The choice of where to go for a Balti was once so easy. It used to be the answer to ‘where is the best place to eat a balti?’ and then that’s where we’d go. Now it has other factors to include. Have I written about it before? Do people want to read about it? What’s my angle? All these things that you couldn’t care less for and that keep me awake at night, sweating like I’ve just double-dropped in Miss Moneypenny’s circa 2001. We considered Kabbabish as it’s consistent, a couple on Ladypool Rd, and the one my Mom and Dad went to every week which I kind of like keeping to myself. In the end we opt for Diwan, because the people on the Everything Moseley Facebook page seem to like it and because David Cameron once ate there. It was literally for those reasons. Want my angle? I’ve got two: one is phallic-shaped and the other has a snout.
Because that is how pathetic I’ve become. Give me a cheap shot and I’ll neck it and then order another tray. By the time we pull up outside I have an idea for a piece laden with innuendo and profanity; one that would write itself regardless of what the cooking is like. Except it doesn’t work out that way. I ended up having far too much respect for them to do that. The decor might be on the tired side but they are proud to be here; the service is quiet and efficient, the team more in sync than far flashier kitchens in Birmingham. I request lime pickle for the poppadoms that arrive in less than a minute, the same with drinks, whilst our table is cleaned and reset in the time it takes Claire to go to the ladies and back. They are polite and quiet. We are paying guests in their little world and for that I’ll lay off the cheap tricks for once.
During our meal someone I haven’t seen in ages comes over to the table. “Bloody lovely, isn’t it? We come here at least at week”. Whilst I doubt I’ll ever make it weekly, I can see what she means. The casing for the samosa might be too thick but the inside is accurately spiced, whilst under the canopy of salad is an addictive chicken chaat with rich notes of fenugreek and curry leaf. The three curries we try (well one and two further half-portions) are a little too similar in make-up, though that make-up has a good foundation and is evenly applied. The meat is nicely cooked. It’s a bloody good Balti, better than the vast majority in the neighbouring Balti belt. The rice is good and the garlic naan is more than competent. I’d come back. The bill is under £40 including a couple of soft drinks apiece. It appears that our ex Prime Minister was capable of making at least one decent decision during goverment.
Taxis are a far easier choice than Balti’s. Take A2B
The good people of Britain are in debt to Adils. Way back in 1977 when a Findus crispy pancake would be classed as an adventurous dinner, a family arrived from northern Kashmir, bringing with them the very first Balti to these shores. From this small restaurant on a residential street in Stoney Lane led to the famous Balti Triangle, as well as a national obsession of going for a curry, with or without the seven pints of lager beforehand in the pub. I, like many others, am prone to waking up on a Sunday morning with a sore head, curry on my shirt and stained fingers. It’s my badge of honour, earned over many years of king-sized naans and table-top renditions of songs from The Little Mermaid. Going to Adils would be my Jerusalem; the place I could dip my daily bread into the hallowed pressed-steel Balti dish.
The recently refurbished dining room has succeeded in making it look like a spruced up version of all the other curry houses in the Triangle. Whatever they have done has worked; an hour after its opening time they are already turning tables and we see others waiting through the partitioned glass wall that separates the booze-free bar and thickly carpeted dining room. Crisp popadoms fill a hole whilst the starters are cooked. Grease-less vegetable pakora, delicately spiked with turmeric and cumin, are a large portion for the bargain two pounds. Being the heat freak that I am, the very sight of green of green chilli bhaji on the glossy menu made me twitch down below. What came was five complete chillies, seeds and all, each adorned in a light batter that added more spice to the mix. It was an addictive whack of heat, lip numbing and life affirming. I took two home in a box with the intention of eating them for lunch the following day. They are still there. I am too scared.
But we are here for the Balti, lets not forget. Two of them, each ordered from the chefs special menu would test both ends of the spectrum. A garlic chilli chicken was tame in heat compared to the starter, whilst a Makhan chicken owed more to a traditional butter chicken than a Balti, with its creamy texture and almond powder. Both had small pieces of pre-cooked poultry with a spongy texture and a complex level of spicing garnered from forty years of cooking the same dish. I’d like the recipe for the garam masala at the root of these dishes. A peshwari naan was superb; light, supple, and not overly sweet.
With the dessert menu looking like a fine collection of freezer favourites, we pay the twenty-five-quid bill and leave. Is it the best Balti I have ever eaten? No, not by a long shot. One in Bearwood immediately comes to mind which I will one day get off my arse and share with you about. But it is a good example, cheap and in pleasant surroundings. Adil’s call themselves the Balti pioneers, which seems accurate. Indian food has evolved since they took up shop four decades ago, though there is always room for the originators, provided the passion is still there. Adils is still firing on all cylinders. Here is to another Forty.