Indus isn’t marked properly, so much so that I ask the hotel reception at Park Regis where to find it. They point me to a spot overlooking the bar that looks like a breakfast buffet; dark blue banquet seating and net curtains to protect some of the modesty from the drinkers in the bar. They move to me my table, not far from the kitchen, but far enough from the only other two dinners in the restaurant. Near me is a table of hot plates and holders, laid out in linear fashion, school canteen style. Indus doesn’t just look like a breakfast buffet; it is the breakfast buffet. They don’t even try to hide it.
Now this is fine given it’s a good use of space, but the restaurant is at a price point that suggests it takes your dinner very seriously. Two starters, a curry, bread, chips, and house bottle of wine starts off at £84 until I question the £8 charge for two poppadom’s and chutneys which they remove. Even then, £76 isn’t great value for a meal that rarely achieves more than mediocrity. The house wine is excellent value at £22, the rest of it less so.
Now back to the food. The poppadom’s take an age to arrive – so much so that I wonder if they’d come with tomorrow mornings bacon sarnie had I not mentioned them – though they are good and the chutneys high quality and likely made inhouse. A seek kebab is a tasty thing, punchy with garam masala, but the ridiculous presentation of kid-friendly coloured blobs and smears add little. The salad of peppers, beets, and onion tastes like it was prepared days ago, whilst the dots of pink and yellow are nothing more than coloured mayo. Only the zippy green coriander chutney is worth returning to. There is a tikki chaat from the street food menu, which is one of my favourite ever dishes. This is a pale example of what it should be; soggy patties lacking any really flavour and a channa masala not up to par of any roadside cafe in India (or even my kitchen).
The chicken tikka curry arrives looking like Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup and not as tasty. In it is bobbing meagre off-cuts of heavily charred chicken, mostly fat, cartilage, and a shard of bone. It’s sixteen pounds. As I’m moving the parts I don’t wish to digest to the side of the bowl, I’m asked how my food is. Now, any time I get asked that and start with “honestly?” it is never going to end well. She hits a counter argument and suggests I try dipping my bread into the sauce instead. She is wonderful, and for the first time during the meal I beam a smile. That bread is excellent. The chips I order to enrage the internet are decent enough.
This kind of upmarket Indian can work in the right hands, such as Madhus at The Sheraton where every dish is kissed by smoked and the spicing is robust. But here it feels lazy, a hastily pulled together answer to what would work in Birmingham, and I’m sorry, but going default to curry when this city is blessed with better options is just not on. I’ve recently been accused of being too tough and quick to criticise, but the reality is there is little to praise here when superior Indian food can be found close by for less money. And right now, more than ever, that matters.