By Cheryl Simmons – Restaurant Critic
Cheryl Simmons in Cruise control as she samples the delights of one of the UK’s best Indian eateries.
WHAT do I have in common with Ed Sheehan, James Martin, Ronnie Wood and Hollywood A-lister, Tom Cruise?
We have all been blown away by the delicious culinary delights of Asha’s Restaurant in the heart of Birmingham.
Last summer, the Mission Impossible superstar grabbed media attention around the world for ordering a second portion of one of their signature dishes, the deliciously mouth-watering Chicken Tikka Masala .
This legendary eatery transports you across the Indian subcontinent with its spicy, aromattic , rich and diverse selection which attracts a loyal local following and diners from far and wide.
Asha’s provides an authentic taste of India’s North-West frontier in an area which is without doubt the spiritual home of Indian food in this country.
You can choose from a mouth-watering array of classic dishes as well as visionary, contemporary Indian cuisine.
So I was excited to see what all the fuss was about as I happily ventured out of London to Britain’s second city to take my place, with my partner, to a restaurant that has also welcomed through its doors, Peaky Blinders creator and writer Steven Knight, boxing legends Amir Khan, Kell Brook and Deontay Wilder.
Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, responsible for bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge loved it too.
The eclectic mix goes on and on with the likes of Sir Cliff Richard, Michael Bolton, Harry Redknapp, Peter Shilton, Jon Snow and Anil Kapoor gracing the establishment with its opulence for more than 15 years.
While salivating over the extensive illustrated menu book, we kicked off the evening in style with a cocktail each. I picked out a Dirty Lavender Gin, which is a mix of violet liqueur, fresh lime juice, Elderflour syrup and white grape juice, while my dining companion selected the King of Bollywood, consisting of Glenfiddich single malt whisky, Mandarine Napoleon, fresh kumquats, brown sugar and orange bitter….an absolute knockout.
Afterwards, we both reckoned my partner’s tipple might easily be re-named the King of Hollywood – and you’ll see why when you read on!
Playing it fairly straight for our appetisers, we opted for poppadums, samosas and dips which were wonderfully light, fresh and delicious to ease us into the main meal we were sure would follow.
It was a joy to find the vegetarian options were a long way from the usual offerings at many places I have been.
The front of house staff were exceptional, answering my endless barrage of questions and advising me on the less hot options my palate can bear.
But by now we were in Cruise control and there was no way my partner – or myself for that matter – was going to turn the evening into a Mission Impossible by missing out on the Chicken Tikka Masala with chunky tomatoes and onion gravy, which was cooked to perfection.
Like most people we have tried many, many versions of this Indian staple but this was an explosion of fresh, intense spices and melt-in-the-mouth chicken that is unrivalled.
In addition we added an onion laccha salad – delicious onion rings tossed with lemon juice, sprinkled with green coriander and red chilli powder – in addition to some saffron rice, dotted with green cardamon and bay leaves.
Accompaniments adorned the table including saffron rice, garlic naan, vegetable raita and a superb creamed spinach. It really was a feast of epic proportions.
But I couldn’t resist the appealing vegetarian options which appeared a long way from the usual offerings at many places I have been.
We decided to share the Methi Mushroom, with button mushrooms, fenugreek leaves with Tawa Masala – this famous Punjabi sauce was cooked to perfection with the combination of rich flavours creating a sumptuous gravy.
To say we were impressed is a massive understatement. Washing it down with a light and refreshing glass of Belvino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie from Italy proved a winning move.
In the heat of the moment – and relishing it – my partner, meanwhile, chose a Berri Estates Shiraz from Australia, a bold wine with hints of pepper sprinkled with blackberries, that he said paired beautifully with the main course.
We were pretty full by now but how could we not try a sweet treat.
The list of desserts was clearly tempting and I managed to find room for a beautiful Kulfi and their mango-Kesari Pista version was fabulous. The trio of torte was also a great choice and my partner gave his endorsement by demolishing it in record time.
Asha’s is the brainchild of Indian singer, film actor and entrepreneur Asha Bhosle and has won as many awards in the culinary field as she has received in her diverse fields of endeavour.
Although now the restaurant is in the capable hands of new owners, many of the recipes come courtesy of Asha herself and the menus reflect her own journey from a childhood spent on the road with her father’s travelling theatre to a lifetime criss-crossing the world as an international entertainer.
Her gastronomic odyssey is certainly well worth taking!
12-22 Newhall Street
Tel: 0121 200 2767