Posted by: seasin | August 5, 2009

Al Frash Curry House, Birmingham

I realised very quickly after publishing my previous post that I have completely forgotten to talk about the “curry” bit from the title. So here’s the curry part of our trip.

As you guys realised from said previous post, the Transilvanian, aka moi, must have done something very right lately and in a few previous lives, because I’ve been taken to England to be fed curry and watch my first ever live match of cricket (as played by real professional cricket players). Since I’ve already covered the game, let’s talk a bit about the curry.

Now, I’ve been told by well established autorithies in the curry world (meaning DB) that the coolest place on the planet to have curry is Ladypool Road, in Birmingham. And, since I know nothing about curry except it has on me the effect that several recreational drugs have on most people, I believed him. And then, because I’m me and I can’t possibly go anywhere without investigating in advance (which, by the way, I advise everyone to do), I furtively and very briefly read a few things about curry and Ladypool Road in advance and in the deepest darkest secret (DB hates it when I investigate places in advance, he thinks it ruins the surprises and kicks the hell out of spontaneity. Well, I’m all for surprises, as long as they’re nice, and I’m very spontaneous-I am. No, really, I AM. I’m spontaneously planning ahead most steps I’m going to take during a day 🙂 ) and I decided that, given it was the birthplace of Balti dishes and the home of all that’s British curry, DB might have been right and I was in for a treat 🙂

So on Saturday night, we made our way to Ladypool Road, DB hungry and me leaving behind a thick ribbon of drool. We got out of our cab at one end of the famous road, and we started making our way towards curry heaven. No, we didn’t look up restaurants in advance, and we didn’t book. That would ruin the surprise and kick the hell out of spontaneity, right? Well, in a way, it was right. Because even if we had booked, I don’t think things would have improved.

Let me explain. I went there, with minimal research and loads of overselling from DB (who was basing his selling pitch on his student years near Birmingham, when he was a regular of local curry houses-ahhhmmm…some…years ago-ages not to be disclosed on this blog 🙂 ) expecting to find something like a chinese quarter, with dozens if not hundreds of restaurants and a wonderful and painful choice dilemma. Well, this time, and this time only, DB oversold and Ladypool Road underdelivered. Because the number of curry houses we found on that street, was…maybe…5? With only two or so notable in any way. So, a little disappointed, we made our way towards the nicest looking, which turned out to be Al Frash-the Butterfly. A very narcissistic butterfly, if you ask me, because the windows and the entrance hall were all plastered in various awards and glowing reviews that the place received over the years. One thing you need to know (and I didn’t) about curry houses (or at least some of them) is that they don’t sell alcohol. Which explained the crowd of patrons waiting to be seated, all carrying what to me seemed indecent quantities of booze. DB explained a bit exhilarated that a. the restaurant is probably owned by Bangladeshis, who are muslim or something and therefore don’t want to have anything to do with selling alcohol-a noble thing, says me, but isn’t it a bit (read a lot) stupid that they refuse to sell it, yet they allow you to bring it in and drink it in their restaurant? If they want nothing to do with it, they shouldn’t allow it on the premises. You want booze with your food, it’s take away, baby. I don’t like hypocrits. And b. that it’s really cool that you’re allowed to bring in your own booze, because everyone knows drinks are really marked up sky high in restaurants so they’re really expensive, whereas if you go at the shop around the corner and buy your own, that’s cheap and you can drink much more. Yeah, I’m thinking, that’s exactly what this country needs, reasons, excuses and ingenious ways to drink more! There was a party of four waiting to be seated, and they brought 4 (FOUR) bottles of wine. That’s one bottle of wine per person. Whereas I don’t trust a person who can’t or won’t drink AT ALL(everything in moderation, baby!), I definitely will always have a great dislike of people who drink loads. I’m sure they don’t give a shit, though, about my oppinion of them, and that combined with the gallons of alcohol drunk every night all over the world and a few other, more minor bads, is what’s making this world go to hell slowly and drunkenly surely. But I digress.

The kind gentleman who was playing host informed us that since we don’t have a reservation, it’ll be half an hour wait. No problem, says me, it’s worth waiting 30 measly minutes for the greatest curry in the whole world. (it didn’t seem to matter if you had a reservation or not, because the foursome carrying the wine shop had a reservation and they were eventually seated after us). After less than 30 minutes and one bottle of Chilean wine richer (DB went and bought it from an “off-licence”, whatever that is, around the corner), we were taken to our table. And left there to peruse the menu. Which made my drool problem even worse. About ten or so minutes later, a bus-boy brought us some dips and two poppadums. Now, because I’m weird, although I adore curry, I absolutely hate poppadums. There’s something in the taste that makes me think that I’m chewing on very hard, old, very dirty socks. As it turned out, old socks can become very appetising when you’re hungry. We were left to wait more than half an hour with those poppadums, BEFORE we could even order. Once we ordered, we noticed that there were 4 very large parties seated around us, one of which had 24 (!!!) merry friends dining together. Well, they intended to dine, more like it, because there was no food in sight when we got there, and no food to be seen for a VERY long time after that-and they were all to be served BEFORE US. I lost track of time, thanks to that rather unremarkable chilean red, but it must have been approximately one hour before our starters showed up. So yeah, service was already not brilliant at all, and I was starting to miss Bulgaria and its waiters badly. I definitely missed them alot when my starter arrived, because it was not at all what I had ordered. But, since it had already been more than an hour, probably an hour and a half since we’d been seated and all we had to eat were old socks, I settled for it and ate it. It then took another hour and about 20 minutes until our main courses arrived. Yes, I think you know by now what happened. They got mine wrong. This time I stood my ground and said that’s not what I ordered, and the waiter had the nerve to ask me if I don’t want it regardless. No, I said, you already gave me something I didn’t want or ordered for my starter. Fix it. He came back only  a couple of minutes later, this time with the right thing.

By the time we’d eaten and were ready to leave, I had promised I’ll make an official apology to all people in the hospitality industry of Bulgaria. I now know that crap service can indeed happen even in the most unexpected places and it’s not an unique Bulgarian experience. So waiters of Bulgaria, I apologize. I still don’t like you, mind you! But I apologize for calling you names.

What we ate, you’re asking? Well, besides the dirty socks (which were moderately improved by a reddish dip chock full of coriander-I’d eat plywood if it had the right amount of coriander on it), DB had a tandoori fish starter, which was objectively very very nice-and impossible to get in Sofia. I had ordered the prawn pakora, and I got the paneer pakora. Which wasn’t unedible, it was just bland and not interesting at all. And NOT what I’d ordered. For mains, DB had the Garlic Chicken (nice again, but not hot at all-don’t think it was supposed to be, but anyway) and I had Mixed chicken and lamb balti-and I was glad that I insisted in getting the chicken AND lamb mix, because they initially brought me the chicken only balti, and the lamb was definitely the only part worth having of the dish. The garlic and coriander naans were to die for, but then again I love all restaurant naans because naans are right there on the list of my big failures-tried to make them twice and the results were…let’s not go there, shall we? I’m still happy from Sunday and I don’t want to lose that glow.

The bill was only about 50 pounds, which is not bad at all, but did I enjoy the evening? No. Was it all I was expecting it to be, the rock-my-world, happy to be alive experience? No. Did I like the food? Honestly, I can’t remember if it was better or worse than the one at the Sofia Taj. Mainly because I spent the whole evening desperately waiting for it. And muttering under my breath about both my courses coming out of the kitchen wrong. DB had the nerve to tell me that I should have pointed to the dishes I picked when I ordered them because, you know, between my bad english and the bad english of the waiter, that was the expected result. Well, my love, I DID point at them. And as a proof of it, when we went to pay and I saw our original order, it turned out that the bloke who took our order DID understand exactly what I wanted, because HE HAD WRITTEN IT DOWN on our paper. He even said ” it was him”, as in it was his fault that the kitchen issued me the wrong things. No apology or discount or anything of the sort, though.

As a conclusion, the curry might well be earth-shattering. I wouldn’t know. By the time the curry proper arrived, I was tired of waiting and not really hungry at all. Dirty socks and bland paneer pakora took care of hunger.

You decide if you want to give it a try.

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