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Restaurant review: Relight my fire

Coriander is the new Nirvana for curry lovers - but Indian food is just half the story, says AA Grill

Published on September 28th 2010.


Restaurant review: Relight my fire

IN the few spare minutes left after work, raising two children and trying to match socks, we sometimes amuse ourselves with a game we call Name A Decent Restaurant in North Liverpool.

So far, a lot of nil-nil draws. The divide between north and south of the city is no more apparent than in the food we are given to eat, when out. Think of the best suburban restaurants of recent memory and names like L’Alouette, The Left Bank, and now Spire – all south of the Bling Bling Building – are the ones that come to mind.

You should enter the place with a spirit of adventure for you won’t see another menu like this in Liverpool

In north Liverpool restaurants, much time is spent eating from catering packs: those frozen, pre-cooked dishes bought in and brought back to life in the microwave, and which allow you to eat the same homogenised, pasteurised, dehumanised starter just around the corner or a hundred miles up the road, all off the back of a van.

Push me and I would say that one, maybe two places in Waterloo and Crosby have bettered average in the 20 years I’ve been around, but nowhere has made me fizz at the prospect, walk through the door with a bounce in my brogues. Until now.

Coriander, an Indian and Sri Lankan restaurant in St John’s Road, Waterloo, has the kind of food you dream about, prepared by a small band of chefs with a brief to be different and whose dedication extends to roasting and blending a different combination of spices for every dish. I took Twangy who regularly informs me that, having endured the pain of childbirth twice on my behalf, she deserves a treat. I think we’re quits now.

St John’s Road is a quietly eccentric street of caffs, antique stores and charity shops, a couple of hundred metres and a different planet from the clamour of South Road whose up-all-night attitude has attracted some recent bad karma. Other than a little Thai place at the opposite end from Coriander, St John’s Road is tucked up in bed by late afternoon. The location is both a blessing and a burden – good because it’s not South Road and bad because it’s not South Road.

Inside, Coriander is smart, modern, laid-back, cream-coloured walls and, at the far end, a Buddha, a big bugger who watches over the room with a benign eye. Funky, modern Asian music matches the tone of the place, exuding but not intruding.

The menu is split according to each country’s cuisine. On the Indian side, there is a separate section for the high-street-stocks-in-trade – they could not afford not to. “Old favourites” Coriander kindly calls them. and if you really want a lamb rogan josh don’t let me stop you, and I bet it’ll be great.

But you should enter the place with a spirit of adventure for you won’t see another menu like this in Liverpool. People travel miles to worship at the Gulshan’s tables in Aigburth but I honestly don’t get it. It’s a nice enough place, they look after you, but the food does not hold a candle to Coriander.

To start, seekh kebab (£4.95), moist, flavourful lamb mixed with coriander and spices, cooked in the tandoor and served with a mountain of fried onions. From Sri Lanka, fabulous fat prawns cooked in lemon and garlic butter with a chilli sauce of fire-eating intensity (£5.95).

Pork vindaloo (£9.95) was not the UK standard jump start to a palate anaesthetised with alcohol. This one was true to its Portugese/south Indian origins in which the combination of spices and vinegar are predominant, but the dish still burns with a passionate heat. A real Goa.

Sri Lanka provided the best – and messiest – thing all night, island crab curry (£15.95): sweet meat, served in the shell, with a gorgeous, subtly spiked soup of spices, lemongrass, cinnamon and coconut milk. Despite being armed with appropriate tools, I had a job freeing the meat from the shell and ended up looking, I observed, like I had wrestled the crab from a muddy swamp.

“You’d need a wetsuit for that kind of malarkey,” said Twangy. Then, indicating my sauce-stained attire, quipped, for all the room to hear, “oh, but look, you’ve got one!” We’re definitely quits now.

Vegetarian dishes make up a substantial and imaginative element of the menu; Sri Lankan sides including a nicely balanced beetroot curry (£3.95) and sublime coconut lentils with fresh spinach (£3.95). Rarely encountered Himalayan beer was a treat as was 3 Stones, a lovely, fruity, spirited New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£15.90) from a wine list designed to fight its corner in any company.

Puddings included fabulous gajar halwa (£3.95), a sort of carrot crumble with vanilla ice cream, which put two sponge fingers up to the travesty that is the average tandoori house dessert menu.

They even do takeaways now, and plans are afoot to bottle their spice mixtures and sell them over the counter.

Coriander is run by two women, one Indian, one Sri Lankan, who share a passion for good food. The all-female front of house shows in the welcome you get. You’re not patronised and there appears to be a genuine interest in you enjoying your food before handing over Barclaycard’s money.

I implore you to try Coriander. I have been offered no incentives other than the continued presence of a first-rate restaurant from where I can roll gently down the hill to home inside five minutes.

The chefs, we are told, are not bound by the English concept of the sub-continent’s cuisine. Instead, they are instructed to cook as they would at home. In which case, it’s all back to their place.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Coriander
92 St John's Road Waterloo
Liverpool
L22 9QQ
0151 928 3880

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJune 15th 2007.

South Rd & the area would be fine if people from (should I say nearby areas), stopped treating it as their version of a "Brit behaving badly in Benidorm". PS. Thanks 4 review above AA I'll give it a try!

Mike HomfrayJune 15th 2007.

Good news - shortly to reopen as THE CEYLON SPICE COMPANY with just Sam and Neil of the original four owners running the show

ahimsaJune 15th 2007.

Agree - have been once and am going back soon - they really seem to care about what they serve you here and I was really impressed with the vegetarian selection. The aubergine pahi (sp?) was out of this world - real melt in the mouth flavours. Service was attentive but not "in your face" and the reputation of the place is spreading very quickly - it is already winning awards and is often packed when I walk past. Re: area yes it is going downhill and south road is awful on a weekend night now - what a shame.

RobRoyFingerheadJune 15th 2007.

Why only 16/20 after such a glowing review?

Curry secretJune 15th 2007.

I was gutted when Coriander closed and then suddenly it's back. I live in the south end but went up to Waterloo last week with your 50% off voucher and we could barely get it. It was a Saturday night though and they told us it's much quieter in the week. The sri-lankan menu is particularly superb and we had a fantastic meal. A great evening. Glad you're back Sam.

Martin WalkerJune 15th 2007.

Hello, I went here on your recommendation at the weekend. Bloody marvellous I have to say.

Bulky BobJune 15th 2007.

I've tried Coriander and it is indeed excellent. Sadly, one very good restaurant is not enough to compensate for all that is wrong with north Liverpool. I was forced to endure 18 long months of my life there during an ill-fated relationship with a Crosby girl (I should have known better). Coriander apart, it is a culinary desert, there is not one decent pub, there seems to be a good amount of inter-breeding going on (particularly in the greater Crosby area) and racism is rife (it's well known that any non-white family moved into accommodation in north Liverpool has a hard time). The only thing going for it is the beach and now that's been overrun by a hundred large lumps of rusting metal laughably presented as art. Coriader's great though.

sam from Ceylon SpiceJune 15th 2007.

Just wanted to say a huge Thank you to all our customers for their support, and great comments. Thank you for your custom at Coriander and we hope to see you again at The Ceylon Spice Company.

AnonymousJune 15th 2007.

Are you are talking about Waterloo and Crosby here, Bulky? Decent pubs? There is the excellent Volunteer Canteen pub and the Crow's Nest. You are obviously bonkers as well as bulky. I couldn't comment about the inter breeding though.

samJune 15th 2007.

AA Grill is absolutely right about the dearth of good restaurants in north Liverpool and about how good Coriande is. This place does the best Indian food in Liverpool.

AA GrillJune 15th 2007.

Don't worry about the numbers, Digitbonce, just go and try the food then give us your marks.

jimbopJune 15th 2007.

Looks good! Many thanks, Thanks much!

Mike HomfrayJune 15th 2007.

Spoke to Sam last night and they are aiming to be up and running again by next Thursday!

AnonymousJune 15th 2007.

Went by Coriander last night (061107) and sad to say they are no longer trading. A great shame as it was a fabulous place. It was runner up in the Lancashire Life for Liverpool Newcomer of the Year 2007/2008.

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