Currying favour at Lasan
Lasan * * * *
3-4 Dakota Buildings, James Street, St Paul's Square, Birmingham.
Tel: 0121 212 3664
It is not often one feels a great deal of sympathy for chefs or waiters. Rather like police officers, they are appraised of the unsocial hours before they sign up for the job.
And like the boys, and girls, in blue, catering staff know they will have to deal with the most unstable and volatile life form in the universe: the British public.
Sadly, restaurant bosses, unlike the forces of law and order, are not, strictly speaking, meant to give miscreant customers a jolly good talking to, still less cuff them and chuck them in the back of a van, helped on their way with a shiny size 12 boot.
This seems to me to be a great pity, like the abolition of the stocks and the declining popularity of the chastity belt.
Because the fact is that some obnoxious diners deserve a clip round the ear for being, quite frankly, thick. And downright rude.
A case in point. We are sitting in Lasan, unquestionably the finest Indian restaurant I have tried so far in Birmingham. There may be a better one out there, but it will have to go some to beat our experience at a restaurant that is tucked away up a side street off St Paul's Square.
We were just tucking into our terrific starters, including a particularly moreish onion dhal bhajee, when Mr Meathead opened his mouth.
Mr Meathead was sitting next to a chap who had clearly been to Lasan before and was selecting dishes with an infectious enthusiasm. You could almost hear the saliva sloshing in his mouth.
Then the waiter arrived and Mr Meathead made his boorish play: "Could you knock me up something with chicken, and spinach ... Like a balti?"
Like a balti? Like a bloody balti. Please, someone, shoot him, now.
Lasan, if you haven't been - and if you haven't, go quickly -offers an outstanding selection of Indian food. There are unusual dishes with sea bream, halibut and sea bass, brilliantly spiced chicken and lamb, and vegetable curries that veer from the delicate to the wonderfully robust. The fluffy bread is just that, fluffy and yummy, not like the ironing boards I've chomped on in city curry establishments that should know better.
My point is that Mr Meathead, of Meat Avenue, Meatville, was spoilt for choice. So why make an arse of yourself, and your fellow diners, by asking for something that clearly isn't on the menu? The last time I checked it wasn't cool to be crass.
I don't know how the faultlessly helpful waiter dealt with the ordering impasse. I was seething so much I couldn't look. If I'd owned the place Mr Meathead would have been kicked out, banned, ASBO-ed.
Fortunately another Cobra beer arrived and my wife convinced me to holster the serving spoon I was gripping like a Smith and Wesson. "It's not good for you, darling, all this food rage."
After a few deep, yogic breaths, I helped to finish off the starters. Along with the bhajee, there was a kumbh palak tikki (a spinach, paneer and potato cake stuffed with spicy mushrooms) and a murgh malai tikka (char-roasted chicken breast tikka marinated with cheese and hung yoghurt). All brilliant, light and very tasty.
The theme continued with the main courses, which we just loved, laying them out in the middle of the table and plunging in en masse.
I kicked off with the Chennai sea bream puli kholambu, arguing that this looked the most tricky one to pull off and if it worked we were on to a winner.
The roasted fish, sitting atop a tower of tumeric potato and aubergine, was finished with a tomato and tamarind sauce. It was exquisite.
Now this may sound daft, but Lasan's methi murgh (chicken with fresh fenugreek), its soupy-thick rogan josh, and a knock-out spicy, fragrant chicken chattinad represent the most Indian Indian food I have eaten in Birmingham. This sort of cooking is unrecognisable from the oil-swamped, generic, Westernised slop banged out by too many places.
We managed to find room for a couple of chocolate mousses and were then hit by the evening's only blip: the tea and coffee. My espresso was foul, the tea was tainted. The culprit, I suspect, was the water heating system. Someone needs to invest in a top quality coffee machine because with food this good anything else is an insult.
The bill, for four, with a tip for the impeccable service, came in at £120. This included two beers, a white wine spritzer, a small brandy and a couple of soft drinks.
That works out at £30 a head, all in, which for this standard of cooking represents value for money. I have paid far more, and eaten rubbish, although not literally.
The conclusion is simple: if you like chicken and spinach baltis - and you are a git - don't go to Lasan.
If, however, you like your curries to be superbly spiced, and to look and taste different from each other, then head to the Dakota Buildings in James Street.