Brace your taste buds for a colourful explosion of flavour at this new city restaurant.
Indian restaurants can often be much of a muchness, but Monsoon Kitchen is making its mark by becoming Sunderland’s first handi house.
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of handi food before, but the owners are as passionate about educating people about food as they are about preparing it, and we discovered a whole new smorgasbord of tastes on our trip here.
Unlike balti dishes, handi meals are prepared in a deep pot, which helps to retain the flavour, which makes it perfect for cooking wet dishes like curry.
It’s a traditional method of preparing food in Pakistan, where the owners hail from, and this influence is infused in their foods. This again makes Monsoon different from the norm as most Indian restaurants in the city are inspired by Bangladeshi methods of cooking.
The menu has a good selection of dishes, but not so many as to make choosing just one a daunting task.
As well as the eponymous handi dishes, there’s also a range of grills, specials, south Indian street food and vegetarian dishes, which are prepared using halal ingredients.
Thanks to the advice of our waitress, probably one of the friendliest we’ve ever encountered, we made some excellent choices.
I chose the pani puri chaat to start. It’s one of the more expensive starters at £5, most are priced around the £3 mark, but it would also serve as a light meal.
The sweet and sour chick pea dish, served with chutney, was a chunky blend of flavours that I would never have put together, but it worked.
It came served with a bowl of super light rice crackers. I enjoyed the novelty of piercing the round cracker with my finger before filling its hollow centre with the chaat and topping it with chutney to make a bite-sized treat.
My main meal was a dish that was more familiar to me, king prawn tikka (£8.50), however, I’ve never had it served quite like this.
I asked for it to be served with a naan and it arrived in a giant traditional woven basket.
The menu says that grills are spiced or marinated for at least 24 hours with spices they grind daily on site – and it shows. The prawns were rich with flavour right through to the centre and though stuffed from my substantial starter, I couldn’t resist finishing it all.
Georga went with the traditional handi, which was served in a beautiful copper pot. I’m assured it tasted as good as it looked.
She described it as a refreshingly light curry which was laden with incredibly tender chicken which was cooked to her spice liking, which is similar to a madras.
As beautiful as these meals were, if you only have one dish at Monsoon Kitchen make sure it’s the kheer dessert (£3.50). This Indian rice pudding knocks socks off the tinned stuff I’m used to.
It’s a top-secret recipe, but the melt-in-your-mouth creamy rice was punctuated with cardamom, rose petals and more, which blended together to create one of the best and most refreshing, puddings I think I’ve ever had – and I’m not a pudding person.
As if the food, which you can also order for collection or delivery, wasn’t enough to draw you to this corner of the city, the decor was a feast for the eyes.
The former casino building has been transformed into two dining areas decorated in rich pink, red and orange hues and peppered with trinkets and wall hangings from far flung corners of the globe.