The Indian restaurant has played an important role in UK society for some time, and throughout this time they have evolved and developed. I remember when I was growing up being taken by my parents to “The British Raj” in Westbury-on-Trym as an occasional Sunday treat after rugby. This was your classic early 90’s curry house with a menu that had probably not changed since the late 70’s and a décor that was replicated in 90% of Indian restaurants across the country.
Back then I would only eat chicken tikka with multi-coloured rice, iceberg lettuce and a naan bread, it was simple no fuss food. Often the highlight of the meal came at the end when we were presented with our hot towels that my Dad made a great show of by removing his glasses and draping over his face.
As a grew older I would visit numerous restaurants that were pretty much identical to the British Raj. The only difference being our visit would resemble the scene from “More Bad News” rather than that family bonding scene of my youth – “sod it we’re a rock band make it a hundred pints, and 4 poppadum’s’!”. Thankfully things have moved on a bit since then – both personally and in the restaurants.
Azaro Dhaba is one of the new breed of Indian restaurants that are sweeping across the country, and this one is breaking the mould in more ways than one. Founded by Bradford born partners Az and Kirti in 2012 the restaurant serves up proper regional, locally soured, desi food with a contemporary Dhaba street food twist. The restaurant is very rare in that they have a female head chef in the form of Kirti, in fact 60% of the kitchen staff are female which is almost unheard of in the industry.
Upon arrival we are greeted by very friendly and enthusiastic staff who show us to our table. They are very keen to talk us through the menu and explain the restaurants style, in addition to being flexible in adapting to any dietary requirements be that dairy free, gluten free, vegan or just in terms of heat levels.
We are presented with the obligatory tray of poppadum’s and a selection of chutneys, however these are somewhat more interesting that the standard offering. There is a selection of different accompaniments to enjoy with the varied selection of dips. Far Far are a multi-coloured fried snack traditionally made using potato starch and Chevra which are similar to puffed rice.
The dips themselves were excellent with the best mango chutney I’ve ever had – none of the overly sweet sticky nonsense – which has smoked and spiced depths, a wonderfully hot sauce, sweet tamarind, refreshing raita and a coriander dip.
For the mains we are offered a choice of Thali or their signature dhum biryani. We go for a meat Thali (£12.95) which we find out is chicken, and the king prawn biryani (£15.95). They make a big show of the biryani advising me that they are the only restaurant in the city that prepares a traditional Hyderabadi dhum biryani. The word dhum means “steam” and the dish is prepared in the traditional Madka which is a clay cooking pot that is sealed with a dough “lid” before being baked in the tandoor.
The food arrives and it is immediately a visual treat. The thali is a tasting platter of around 4 main dishes with sides. The focus of this is a tikka masala which is accompanied by rice, bread, more poppadums and dips, spiced potato fritters called aloo tikki and even a sweet doughnut and mango lassi to finish.
It is a really fun way to get a taste of lots of different dishes without having to commit to a single one. The Aloo Tikki is a highlight, which they have made gluten free through the use of sesame and poppy seeds, with a lovely spiced potato cake and crisp coating. I feel that the main chicken dish could do with a bit more spice, and for the sauce to be a bit richer as I felt that the overriding flavour was of tomato more than anything else.
The biryani really looks impressive with the domed bread topping sealing in all the aromas and flavour. It comes with a yoghurt dip and masala gravy to stir into the rice plus a special biryani spoon with which to do the mixing. I crack open the soft lid and get an aroma of cardamom and mustard seeds with a background of garam masala and sweet onions.
The rice is cooked beautifully and the prawns add a textural change to the layers of rice. As with the chicken tikka in the thali I was hoping for just a little more oomph from the biryani and slightly more depth of flavour. I enjoy the dish and am content when I finish it but not as completely wowed by it as I was hoping.
Azaro Dhaba is a restaurant that occupies an interesting space in the Indian restaurant scene. They focus on very traditional styles and even have their own spice room on site where they grind their own garam masala. They are certainly a cut above the old style curry houses of my youth but not quite up to the standards of some of their peers in the city such as Chilli Pickle, Indian Summer and Café Chilli. I would be really interested in trying some of the other dishes on the menu as they are clearly passionate and enthusiastic about their food and some of the flavours I tried were excellent.
115 Church Rd, Hove BN3 2AF
This review first appeared in the June 24th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. The food was complimentary and the restaurant were aware I was reviewing