In the final analysis, restaurants really don’t have to do too much to stay afloat and earn the patronage of new guests.
A tidy dining room, front of house staff who remember what orders have been placed and deliver food, drinks and information with a smile and a kitchen that’s run efficiently and features precise cooking….. c’mon, how hard can it be?
And yet so many restaurants get even those basics wrong.
Staff have the wrong attitude; imagining that the evening is about their satisfaction, rather than that of paying guests. Chefs get the basics wrong, with too little or too much seasoning, or imprecise cooking. And restaurants aren’t maintained in the way one might a house: decorating falls out of date, lighting is all wrong and plates are chipped.
We’re not talking about those playing at the top of their game, either, where seasonality, creativity and innovation count. We’re talking about honest-to-goodness neighbourhood restaurants that serve local communities by serving food at a sensible price and keeping the customers satisfied.
A restaurant that falls into that category – honest, humble, unremarkable – is Bilash, at Much Wenlock.
It was formed by a Bangladeshi immigrant who left his nation’s slums during a period of conflict. Travelling from country-to-country, working in different types of restaurant and learning his trade, Fotique Miah eventually landed in Much Wenlock.
Hard work, commitment, passion and determination helped him to establish and maintain his business and it’s been a staple with locals for some years.
Fotique was working the tables when my partner and I called for an unbooked midweek supper. His smile was magnesium bright, illuminating the dining room like floodlights at a T20 cricket match. If only he could bottle some of his professionalism and charm – other restaurants could buy it and improve their offering 20-fold.
In truth, the restaurant’s not much to look at. Tucked away off Much Wenlock High Street, it’s an unprepossessing place, all vanilla walls, inexpensive artwork and tables and chairs that haven’t been updated in a while. And yet that matters not to guests. Some of the best meals of my life haven’t come in the grandest rooms. I’ve wasted a small fortune eating at ** and ***-star venues, wondering why I was stupid enough to buy into the hype. Conversely, I’ve eaten some of the most exciting and intensely flavoursome food at street markets and venues that wouldn’t know an interior designer from Adam.
Bilash falls into the later category. It’s about value and flavour, about welcoming guests and providing honest, no frills service. There’s no razzle dazzle, it’s as far removed from the Moulin Rouge as Pluto is from Uranus. And yet the service and food carry the day.
Mr Miah greeted us warmly and offered us a choice of seats. The menu was relatively straightforward; there weren’t complicated or showy chef specials from which to choose, just the regulation baltis and bhunas, kormas and tikkas, pasandas and pathias. Which is nice, when it’s a wet Wednesday and all you want to do is sit down and enjoy an uncomplicated and tasty dinner.
We started with the obligatory poppadoms and a tray full of dips. The onion salad was peppery, fragrant and fresh; the mango chutney had a near-nuclear orange glow – I wondered whether any mangos had been harmed during the making of it – while the raita was a little thin. The poppadoms were reasonable; perhaps they’d been left out just a tad too long and lacked some of the brittle crispness that they ought to have had.
We started with courses that were so substantial they might have been mains, rather than starters. My partner ate a butterflied king prawn that was so large I wondered whether they might not have confused it for a baby lobster. The size of a hand and coated in a crisp crumb, it was served with the obligatory shredded salad and a slice of lemon. And while it might have been better with a little sauce, it was a pleasing way to start.
My chicken chat was colossal. Happily, it managed to avoid the oil-slick appearance that so many restaurants offer while the chicken was piled so high that briefly we failed to see one another across the table. A wedge of lemon was liberally squeezed across the dish, providing an all-important acidulated flavour that cut through the heat. The bread in which the chicken filling was wrapped was light and fluffy; it was a delicious and generous was to start.
Our mains were similary good. She ate a king prawn bhuna. The medium-heat curry was well-spiced and thick while the fried green peppers and shredded onions added depth. The prawns were generously served and the dish met with approval.
My chicken pathia was alarmingly coloured; a sort of Oxblood shade of red with the texture of really smooth Solvite. It’s peculiar, radioactive appearance aside, the dish was packed with flavour. Hot and sour, garnished with herbs and with pieces of chicken breast that had been cooked just a smidgeon too long, it was thoroughly enjoyable.
The dishes were served with a side of pilau rice that was so light and fluffy it might just as easily have been stuffed into pillows instead of duck down. Delish. The naan bread was impressive. The size of a small horse and covered in ghee, it came to the table straight from the tandoor and puffs of steam escaped, curling like wisps of smoke, as we tore into it. Frontman Mr Miah was exceptional throughout. Punctual and efficient, polite and warm; his service was expertly engaged and he added to a pleasant experience.
The Bilash website advertises the restaurant as ‘the best Indian restaurant in Much Wenlock’, which is a bit like saying Father Christmas is the best Santa Claus or Donald Trump is the best currently serving USA President. Well, yes, that’s true. But...
In truth, Bilash doesn’t need to garland itself with false praise, or get into the game of self-promotion. The steady stream of locals calling in for takeaways during our short visit showed the affection in which it’s held by locals. It’s doing a perfectly decent job. A lot of other restaurants might learn from it.
14a High Street,
Much Wenlock TF1 6AA
Star rating: 3.5/5