Review: Asha’s, Birmingham

There seem to be two approaches to “contemporary Indian cuisine”. The first approach is to take a step back, look at all the amazing ingredients and techniques found across the sub-continent, and then create a menu of modern dishes riffing on the classics in new and interesting ways. The second approach is to take all the myriad variations on “meat in spicy sauce” that have been available in curry houses around Britain for decades and do them in posher surroundings with a higher price tag. Asha’s fits solidly in this second category, and does a fair job of it without really lighting my fire.

The decor is dark winebar chic with splashes of Bollywood colour. It feels both classy and manufactured, something you might perhaps expect from a restaurant with outlets in Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi as well as Birmingham. Service was friendly and polite. Kudos for including four different lassis on the drinks menu (though I’m amused to find that the plural of lassi is apparently “Lassies”).

Maureen’s starter was four big chunks of fish in sturdy batter, with a fresh green sauce. Not enough sauce for these mighty pakoras, so the whole thing was a bit tasteless. My papdi chaat was more flavoursome and definitely pretty, but I’m sure papdis are usually crispy rather than crunchy.

For our main course we had a Muscat Gosht and a Hare Baingan Ka Bartha (baked mashed aubergine). Both were utterly buttery, the aubergine particularly so. In fact, I think if I’d tilted my plate it would have slid down the incline. Beyond that it had a fairly modest flavour, just a bit of greenish spice. The gosht was properly spicy, with a fiery kick, but the taste to me was “generic curry” and not much more. Good pieces of lamb mind you, very tender. Really I’d be very happy if my local curry house served up this kind of thing… and in fact it does.

There we have it. If you’re after a good ol’ curry, and you want to posh it up a bit, Asha’s will fit the bill. It won’t be a cheap bill, mind you: we paid £22 each for two courses without drinks. But calling it “contemporary Indian cuisine” is only literally true in that this is indeed the Indian cuisine that most people are eating today.

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