For my Birthday, the idea was to go and have a nice meal with YKL and Q, possibly even some friends. I’ll admit, I wasn’t really that bothered because it wasn’t a significant Birthday (in terms of age) and well, it just meant that I now write down an age on application forms which shows I’ve even closer to 40 than I am to 30. Plus the fact that I was actually due to work the following day on the Saturday – I only work one weekend a month and the ONLY Saturday I was due to work was the day after my Birthday? What’s *THAT* about?! So a few weeks beforehand, I suddenly thought of going to Lasan – YKL and Q had never been before, it’s been a few years since I last went and it was different enough from my usual choice of Loves Restaurant.
Akhtar Islam and his Lasan restaurant has been winning plaudits and various awards for years and is widely credited for publicising Modern Indian cuisine a million miles away from the greasy slop you would associate with your traditional curry houses. Instead, the cuisine here sees modern techniques applied to classic dishes with the emphasis not only on the careful balance of spices, but also set in modern settings with white table cloths and an extensive wine list. Given that Lasan restaurant is based in Birmingham, I have been before a few years ago so it would be interesting to see how it is now as Akhtar Islam gains even more recognition for his work.
The booking itself was quite late (8pm) so in the awkward few hours between finishing work and getting to the restaurant, YKL and I decided that we needed to get something to eat.. So we headed to Bedders and got a fish and chips, with a side order of beef and onion pie to share between us (!!). Well, it was going to be a few hours until we next got to eat!
The restaurant itself is very modern with clean lines – And you can see how many other places are imitating it. As BT, YKL and I arrived a bit early and were still waiting for Q, we were shown to the bar area and got a few drinks whilst we perused the menu. The host and waiting staff were extremely welcoming and at no point did we feel rushed. When we were shown to our table, we were given a choice of a table in the upstairs or downstairs mezzanine, to which I opted for the downstairs mezzanine – partly because there were no other tables there, but also because the lighting was slightly better for taking pictures.
Looking at the menu, everything sounded really delicious and read really well. It was interspersed with dishes which have helped seal Akhtar Islam’s fame – including dishes from both the Great British Menu and from The F Word, and you could see that ingredients were carefully sourced (lamb from the Wiltshire Downs, monkfish from Lyme Bay) but there was one standout dish from my previous visit which was still on the menu – Dum Ki Biryani (Goat Biryani). I still have vivid memories of trying it the first time and how the waft of enticing smells that filled the air once the lid was lifted had me salivating, so I was keen to try it again to see if had changed in any way.
Another way that Lasan sets itself apart from traditional Indian restaurants and is more like a fine dining restaurant was the inclusion of an amuse bouche. In this case, some sort of salmon fishcake with a tamarind sauce and mint + coriander puree. What was clearly evident in the amuse was the fine level of spicing in the dish – which was to be the case throughout all the dishes on the night. There was certainly a mix of spices but nothing competed with each other and you could taste them all. Actually, the amuse was so good that even a committed non salmon-eater like BT enjoyed it.
To start, we got the sharing platter (for 2 people), mainly because we couldn’t choose properly amongst all the starters and a sharing platter was a good way to try different items. We could not fault one single item on the whole platter – Each component was not only perfectly and delicately spiced, but also cooked to perfection so nothing was dry or overcooked. But the star of the show was undoubtedly the mint sauce which was more like a mint and coriander chutney, both powerful and spicy, it packed a punch and we all found ourselves wanting to dip anything and everything into it because it tasted so good.
The Konkan Kekada was deep fried soft shell crab (in a light batter) and was ordered because we’re all suckers for a nice bit of soft shell crab, but especially BT ever since we went to Min Jiang last year. Again, the spicing of the dish was delicate, yet powerful but the accompanying Devonshire crab, pea and potato cake wasn’t anything special and didn’t really enhance the dish in any way.
Finally for starters, the Goan Mackeral (sic) Rechado was beautifully fresh and the level of spicing elevated the humble mackerel into something rather special.
Mains-wise, it was pretty much more of the same. The food was very well cooked and extremely tasty and the spicing levels were so delicately balanced that it almost defied belief. The smells that came from the Dum ki Biryani as he lifted the lid was every bit as good as I remembered from last time so that was good to see. Again, there is no doubting the level of skill in the cooking as everything was not only spiced to perfection, all the proteins were also cooked perfectly too: From all the various preparations of lamb in the lamb lababdar to the tender, juicy pieces of chicken in the murgh jalfrezi.
So, really good food and lovely company so it should have been a good night, yes? Well, not really. The sad reality is that the service we received from our server was not particularly hospitable, shall we say? To say that he ruined the night would be to over-dramatise it, but his actions certainly left a bitter tinge to the night’s proceedings. His great mistake started off when we were ordering our food and we ordered our starters first and he seemed a bit put off that we would want to order starters before our mains (“You want to order mains? No? You want to order starters first?!”). Seriously, is it *that* unusual to want to order starters before we ordered our main? Undeterred, we ordered our starters and then our mains at which point Q wanted to try a paneer dish as we wondered if it was possible to have it as a main instead which we were told a firm no and that we “already had too much food for the table”. Well, with that we said that was all and our server was surprised that we stopped there and asked if we wanted any rice or naan bread “to go with the mains as most people do”. Well, if we weren’t already offended by his tone saying that we had ordered too much (If that were the case, a simple “you may want to consider what you’ve already ordered as there is a substantial amount of food already ordered” would have sufficed), we certainly were offended at being told how most people order food, which implied that we’ve never eaten at an Indian restaurant before. As he left, BT summed it all up by saying “Well, the food had BETTER be good now!”. And whilst the food was good, we couldn’t actually finish our mains – so much for ordering too much food. And to think, our server wanted us to order more rice and bread on top of what we already had?! However, I should also point out that I am only referring to our server and that not all the staff were the same – Everyone else we spoke to from the waiting staff were all very pleasant, but we seemed have got the only surly member of staff as our server that night.
Therein is the problem with Lasan restaurant for me; Is it good? The food is certainly very good there and the level of spicing is second to none. But is the whole experience worth paying two, three times more than what you would normally pay from regular Indian restaurant? The answer is not really. Certainly, the service issues we experienced that night have put me off and when I consider there are other (high end) Indian restaurants out there certainly on a similar level of cooking, I’m sad to say that I won’t be rushing back.