REVIEW: The Funky Indian, Tavistock Place, Sunderland

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INTOXICATING aromas of Indian incense fill the air in this colourful culinary ode to the Asian country.

But it isn’t just the olfactory senses which are charmed here.

Step downstairs into this subterranean site and you find yourself serenaded by jaunty rhythms of Bollywood and surrounded by swathes of striking saris, ‘60s Indian film posters, murals of imposing buildings and trinkets that have made the 5,000-mile trip from Southern Asia to Sunderland.

It’s unrecognisable from the venue’s former guise as Amore. It is, however, run by the same family business.

This time, the firm has broken away from the Italian food served up at its other city restaurants to create something entirely different. Unlike other Indian eateries, there’s not a poppadom in sight here. Not even a sniff of heavy pastes and curries overwhelmed by lurid food dyes.

The food policy here is more in keeping with how Indian food is eaten in its birthplace – finger food infused with flavours from The Punjab and Bombay street food.

This is sociable grazing at its finest: a discerning dining selection of Indian tapas.

I’m not the greatest fan of stereotypical Indian food, it leaves me feeling uncomfortably full. But this brings a whole new dimension to this form of gastronomy.

You can choose three dishes for £11.95, five for £18.95 or seven for £24.95. We chose the latter option between us.

The menu is easy to navigate with colour coding to indicate vegetarian, gluten-free, fiery, meat and fish options.

If you still can’t decide, the serving staff have sampled the dishes and were helpful in recommending which should tickle our taste buds.

Our table could barely contain the feast before us – Masala Calamari (deep fried masala squid rings with aioli); Chilli Tikka Poppers (spice dusted chicken cubes in mint cream); Kalonji Jhinga (prawns with ginger, yoghurt, paprika, ground spices on a mini warqi paratha); Tempura ‘D Machhi (deep fried crisped fish of the day marinated with turmeric, mustard, fresh dill leaves, sweetcorn chutney and caraway on tortillas); Chicken tikka (fiery chicken marinated in yoghurt, ginger, garlic, garam masala and saffron) and Pork Vindaloo Arepas (Goanese-style pork, potato pomegranate molasses and sour cream in arepas flatbread).

For traditionalists, you can order single main meals, such as a chicken tikka which will set you back £11.95, but we enjoyed the novelty of being able to pick our way through the mini morsels, many of which we’d never heard of before.

Special mention must go to the Tempura ‘D Machhi – the chunks of succulent fish were just divine in a light, yet punchy, marinade.

Meanwhile, the pork was beautifully tender, executed with flair, and melt-in-the-mouth good.

Feeling full, yet greedy, we shared a pudding of Kulfi Falooda – mango kulfi (frozen dairy) with sweetened rice noodles, basil and berry compote (£4.50).

The mix of sweet and sour was a sensation most unlike Western desserts and it proved to be the perfect palate cleanser.

It isn’t just the food which goes against the grain here. From January the restaurant will also act as a social enterprise, running courses for children from city schools with learning difficulties so they can learn about the service industry.

This Indian isn’t just funky, it’s a first.