that I managed a revisit.
I hadn't been since it first opened in all its retro 60s glory when it was all a little self-consciously trendy. Turning up early on a Wednesday evening, I hadn't expected a great deal to have changed but it has.
The layout is the same but it's all got a little more spangly, a little more glam and a lot less hard-edged.
It's as much a place to drink as eat but crystal-beaded curtains now separate much of the dining area from the bar, helping to break up the space and create a more intimate feel, although they don't keep the smoke away. And there were a lot of smokers.
Young lovelies of a positively Benetton range of nationalities prowl around attending to the customers, of whom there were surprisingly many for midweek Brum. They may not all be that good at English but it all adds to the nightclubby feel.
The menu here used to be divided into traditional and "evolved". It's now traditional and "signature" but the idea's the same. You can play safe with your lamb rogan josh or biryani or go for something a little more adventurous like cumin-crusted seabass or coriander lamb chops.
There's some interesting stuff here; with some dishes even on the "traditional" list breaking away from the curry-house norm – such as garlic lobster and yogurt monkfish.
Mandy and I decided we should try out the signature collection for our main courses – there was a marinated duck breast she fancied while I had my eye on paneer-stuffed aubergine, as you do.
It meant my starter choice was reduced to onion bhajee or vegetable samosa as the only other veggie options were also paneer-based. The samosas (£3.95) won the day.
These were fine; the pastry just a tad on the hard side if we're being perfectionist, and with a simple filling of pea and potato, prickly with chilli heat. Some extra spices may have added more interesting layers of taste but they were satisfying enough.
Mandy had requested chicken tikka dosa.(£4.95). There was a confusing – and decidedly odd – message from the waitress at this point to the effect that they had no dosas but would provide something similar.
What arrived was a hefty rolled pancake packed with nicely-spiced chicken pieces and coconut sauce. All very tasty but too much for a starter so she ended up picking out the chicken and leaving a lot of the pancake.
You can splash out on starters here if you're of a mind. There's a "sizzler" plate for two at £14.95 which offers chicken tikka, lamb sheek gilafi, sarson tandoori salmon and tandoori prawns. Or there's sesame prawns at £6.95 and tandoori lamb chops at £6.25.
It made our main courses of aubergine (£10.95) and duck (£14.95) look rather frugal, especially as we were assured they needed no rice or other accompaniment to bump up the bill.
The aubergine was an interesting dish, with two baby aubergines rolled around a mix of paneer and mushrooms to look like two sausages. They were a curious flavour too – quite clean and almost sour but pretty good nevertheless.
I'd been told it came with a large plate of veg and so it did. The oversized white platter came artistically presented with an array of sugar snaps and broccoli but these were anaemic and chewy. It seemed a silly way to let down the dish; surely fresh veg aren't too much to ask?
There was a similar problem with the marinated duck breast. Again, it was all very careful on the presentation with a dainty circle of meat, a neat timbale of cumin potato hash, lots of shredded veg and a tasty apricot and ginger chutney.
And yet the meat was much colder than the veg, she said, which raised the suspicion of reheated meat added to fresh veg. The meat looked overcooked too and was a little chewy, which didn't help.
None of it was bad but there was no escaping the feeling that it should have been a whole lot better with just a bit more care and attention to detail.
We looked at the dessert list but there was nothing to inspire – in fact, with one dish (rasmalai) described as cheese dumplings shallow-fried and soaked in sweet condensed milk, we were actually put off.
Time to head for the hills.
The bill came to £50.82 with a couple of Cobra beers each and a ten per cent service charge. It seemed pricey for just- OK food which promised more than it delivered, albeit in a glam environment.