The term ‘Indian food’ is one generalised and frequently shy of the mark, often taking in the cooking of Bangladesh and Pakistan, sometimes Nepal, less often Sri Lankan. India itself is a vast country of 29 states, 7 union territories, and 1.2 billion people (thank you, Google). Add the sub continent and you can make that almost 2 billion people – more than double of all of Europe. Yet we have come to accept a sweeping generalisation; a world where the only separation of madras and vindaloo is a tablespoon of chilli powder, the mark of a Balti is a unique serving wok, and where chicken tikka masala actually exists. I could go on, but I won’t, because I’ll combust and ruin my day. Needless to say I find the ignorance of it all baffling.
So, in many respects, Canal Square is doing the right thing in sticking to just one of those states. The food of the Punjab is driven by its position at the north of the country; protein and pulses from the farms, very little fish due to the distance from the coast. Spicing is bold, and dishes are often rich with ghee or butter. As it happens, it is one of my favourite regions of India. Fat and spice speak to me in a language that I understand.
The reason that I am here is for the launch of the new Maharajas tasting menu, seven courses dictated by the seasons. We start with fragrant onion bhaji’s, crisp and light, before moving on to aloo tikka. The potato cake is soft and boldly spiced with cumin and chilli, the whole thing draped in a chickpea masala sauce and the cool murmur of mint yogurt (we’ll gloss over the random addition of blueberries). What impresses me most is the depth of flavour in the sauce – they know how to make a masala here. We move on to chicken tikka, one marinated in mixed pickle so that there is heat and tang on the surface, the other a far more gentle offering that was fresh with herbs. I happen to prefer the more spicy of the two, though both are well executed, the meat timed so that it is only just cooked through.
Battered morsels of cod are a cheeky wink back at the UK. The batter is crisp and greaseless, the fish correctly flaking apart inside. Best on the
plate glass is the homemade chilli sauce that teases, rather than threatens the taste buds. Back to meat, we take a pork samosa with a tart apple chutney and a solitary lamb chop blasted in the tandoor – a cooking process that we have the Punjab to thank for. The chop would be one of the stars of the evening, a good piece of meat from a properly reared animal. The thick ribbon of fat is crisp, the marinade full of fiery funk. It is a delight.
Six courses in and we get curry. I bloody love curry. The lamb in this curry was good, the tomato sauce a lovely buttery thing thicker than Joey Essex. It made for enjoyable eating; uncomplicated and homely. A lot like Joey Essex, I suppose. The naan on the side was a fabulous thing of buttery niceness, which I dredge through the last of the sauce and stain my fingers with pride. I apologise for the photo’s – my camera was struggled with the glare from the glass it was served on.
I was pushed for time and missed out on the dessert, so I cannot comment on the final course. What I can say for sure is that the service was attentive and the drinks well sourced; the wine was carefully matched to each course and the beer I tried fresh and crisp. The competition for the higher-end of Indian restaurants in Birmingham is fierce, though the best dishes here stand up to anything in the city; so much so that I am going to stick my neck on line and say that when word gets about, Canal Square will competing with the big boys for your cash. And for anyone with an interest in how the food of the Punjab should taste, I recommend that you give it a try for yourself.
I was invited to try the Maharajas tasting menu at Canal Square by Delicious PR