I started my last piece on Zindiya with the words ‘Chicken Tikka’. Well I would, wouldn’t I? I’m so bloody predictable at times. A fully committed carnivore whose eyes wonder to the grill section of the menu, even when, as the case is at Zindiya, the majority of the menu is vegetables and other lovely stuff that leave a far smaller, morally larger, footprint on the planet. Despite that bolshie, macho attitude I like to display I actually really love vegetarian food – about half the meals I cook at home are – and none appeals to this side of me more than Indian vegetarian cooking. I hardly touched meat in India because I never needed to. The ability to turn vegetables into a meal of their own is something that the Indians specialise in – they have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world.
I’m in Zindiya with someone who has never been here before, and when it comes to India, well, she’s been there, done that, bought the tea set. We never meant to order a (mostly) vegetarian meal, it just kind of happened. A lot like our relationship. I insist on some dishes because I know they will be good, she insists on okra because she is a sadist. The lady fingers are the first to arrive. They have crunch and are a million miles from the gloop that I associate them with. She did okay with this choice. She can stay another week.
What follows is a masterclass in vibrant and light Indian street food dishes. No one, and I mean no one, does this as well in Birmingham as the team here. The Aloo Tikki Chaat is a prime example of this, the potato cakes being delicately spiced, the surrounding chickpeas more aggressive in heat. It’s topped with soothing yogurt and the most vibrant of mint sauce. It sings. The green pucks that are the Hara Bhara Kebabs are new to me. The potato and spinach patties are denser than Aloo Tikki and need the mint sauce to revive them. No such problem with the kati roll filled with cubes of paneer and coarsely chopped raw vegetables. I’ve eaten this dish a lot because it’s wholesome and complete. It’s a meal in itself and a bargain to boot at £6.50.
Papri Chaat is my highlight of the night. Pops of crispy dough wafers nestle amongst chickpeas, potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, giving a perfect contrast of texture. The spicing is beautiful – all depth rather than heat – giving the dish a complex flavour that demands another mouthful. It’s absolute heaven in a dish, and a bargain at only £4. If you thought that paragraph was too good to be mine, it’s because it is – I’ve nicked it from my girlfriend’s blog because she says it better than I ever could. Take a look at http://www.noshandbreks.com and see how much better her pictures are of the meal. It’s not even funny how superior she is. Anyway, back on my (award winning, had you not heard) blog, I’m not crazy about the taco-like presentation of the dosa, but the flavour is there in spades. The potato filling is spiked with mustard seed and turmeric, all neatly folded into the rice batter pancake that probably doesn’t need to be so neat. The sambhar and coconut chutney it comes with could make anything taste better. Maybe even tofu. Those two dishes showcase what Zindiya does at it’s best; deft spicing and vibrant cooking that wont leave you sagging with a heavy tummy for the rest of your evening. The lightness of touch here is astounding considering the bold flavourings. We get Chicken Tikka because Claire has never tried it. It is still the best version of it’s kind I have ever tried.
There was a dessert, but I was too busy working through the cocktail list to tell you what it’s like. What I can say is that everything has improved since it opened. The service is sharper, the food on a constant incline. It is ready to be rolled out across the country and embraced by those far and wide. Tonight they served up the best vegetarian meal I’ve eaten in the city, despite not being a vegetarian restaurant. Just don’t forget the chicken tikka. See, I’ve gone there again. I’m so bloody predictable.