It’s been 16 years since Ludlow’s Golden Moments opened in the town’s Broad Street.
The family-run Bangladeshi-and-Indian restaurant has earned an enviable reputation for quality and reliability since then.
Its website features recommendations from illustrious guests. The Michelin-starred Shaun Hill wrote: “I would like to thank you for the excellent meals that I have enjoyed at your restaurant. The subtle spicing and use of fresh herbs is particularly well judged. It is also good to taste decent ingredients and have their preparation so well executed. Keep doing the same things.”
The redoubtable Claude Bosi added: “Just a quick note to say how much we have appreciated our meals both take home and in the restaurant over the past year. Your choice of ingredients, use of spicing and overall execution of dishes is consistently good, and both myself and staff have commented on the quality of your meals on more than one occasion. Again thanks for providing us with some all round decent food.”
And yet as compelling as those testimonies are, it’s the steady footfall of once-a-week, or once-a-fortnight customers who validate the restaurant’s work. On quiet midweek evenings while other restaurants are watching tumbleweed whistle past the doors, the boys in the Golden Moments kitchen are hard at it. Customers are flocking through the doors for takeaways, discerning diners are enjoying three course suppers while wondering about the weekend.
It’s comfortably the best curry house – and that term is intended to offer a generic, rather than accurate, description – in the county. The standards aren’t quite at the level of, say, Lasan, in Birmingham, which is among the UK’s top 10 or 20. But it’s a cut above the tikka-masala-cooking neighbourhood joints that bash out cheap and cheerful dishes. At Golden Moments, there’s more flair and creativity, higher standards and a push towards fine dining.
The ingredients for curries are sourced from decent suppliers, rather than the cheapest neighbourhood cash-and-carry. So meat, for instance, comes from a reputable high street butcher who provides traceable cuts of fillet and leg, rather than a supplier who’d offer something for half the price – and a quarter the quality.
Service is also good. An experienced team have their gig down to a tee. Guests are treated like friends – though, I’m pretty sure, that’s what many of their regulars have become during years of consistently good dinners. There is talk of holidays, questions like ‘how are the kids?’ and banter about football and current affairs. And those who are passing through, on holiday or are trying it out for the first time and given the warmest welcome. In short, they don’t miss a beat. Polished, efficient and as well-organised as a military drill, they don’t disappoint. The food is similarly impressive.
Even humble poppadom dips are transformed in the hands of the Golden Moments chefs. While most curry houses offer thick, gloopy mango chutney that’s straight from a big, white plastic tub and tastes of sugar and chemicals, the Golden Moments version tastes of fruit. Who’d have thought it. Spicy, fruity and deliciously more-ish, it was the pick of a thick, cooling mint sauce, a hot and peppery onion salad and a chunky and enjoyable mixed pickle. And the poppadoms were still hot, nice and crisp and a million miles away from the soft, saggy things that are as limp as a tea-dunked biscuit that are frequently served elsewhere. Who knew poppadoms could be a meal in themselves?
My starter was magnificent. Chicken chaat at most curry houses comprises a few stringy strips of chicken in a sea of yellow oil. Here, it’s far more refined. An Indian flatbread was wrapped into a neat, self-contained parcel. It enveloped a deftly cut combo of seasoned, spiced chicken and vegetables while a side salad of cucumber dice, tomato and leaves was dressed with a squeeze of lemon. Hot, spicy, cooling and sour, it was magnificent and was the sort of dish that set Golden Moments apart from the run-of-the-mill.
Eating such simple dishes was a bit like being in a car lot, where there’s 43 second hand Mini Clubmans that are all in need of a wash and a polish and one Ferrari Portofino that’s gleaming red and spotless. It’s like being back at school and picking from a football team with your wet-around-the-ears, can’t-kick-a-ball mates and then seeing Ronaldo standing at the end of the line. Yum flippin’ yum.
The main was almost as good. A tomato-ey, coriander chicken curry was served with basmati rice. And though the chicken was just a tad overcooked – and, sorry chefs, I realise it’s probably the only time you’ve erred in a month of Sundays, but we need to keep it real and be honest – it was delicious. Thick, indulgent curry with fragrant overtones like a Dhaka herb garden made for a rich sauce with plenty of body. The spices and herbs were subtle, rather than claw-hammer-against-chipboard harsh. The dish was a blend, rather than a hit of chilli, say, or curry leaf. And the rice was pleasant. It had that we’ve-just-cooked-this taste, rather than the proverbial we-cooked-this-yesterday-but-it’s-freshly-reheated tang.
There are dozens and dozens of half decent curry houses in Shropshire. But there are few that are actually decent. Golden Moments – like Panacea, in Shrewsbury – raises the bar. It sets a higher standard, offering interesting and authentic South East Asian dishes that haven’t been turned into sub-standard Westernised equivalents.
And while the food sings like a choir in full song – full of different notes and tones – the service is also first class. A well-drilled brigade make dining an pleasurable experience, adding to – rather than detracting from – the evening’s enjoyment. While some venues overlook such basics, their team gets it right. So when it comes to a perfect marriage of delicious food and convivial surrounds, Ludlow’s finest is not bronze nor silver – it’s solid gold.