Monday, 5 December 2011

Hit the North Again - Ashoka, Glasgow

Location
19 Ashton Lane,
Hillhead,
Glasgow,
G12 8SJ.
Tel: 0141 337 1115
http://www.ashokarestaurants.com/
Time
Saturday 26th November 2011 (Late evening)
Attendees
Juanita, Ben, Big Tone and John
Watering Hole(s)
Again Brel was the first port of call for a few of Belgian’s finest and a bit of early evening jazz – and all very nice it was too.  No ‘nice’ glass for my Chimay Blue’s though, so had to drink from a glass beaker - of the like you might be served a coke in – still tasted the same though.  Then we ventured on to Jinty McGuinty's - slightly further down Ashton Lane - and was your pretty standard Irish theme bar.  Busy though and good Guinness apparently.  Oran Mor was visit again on this occasion also.
Expectations
To be honest I had no (or maybe low) expectations.  From visiting Glasgow numerous times over the years, I have seen the Ashoka name all over the place.  I understand them not to be a chain or franchise but, still, there are loads of ‘em – so, like a TGI Fridays/Frankie n Bennies/etc. (which are chains admittedly), could they be that good?  Also, I understand they come under the Harlequin umbrella of restaurants??  Quite what that means I don’t know??  I don’t claim to understand at all the politics of the Glasgow Curry Scene, and don’t want to speak out of turn here, but I think the Harlequin name owns/runs loads of Glasgow Curry Restaurants so again, I would normally tend to shy away from such antics. 
The Reality
My initial impressions of Ashoka – on a Saturday night at least – were ones of ‘popular’ and ‘bustling’, and there were definite suggestions in the air that a top class dining experience were about to be had. 
The restaurant has booth type seating to the edges of the room, with more traditional seating arrangements through the center.  Not a massive room, but tastefully decorated in generally dark shades, and resplendent with a large Indian themed mural on the back wall.  This being a wet and blustery night in Glasgow, the small cloakroom area was overflowing with outdoor wear.
With Juanita having the forethought to suggest booking a table in advance – and it was a good job we did as the restaurant was full on our arrival - we were swiftly seated in a decently positioned booth next to the window.  Not huge the booths – especially when the amassed girths of Bradford’s finest curry eating glitterati are shoe horned into one!!
I can’t remember having poppadoms…..  (Oopppss!!  Serves me right for leaving too long before blogging – lesson learned), so I’ll move swiftly to the starters.  The novelty of Haggis Pakora was was too much to resist so these were ordered on Big Tone’s behalf before he had time to think about it.  Fish pakora for me and have now complaints – in fact the fish pakora merits high praise from me for the soft, perfectly cooked fish, coated in the light batter.  The Haggis Pakora, on the other hand, did seem to offer little else other than its novelty value.  It did taste haggisy though to its credit.  The onion bhaji was noted as being rather dry and was not popular.
Exquisite Kerala Chilli
Now, I’m not one for creamy curries normally, but one caught my eye on the Ashoka menu.  The Kerala Chilli – with your own choice of meat/fish/veg - was billed as comprising a piquant sauce with black pepper and a dash of coconut milk, oh and some chilli.  Sounded interesting, and not like curries we get down here in Bradford, so I ordered one… with lamb.  I was not disappointed at all, and found it full of flavour and the kind of dish that attacked every taste bud with every mouthful.  There was the initial taste of coconut that morphed into a slight sweet n sourness, and then a fair and pleasant wallop of heat from the chilli.  This sneaked up at the end… just to let you know that, although a creamy curry, this was actually a proper ‘mans’ curry.  Black pepper didn’t exactly jump out at me, but no matter.  The meat count was high and I found it all round excellent.  Well worth sampling.  Garlic naan again (I’m really going to have try and branch out) was perfectly good enough.
Novel Haggis Pakora
Excellent Fish Pakora

Drinks Policy and range
No worries here – endless pints of lager on tap – Lal Toofan.
Highlights
Ben's Curry was also tasty
The Kerala Chilli with Lamb was, without question, the highlight for me.  Not the kind of dish this local to Bradford curry lover experiences regularly.  The dish attacked every taste bud with its creamy coconuty flavour, some pleasant heat, and elements of both sweet and sour – it was excellent in my opinion. 
Lowlights
I don’t like to discuss lowlights regularly, and rarely encounter anything that causes me to put finger to keypad and type it down.  Although on this occasion Ashoka delivered a very enjoyable curry eating night out for us lot – and bear in mind this is the view of a tight fisted Yorkshireman with short arms and deep pockets – it was a bit on the dear side!!  £5-£6 for a basic starter and upwards of £10 for the main course’s, was very dear I thought.  The fodder was yummy but, for me, it was just on the wrong side of VFM.  However, the restaurant was very busy, and we had to book a table, so it is defo popular and people are happy to pay the prices – so who am I to question?
The Damage
Me and Fish Pakora
The bill came to about £20/person.  A good night out etc, but with the, what I would consider slightly under par starters in general (although my fish pakora was excellent), I thought that was a bit pricey.
Aftermath
Similar situation to the recent CafĂ© Salma aftermath is as much as bike racing the next day resulted in waking with a slight feeling of butterflies.  Can’t be sure if my guts were taking a turn for the worst due to the curry or it was a case of my body entering panic mode!!  Judging by the quality of the food at Ashoka, I think it was the later.

Overall
Decent environment and excellent main curry but slightly under par starters and cost will limit Ashoka’s appeal for me in the future.