Chicken Tikka. It’s really all I remember about the opening party at Zindiya. Being a very short walk from my house I decided to attend for an hour despite being in a haze of tonsillitis and antibiotics. I recall chatting to a nice man from a local newspaper when the food started coming out from the kitchen. We both agreed that it was the best chicken tikka we had ever eaten. Another man who has happened to win an award or two for street food came and joined us. He commented on just how much it tasted of chicken, a rarity in the age of tasteless barn reared poultry, we all agreed. Soon newspaper guy and I were raiding the kitchen pass directly, and I was being pushed out the door by my girlfriend with my coat pockets full of the stuff to eat at home. It was a good night.
I’ve waited two weeks for that bloody tikka, so apologies for my poor manners in ordering it before our drinks request was taken. It’s every bit as good as I remember; the marinade has broken down the proteins, the tandoor catching the edges so that they are charred and slightly bitter; the meat sweet and tender. They tasted even better with a lick of lemon juice and a dunk into the thick vivid green puree that is the mint sauce. You can stop at this point if you like, close down the window and go purely to eat this. That’s okay with me – I wouldn’t blame you. Or you can read the rest and see if anything else takes your fancy.
Zindiya isn’t the first of its kind to focus on ‘street food’ but it is easily Birmingham’s finest of this type. Obvious care has been taken with every detail to ensure this is the case. Beer is from Purity, wine from local merchants Connolly’s, and a stellar cocktail list curated by drinks legend Rob Wood. The interior is a flash of colour with wall murals depicting the food markets of India. The menu is mostly familiar and we order widely across it. Fish Amritsari are morsels of firm white fish (pollock, I think) in a batter vibrant with cumin and ginger. Chilli paneer see’s the pale cheese purely as a vessel for the pungent sauce – a good thing when the main ingredients best quality is it’s ability to take on other flavours. The Papri Chaat here is probably the best I have tried anywhere. Think of it as a wedge salad for the interesting. The dough wafers are intact so that they can lifted from bowl to mouth with minimum fuss – get them loaded with both sauces, the red onion, and plenty of herbs and wait for the magic to happen. It’s lighter and fresher than the Indian food we have come to know in this country, and is all the better for it.
Back to the tandoor we go for charred lamb chops, still wearing the thick marinade like a winter jacket. The meat is well judged to just beyond medium, the flavour good, if not perhaps the best example to be found in the city. Personally, I thought it could have been a little more bolder with the spicing. No such problems with the pani puri, which are as textbook as you like. The shells are properly assembled and hold their own when sunk into the murky tamarind water. Pani puri are the ultimate amouse bouche; a mouthful of everything that is good about Indian street food – how to take cheap staple carbohydrate’s like potato and chickpea and fuse them together with spices into something utterly bewildering. The last dish to arrive is the chicken dosa, taking a break from tradition with a presentation more akin to tacos. The filling is light and aromatic, with chunks of chicken in a coconut milk marinade that ties in nicely with a coarse chutney from the same fruit. Throw in a sambhar that contains all of the flavour of lentils without the chalkiness and what you have is one of the better ways to spend £6.50 in the city.
I was being treated to dinner by a friend with an expense account, so we get stuck in to the cocktail list. Put simply, it’s brilliant – an excursion through India’s different states, each pinned to the vast countries larder. The pick is the vodka with the lime pickle cordial, worthy of a trip to try on it’s own, with the bourbon and masala bitters a close second. Bravo, Mr Wood. Bravo. All of this combined makes for a rather wonderful experience. I’ve often bemoaned the quality of food in Moseley at all levels below Carters, but Zindiya now joins Cheval Blanc in places I can grab a good bite to eat without breaking the bank. This place is a class act in every respect.
A very nice man from Deliveroo paid for my dinner, so I’ll give them a little shout-out as thanks. Zindiya are not on Deliveroo yet, though when they are grab some chicken tikka from them here; http://www.deliveroo.co.uk