Few restaurants garner local adoration like Lasan. Since a young and ambitious Aktar Islam swept to glory on Ramsay’s F Word five years ago, we have seen his elaborate cooking style develop and timekeeping skills worsen over two series of Great British Menu, amongst many other cooking programmes. Lasan has become synonymous with transporting the curry away from the Balti Triangle and in to more refined parts of the city, taking with it a fresh approach to the cuisine, from improved ingredient quality to elegant presentation. Ask anyone local for a recommendation of where to eat and Lasan will inevitably come up, regardless whether or not they have actually been there. The city of Birmingham likes to claim the curry as our own; its only natural we want one of our local stars to sit amongst the higher echelons.
The cavernous space Lasan operates in is a muted wash of Farrow and Ball neutrals. The heavy wooden tables are bare, the chairs ornate and comfortable. Everything functions, though, in all honesty, it is a little tired looking. From our elevated seat on the balcony we agree that it is nothing that a lick of paint here and there wouldn’t solve. Pani puri arrives, the crisp spheres filled with vegetables and a piquant water. Its Indian street food spun through the fingers of a spice wizard; chilli heat, sweat and sour notes from tamarind, crunch and earthiness from the chickpeas and potato. It is about as good as one mouthful gets.
A tasting of quail showed Islam’s long term vision for Lasan is rooted firmly in fine dining territory. A marinated supreme which still retained its delicate meatiness was only overshadowed by a beautifully poised quail egg kofta . It was an ambitious plate worth commending with only a roast leg failing to delivery. The little amount of meat lost in the sweet molasses. Salmon Tikka was faultless, the fish more than standing up to the marinade of tomato and red pepper that grew and on the palate whilst being tempered by lime acidity.
A duck main had perfectly pink breast atop of braised cabbage and lentils. The meat was well timed, though it needed the killer south Indian style sauce to bring everything together. The coconut bringing a subtle sweetness against the bell peppers. Another sauce, this time a Rajastani style gravy, would fight for star billing on a lamb main that nod towards Lasan’s Achilles Heel. Whilst the aubergine and shoulder rilllette had more flavour levels than Tetris, the coriander crusted rack was undercooked. The meat, cooked sous-vide and then roasted, had spent too long in the water bath and not long enough in the oven, resulting in a rare rack with fat that had not rendered down. It highlighted that the modern cooking techniques had not been mastered as well as the primitive tandoor cooking in complete juxtaposition. Much safer ground was a chicken tikka masala, of course not referred to here by its common name. The large chunks of poultry were charred and flavoursome, the creamy sauce complex with a restrained hand on the heat.
Breads were predictably brilliant, as was a dhal which ranks as the best I have eaten. And then the price. With mains hovering around twenty quid, a share of the sides and bread that is insisted on as required (its not), a meal here can reach the same dizzying heights as its Michelin contemporaries. Is it value for money? I would say so. Its occasionally brilliant, consistently entertaining and infrequently frustrating, though never through lack of trying. A bit like the Aktar Islam I watched on telly. This is his show; a study of taking a cuisine that we expect to be rustic and refining it to something far more beautiful whilst still retaining the soul of the cooking. And a bit like the Aktar Islam I watched on telly, it’s a fascinating bit of viewing.