Posted: 29 October '10 by Niall and Kelly
It’s 6pm on a dark and cold Monday in October. A long week at work looms before us. And I can feel a cold coming on.
In serious need of some TLC, Kelly and I decided that a treat was in order so we took ourselves to the bright lights of Belfast’s Lisburn Road. A lot of restaurants have been springing up here recently but the one that we really fancied was the new Bengal Brasserie – a 200-seated Indian restaurant which, from outward appearances, looked very chic indeed.
The doors were opened by a doorman in traditional garb and we were warmly welcomed to the restaurant – a nice touch which certainly started out night on the right note. The design of the foyer suggested more of what was in store – lots of clean lines, dark woods, and typically Indian ornaments – a bit of old-world-meets-new. There really has been a lot of thought devoted to the decor of the whole restaurant, from the ice-bar to the private dining room to the staircase up the the restaurant proper (every step is lit as you place your foot on the step – we spent a few seconds doing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”), to create a stylish, intimate experience.
Being a Monday night the restaurant wasn’t heaving with customers, but there was still a decent number, enough for a warm buzz of conversation to float around the room – along with the aroma of all of those wonderful Asian spices. Evelyn, one of the restaurant’s staff, greeted us at the door and showed us to our table. Now, one of the things that I remember from my first tentative forays into Indian cuisine was being over-awed by the selection of unknown dishes which are presented to you. To their credit, the Bengal Brasserie seem to be fully aware of this problem, and Evelyn chatted to us about the menu, the various flavours and the heat of each dish.
Over our poppadoms and sauces, which are an absolute must, decisions were quickly made and we settled down for some serious eating.
Kelly and I opted for the Bengal Brasserie Tapas, a selection of several starters in one huge platter. I haven’t seen this sort of thing done for Indian food before, but it makes great sense – everyone gets to try a little bit of everything, essentially.
Our platter included:
- Tandoori lamb and chicken;
- Vegetable and meat samosas;
- Onion bhajees;
- Sizzling king prawn in breadcrumbs;
- Chicken kebab in chargrilled vegetables and a sweet, spicy chilli sauce; and
- A bowl of sweet and sour orange sauce.
The orange sauce was surpringly addictive and worked amazingly well with all of these little appetisers which we dispatched without so much as a word being passed between Kelly and I. We both clearly had our favourites: Kelly’s were the Tandoori lamb and chicken, both very tender with just a little spice, succulent and flavoursome from the clay oven; and mine was the spiced chicken kebab, the minced meat and thin slices of fresh chillies combining to create a very more-ish dish.
The main course
We were asked whether we’d like to wait for a few minutes before our main courses arrived which I thought was very considerate given the quantity in our tapas. Given what was about to come, this chance to digest and savour was just what we needed. No point in hurrying these things!
Shiraz, another one of the staff, also suggested that we try his Vanilla Lassi. I usually choose a bottle or two of chilled beer to go with my curries, but Shiraz was fairly confident in his ability to make a top-notch Lassi, so Kelly and I duly ordered one each. Lassi is a youghurt-based drink, usually mixed with milk, and is served in a tall glass just like a milk-shake. Shiraz’s Lassi was delicious: thick enough to clean your palate, sweet enough to cut through the spice of your meal.
Which was handy, given that I had ordered a Lamb Phal (pronounced “faal”), the hottest curry on the menu. Admittedly, I love hot and very spicy food, and I had a cold so I thought “kill or cure”. Shiraz also took great delight in telling me that the Bengal’s Phal is made with Naga chillies, the hottest chillies on earth. I was sweating and I hadn’t even tasted the curry yet!
As the dish arrived the colour of the sauce was most alarming – a deep, foreboding red which hinted at the fire contained within. Lassi at the ready, I lifted a spoonful of the curry to my lips.. and instantly loved it! Now, I won’t mince words here – it’s hot. My god, but it’s hot, and not for the faint-hearted. But that’s not the only feature of the dish. The Phal is surprisngly complex too – lots of Asian spices which inter-play to make a most enjoyable dish. After the first few mouthfuls of raw heat, you do become acclimatised and start to notice and enjoy these flavours: star anise, tumeric, coriander. That said, the youghurt-based Raitha really helps too – as does the extra napkins which Evelyn dropped down to our table so Kelly could mop my fevered brow.
Kelly’s Lamb Palak was superb – the lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the sauce was rich and earthy with lots of minced spinach, a really pleasing, tasty dish. Definitely one which will be ordered again and again.
The Keema Naan was a bit of a revelation too. I think we’ve become accustomed to the stale, long-life naan breads which come vacuum-wrapped with use-by dates a year or two in the future. The Bengal Brasserie bakes their own naan bread, and the difference is astounding. The bread was light and fluffy – I just couldn’t get enough of it.
As the dished were cleared and the heated hand-towels produced, we sat back with a very contented air – and not just because I had conquered the Phal.
We really weren’t expecting to order dessert. We were absolutely stuffed. The sort of full where you’re thinking about how nice it would be to lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress on your forehead.
And then Shiraz appeared with three dainty ramikins.
Apparently the Bengal Brasserie does this from time to time – a new dish is being devised, and they ask one or two diners for their opinion before putting it on the menu – a great way to find out whether a dish will be a hit or not, and an even better way to make your clientele feel part of the place. As Shiraz was explaining all of this I looked over and Kelly, who moments before had said she could eat no more, was unashamedly brandishing her dessert spoon, preparing to dig in.
The Gulab Jamun was perfect – so good that Kelly thought it was one of the best desserts she’s ever tasted, and that’s some accolade. In one ramikin there was a dark brown, cinnamon- and cardamon-flavoured cake-ball floating in a a shallow bath of sugar syrup – in another there was a scoop of soft vanilla ice-cream. It sounds so simple, but the flavours worked incredibly well, as did the warmth of the doughnut-like cake against the creamy, cold ice-cream.
|Bengal Brasserie Special Tapas||£14.95|
|Vanilla Lassi||£3.95 x 2|
The service was quick and professional, but most of all it was personable which, after a horrible day at work, Kelly and I both really welcomed. To my mind, one of the most important skills for any restaurant staff is to put their customers at their ease, which Evelyn and Shiraz did superbly well.
Our meal was just delicious. Evelyn had mentioned that everything is made fresh on the premises, even down to the sauces served with the poppadoms – but you really don’t need to be told this to be aware of it. The flavours are sharper, cleaner and more rounded, lingering longer.
In short, the commitment to quality is everywhere – the staff, the food, the decor. We enjoyed one of the best meals and best dining experiences we’ve had in a long time.
And best of all, my cold never materialised. I guess the Phal was “cure” after all..
You can also see Bengal Brasserie, Lisburn Road on Google Maps.
There are a few different spellings for “Phal” including “Phall” and “Paal”. I’ve also heard different pronunciations (“faal” and “paal”), although “faal” seems to be the most common.
The restaurant has a fantastic “private dining” room in the middle of the dining room floor which can be closed off from the rest of the diners by closing the shutters – this room can be requested by large parties.
You can also order a take-away from The Bengal Brasserie, which was news to us – just phone 028 9068 2999
Categories: Restaurant Reviews