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Restaurant review: Samrat

Renshaw Street gets a new Indian to throw a bit of fresh spice into the mix. Angie Sammons is impressed

Written by . Published on September 28th 2010.

Restaurant review: Samrat

I WAS going to break my rule and tell you about Samrat way before now.

The rule? It's a self imposed edict. The one which says don't dash into a newborn restaurant, just as it is gasping for its first breaths of life, and go rushing and gushing to judgement. Give it time.

So I hung on for a bit, but I really don't know why now. Clearly, honeytoned words of mouth were passing something sweet on, for The Samrat, which opened with nay a murmur a bit over a month ago, was packing them in. Even on the low evening of the week, Nadir Tuesday (which sounds like a curry night in Yates's, but isn't.)

It's next to the Barcelona bar on Renshaw Street, part of the Central Hall complex. In a street which already has as many curry houses as the Dock Road has derelict pubs (relatively speaking) you're going to have to be a bit special to come out of nowhere and take this lot on with any success.

After all, this is no Rusholme, there are no troops of trippers tramping in on awaydays, not giving a toss where they end up. Stag parties, celebrating the forthcoming and timely expansion of gene pools, don't say “Let's all go out on t'ale and go down to that Renshaw Street for a phal. We can all look at toolboxes in Rapid's window while we're waiting to pile back on t' minibus back to darkest Burscough, or anywhere else in Lancs beginning with B."

The Samrat's interior design is just as fanciful. None of your cool, contemporary (yawn) fixtures and fittings, so beloved of the PR-conscious curry house anxious to justify its prices. No traditional, Mecca-style, pink palace stencils either. To give you an idea, just look at the outside of Central Hall: Swirly whirly and fantastical. It's like that. It could give you a headache if you weren't so distracted by the food.

And distracted you may well be. Samrat's unique selling point is that, apart from a variety of traditional tandoori-style staples, it deals in Southern Indian kerala cuisine. It is one of only two places doing this kind of food in the city centre (the other being the excellent Maharaja on London Road), which makes it a bit of a Goa.

So while you are munching over the crisp and dry poppadoms and pickles (£2.75) that have hung about no time whatsoever, you can ponder coconut and button mushroom soup, barbecued Indian cottage cheese with mango and roasted broccoli, or you can just go to the chicken tikka section of the menu.

They looked after us when we turned up last week. The waiting staff are as sunny as an Indian summer, efficient and attentive, and, on our visit, piled on the treats. Thus we were given a variety of appetisers that we didn't necessarily order, such as a delicious Vegetable Bonda (£2.75), spiced vegetable potato balls in a deep fried gram flour batter, and an equally pleasing vegetable platter of onion bhaji, a rice and onion pancake, cheese balls and goat cheese samosa (£3.75).

As well as the usual Kingfisher and Cobra on draught (£3 a pint), they do Cobra non-alcohol, ciders and even Black Sheep in bottles (£2.95). They will also serve you with Pernod if you are that way inclined. Blimey.

There's a fairly realistic wine list too. No flowery Gewürztraminer for the savvy curry connoisseur but a perfectly reasonable Argentinian Viogner for £12.95, which accompanied the spicy mains quite adequately.

A starter of Chicken Lollipop (£3.95) which we did order, a chef's special of chicken wings fried in delicate spices was as far removed from those nasty heavy handed chicken tikka experiences you get in supermarkets as it's possible to get. Presented with finesse, the wings formed a guard of honour, tips encased in foil, around a chilli dipping sauce. Finger-lickin' good, they were cooked by someone who clearly knew what they are doing, as was the Vegetable Biryani (£8.95)

How can I tell? Well, so taken was I with this latter dish that, with the aid of Madhur Jaffrey, I very carefully endeavoured to replicate it the following week, making enough to feed that stag party I was going on about. I came across it in the freezer last night, as I do every night. I am in no hurry to return to it, unlike the Samrat version which I instructed the chef to use his imagination on. Served with a flourish, this manful mix of saffron rice and vegetables, with the odd chunk of cinnamon bark or star anise was excellent. Chilli hot and packing a marvellous punch of textures and flavours.

Chicken Chettinad (£7.99), served with a very rustic looking saffron rice (£1.75) saw pieces of meat in a broth of coconut, star anise, fennel, coriander seeds and mustard and curry leaves. Very tasty, very mild, but with a great big fat red chilli on top, turn up the heat. The choice is yours.

The whole bill came to just forty four quid, and, even adding the freebies in, it wouldn't have amounted it to much more, and we left feeling very smug.

The staff, with excellent memories for a face (so don't do a runner), all waved and smiled through the busy windows, when I hurried past the other night and I nearly went in again. But this time I thought better of it.

That mustn't stop you from rushing in there with indecent haste. Only once you do, slow down and savour. After all, these things take time.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect.

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

jayNovember 14th 2008.

Ed' the one that I used to visit was definately called the Samrat because a friend of mine used to often comment on the name and how the R word would put him off

I wish I lived on the curry mileNovember 14th 2008.

My mouth is watering mmmmmmmmmmm curry mmmm

EditorialNovember 14th 2008.

No, it's been open for about six weeks, but, as stated, there are several other Indian restaurants in Renshaw Street and there have been for years.

jayNovember 14th 2008.

Am I mistaken or hasn't the Samrat been open on Renshaw Street for years. It used to be my favourite place to go at 2am when the bars were kicking people out because you could get a late beer with your curry.

ramNovember 14th 2008.

Well this Samrat is a totally different breed altogether and its located where the Barcelona bar used to be. You have to taste their food to feel the real difference.

MickeyNovember 14th 2008.

Darn it ! I thought we'd finally found somewhere we could keep quiet about and now here you've let the cat out of the bat...ho hum ! well if we must...Went there earlier on today, and managed to catch the 'early bird' menu weekdays 5-7pm - absolutely scrummy !£11.95 included a starter (I had salmon tandoori), main meal (chicken Chettinad), rice, garlic naan, poppadums, a glass of wine, ice cream and a coffee !! gorgeous fresh food, service wonderful - so many smiles ! great value also - highly recommended.M

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