Food review: The Curry House, Mardol, Shrewsbury
Competition among curry houses is tough – and in this review, so is the chicken, but more of that later.
In the case of Shrewsbury’s Curry House, Boing Boing isn’t the chant of WBA fans. It’s the sound of over-cooked poultry hitting the table. But I digress. And there’s still almost 1,000 words to go. So let’s get back on track.
When it comes to spicy food in Shrewsbury, there are takeaways and sit-down restaurants, promoters of fine dining and creators of authentic flavours. Menus specialise in the food of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and other parts of Southern Asia. The market is saturated like the banks of the River Severn after a flood.
Get it right and restaurants can look forward to more customers on a Friday and Saturday night than Henry VIII had wives. Actually, thinking about it, that’s wrong. They’re likely to get more than eight customers, which is the number of times the raffish Henry said ‘I do’. But let’s not get bogged down in detail after a perfectly good metaphor. Eight times more customers than the next curry house will keep the accountant purring all the way to the bank. Restaurants who get it wrong, however, can gaze unhappily at their flat Cobra beer as customers flock to one of the many competitors, like sheep racing to the nearest pasture.
Shrewsbury offers a good selection of curry houses, just as in recent times it’s boasted a more-than-is-strictly-necessary range of both Thai eateries and burger joints. When it comes to independent restaurants, the town is like an EU grain store after a summer of over-production.
Okay. We’ve made our point. Competition is intense. And that’s the backdrop – the context, if you will – to this week’s review. Most curry houses are much of a muchness and the margin for error is therefore slim.
The Curry House has been making a decent fist of it in recent years offering regional specialities in an old fashioned building at Shropshire’s historic Mardol. It’s street-level dining room offers seating for 36 guests while a similar number can be accommodated on the first floor. The interior is pleasant; all oak panelling and atmospheric lighting. As first impressions go, it’s decent enough.
And yet restaurants need to see things through and not flatter only to deceive. And a recent visit to The Curry House contained too many flaws to earn it a place among the town’s very best. Two of the chef’s sauces were good – one particularly so – and the naan was magnificent. But that was about all that wowed. Other facets, from service to dips and, worse, the cooking of mains, was distinctly underwhelming. And when there are so many reasonable alternatives, such matters become glaringly obvious.
I’d called in for a midweek supper and there were about eight to 10 other guests in for the evening’s early shift. I was greeted by a waiter who was just the wrong side of terse. Though empty tables were laid out before him like futons in a branch of Ikea. Rather than show me to a table, however, he plonked me in a chair at the front of the restaurant and told me to wait. No menu, no explanation; just a mildly harassed waiter whose demeanour said ‘fed-up’.
He showed me to my table. “Do you know what you’d like to drink?” he asked. I felt like I was back at school with a strict teacher putting me on the spot. “Erm, not yet,” I offered, apologetically. He handed me a drinks menu and left me to browse. The food menu arrived after I’d ordered my drinks – I’m guessing they have a strict sequence at The Curry House – and I duly leafed through pages of assorted appetisers, specialities and popular dishes.
Poppadoms arrived and while they were decent enough the dips weren’t great. Fruit was notable by its absence in the gloopy, sugary mango chutney.
I started with a cheeky little chicken dish that was the first enjoyable moment of the evening. Amritsari chicken featured small cubes of chicken on a spicy sweet sauce. The sauce was intense and almost jam-like in texture. It was complex and exciting, culinary fireworks exploding on the tongue, while the chicken had been dipped in a light coating, giving it a little crunch. It was hopelessly overcooked, however, and dry.
Course two was a similar story. Great sauce, awful meat. Achari chicken featured on the chef’s recommendations as a mild-medium dish featuring tender (ahahahahaha) chicken cooked in a slightly hot and tangy tamarind sauce. The sauce was spellbinding. Tamarind is one of the world’s most beautiful ingredients. Native to Africa, it was transported to South Asia and is widely distributed around the world. India has become the world’s largest producer and the flesh, acidulous legume offers a sweet-sour twist to drinks, savoury courses, desserts and ice creams. The makers of Worcestershire Sauce and HP Sauce both cottoned onto its brilliance and used it in their age-old products. Clever them.
At The Curry House, the chef had created a beguiling sauce that had a gentle heat, like a sun lamp at a tanning salon, rather than anything too hot and fierce. The chicken, however, was dreadful. Most of it was simply over-cooked, though one cube was assuredly rubbery – I imagine it must have been from a different batch, for the texture was entirely different to that of the other pieces on the plate. Serving food with the texture of a garden glove is never a good idea. I think if Michelin inspectors were to visit, they’d probably refer the chicken to the tyre department rather than the culinary guide. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It took a while to pay the bill. The waiter’s colleague wasn’t in a rush to reckon up, and the abiding impression was of a restaurant that promised much and delivered little. In truth, the important stuff was there: nice venue, decent sauces and the like. Encouraging the waiters to smile and be a little softer in their approach and cooking chicken for less time aren’t difficult issues to remedy.
And so to the marks. You expect us to give you a fair and reasonable guide as to whether or not to eat at the restaurants we critique. And in the case of the Curry House, rubbery chicken and indifferent service means it earns 2.5/5.