Chai before you buy

A table full of happy.
A table full of happy.

Isn’t multiculturalism great? It’s the reason that we can have nice things like Mo Farah getting gold medals, Nadiya winning Bake Off and Idris Elba playing a Norse god.

Some people disagree of course (arseholes, mostly), but there’s at least one result of Britain’s melting pot of cultures that even the most rabid of xenophobic Daily Mail reading, UKIP voting ‘I’m not racist but…’ idiots can’t deny – a good curry.

It’s just objectively wonderful isn’t it? Unlike the traditional British Sunday Lunch which becomes a chore when the mercury rises above 10C, it’s equally satisfying at the height of summer or in the depths of winter.

Better than the nation’s favourite post-skinful snack, the doner kebab, as it’s just as enjoyable sober. A cut above weeknight stalwarts like spag bol or chilli con carne as it’s effortlessly adaptable for veggies and carnivores alike without being a depressing compromise.

I could genuinely eat curry every day, and in fact I pretty much did at Uni.

Unfortunately though, we all know the perils of having too much of a good thing – after years of bhunas and baltis, pathias and passandas, I’ve gotten a little jaded (and a bit fat).

And unfortunately the average British curry house menu changes about as regularly as Paul Weller’s hairstyle. The same lumbering old dinosaurs still dominate the menu – vindaloo (stunt curry for laddish dickheads to impress their mates with) tikka masala (curry for people who don’t really like curry), and, most heinous of all, chicken sodding korma (curry for people who don’t like themselves).

And don’t get me started on the rouched tablecloths and sitar muzak…

Legends of the phaal

Fortunately, if you’re lucky enough to live in the ‘Diff, you’re actually spoilt for choice when it comes to Indian food with a twist.

Chai Street in Canton is as good a place as any to start, with its constantly evolving streetfood inspired menu. Getting a table can be a bit of a challenge as it’s about the size of a postage stamp, and always rammed, but it’s well worth it. The Thali are crazy cheap considering the quality and quantity, and the atmosphere is buzzing.

Vegetarian Food Studio are worth a mention too; they catered a wedding I went to earlier this year, and although I have no clue what most of what I ate was, it was top notch. I almost forgot there was no meat involved.

Mint and Mustard
Mint and Mustard’s shiny new Penarth restaurant. Red carpet was just for me, obvs.

Fancy something a bit more, well, fancy? Purple Poppadom and Mint and Mustard have been locked in a culinary arms race for years in an effort to become Cardiff’s top high-end curry house, and you can’t go far wrong with either. M&M’s new Penarth restaurant and focus on lighter, fresher Keralan style dishes could finally open up some daylight between the two though, so it’s definitely one to watch.

And finally there’s the often overlooked and criminally underrated Moksh – the only place I’ve ever had candyfloss with curry (yes it does work, no I don’t understand how). While the big boys have been busy duking it out with one another, Stephen Gomes’ plucky Cardiff Bay underdog has been quietly blending Heston-esque mad science with rib-stickingly good Goan-style grub with awesome results. Go, you’ll like it.

There’s also a new(ish) kid in town that’s making a bit of a name for itself with tea cocktails and yet more streetfood-y offerings – Roath’s Chaiholics. And it just so happens I went there the other day…

Naan of the above

First of all, I feel I should make a public safety announcement – Chaiholics don’t do naans. At all.

Personally the idea of attempting a curry without a manhole-cover-sized flatbread to mop it up with fills me with a deep, nameless existential terror. Fortunately they do roti, so that was enough to stop me hurling myself on the floor and having the kind of tantrum a two-year-old would find demeaning.

And of course the good thing about going naan-less is that it leaves plenty of room for starters – in this case, Kerala Fried Chicken and Mangalore Fish Cakes.

Cakes? Made of fish? Madness. It’ll never catch on.
Fuck you, Colonel Sanders
Now that’s what I call a KFC. Up yours, Colonel Sanders…

Great in their own right, these also came with a secret weapon – a splash of sweet and sour tamarind sauce and a blob of tangy mango puree.

The chicken, coated in an intense lip-tingling spice rub, was easily the best thing I’ve ever eaten with the initials KFC. This might not sound like a high bar, but even the most determined of food snobs would be hard pressed to deny the joy of a boneless bucket while in the throes of a crippling hangover.

In comparison to the chicken, the fishcake packed more of a tickle than a punch with its mild coriander flavour, but a dunk in that mango puree powered it up like a post-mushroom Mario.

A sterling effort from the warm up acts, then. Time for the headliners.

Lamb to the slaughter

If you’re a carnivore and you eat at an Indian restaurant without having at least one lamb dish on the table, you are doing it dreadfully, woefully wrong. No other meat can go toe-to-toe with the wonderfully crazed levels of spice in South Asian food.

That’s why I went for Indian Railway Lamb Curry as a main. Almost as an afterthought, I also ordered the decidedly lamb-less Punjabi Mattar Paneer too (er, to share with @scruffyDuke, obviously. I’m not an animal). Not my usual bag, but we’d had chicken, fish and lamb so I thought we may as well complete the set.

Curry: looking deceptively unpleasant in pictures since 2600BC...
Curry: looking deceptively unpleasant in pictures since 2600BC…

And now I’m going to tell you a terrible dark secret, dear reader. This is not something I’d normally admit in polite society. Come closer, I need to whisper. No, closer. Look, I know I smell like curry, shut up. Ready?

I actually preferred the paneer to the lamb. The Railway Curry was perfectly decent- meaty and rich with a great slow building heat (although it was a wee bit thinner than I’d have liked), but the veggie option really impressed me.

I admit a paneer and pea curry (which involuntarily brings to mind Cheazy Peaz from the Fast Show) doesn’t sound like a show stopper, but I loved it. It’d be doing it a disservice to say it was mild (is there a more damning adjective?), but it was more tangy and rich than spicy, more warming than hot. Kind of understated, yet sexy – think Gillian Anderson circa 1996.

Tea Total

Pictured: Not booze
Pictured: Not booze

Chaiholics is known for its tea cocktails, but for reasons I’ll get into in a future blog, I’m off the booze this month. Luckily, thanks to their Clark Kent-esque alternate identity as a tea house during the daytime, Chaiholics offers some awesome alcohol-free drinks.

Their iced chai is fantastic – bit heavy with a main meal, but taste-wise it works perfectly with pretty much everything on the menu thanks to the cardamom-y hum of its spice mix.

Ditto for the house special iced tea, one sip of which will take you back to a half-remembered childhood pick’n’mix. It’s really, really good, and just like the mango puree with the starters it complements the spicier dishes well.

All of this makes Chaiholics the perfect antidote to the archetypal curry house; modern, understated decor, a drinks list that extends way beyond the usual trinity of near identical lagers and more than a few dishes you won’t find at your local takeaway. Of course you can go to there and play it safe – there’s a tikka and a korma on the menu if that’s more your speed. But go a little bit off-piste and you’ll find that Chaiholics is a cracking edition to Cardiff’s curry scene. Still miss the naans though…

Over to you – who are the kings and queens of Cardiff curry? Partial to Purple Poppadom or mad for Mint and Mustard? Let me know in the comments below or at @fuudblog on Twitter…

Movember Launch Party @ DEPOT – Friday 30 October

While you’re here, have a look at this awesome event at DEPOT that I’m organising with the National Centre for Mental Health and The Movember Foundation – it’s totally free and there’ll be fantastic streetfood from The Original Goodfillas, Gwynne’s Ice Cream and Drunken Sailor.


Book your free tickets now!

One comment

  1. Been to them all but for an experience, a special night and fantastic food it has to be moksh

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