The best Indian meal I’ve ever had? It’s something I gave some thought to before eating at new upmarket curry house Tapasya, which has opened its doors on an unfashionable part of Beverley Road in Hull. The immediate temptation is to mention the most expensive – Chutney Marys and the Bombay Brasserie, both in Kensington – as I would imagine that these are the sort of fancy pants places to which Tapasya aspires. At a £100 a head you would expect them to be good and they were, for a while. The starters at both places were fabulous – tasty, exotic, unique, everything you want from a good Indian – but the mains were a major disappointment. At one (I forget which) I ordered a main meal that had gold leaf in it. Why? Well I wasn’t paying and I couldn’t resist. It was a really bland affair that failed to tickle my taste buds and, in fact, only served to irritate my fillings.
No, the best curry I’ve ever had was from an Indian-style greasy spoon in the early hours of the morning in a down-at-heel part of Bradford. Frequented by cab drivers and security guards either heading off from or returning to work, the place served up utterly fabulous, unpretentious, tasty dishes for less than a tenth of the price of the posh nosh gaffs in the swanky parts of the capital. I wish I could remember where it was or what it was called, but I can’t. I think of it every time I’m in Bradford or eating a curry, which is usually more often.
Taste. That’s the key to Indian food. The food should taste amazing. It’s not about tablecloths or chandeliers or precious metal slithers secreted in the rice. It’s purely about the taste. Indian cuisine is unlike any other and if it isn’t setting your tongue on fire (figuratively, I’m not a fan of the super-hot) it isn’t worth the popadum it’s served with.
So when I entered Tapasya, with it’s distinctly upmarket interior, I worried that they would have spent too much time getting the very impressive interior right and forgot to ensure the food is bang on too. My concerns proved right. To an extent.
What Tapasya do very well is starters – crunchy black tiger prawns were not that crunchy but succulent and perfectly cooked, Gilafi lamb mince kneaded with spices and rolled and roasted on skewers were basic yet aromatic, guinea fowl breasts marinated in pickling spices were absolutely delicious, a real delight and, best of all were the potato and paneer patties. It takes a brave man to try to sell any kind of patty in Hull (the city being hugely proud of its own brand) but chef KK Anand has created an utterly delicious variant of the popular Indian street food and tatty and cheese has never tasted so good.
Mains were, sadly, not as well received. The Goan prawn curry was relatively taste-free and the lamb mince and pea curry I ordered off the specials appeared to be made of exactly the same mince with the same spicing as the starter skewers. I’m guessing it was designed to use the meat that wouldn’t stick to the skewers.
The sides were actually much nicer than the mains, specifically the shredded spinach and corn kernels, a dish that had more about it than both the mains we ordered.
Tapasya are very proud of their wine selection, with whole walls acting as wine racks. The couple of options I tried were very nice but convincing the good people of Hull to forego the traditional pint of lager will be a very impressive trick if they can pull it off.
One area that definitely needs attention is service. It’s not that it was bad, it was just that there was too much of it. As the night wore on it became a game to see how long we could talk without being interrupted by a well-meaning but ridiculously over-attentive member of staff. “Would you like another drink?”, “Is everything alright with your starters?” and, most annoyingly of all “would you like your main meals served now or would you like to wait?” were just three of probably 20 interruptions that stopped any conversation flow and lead to us laying bets as to what unnecessary question would arrive at the table next. The restaurant are using almost entirely local staff and that is commendable, but they are telling them to hover over your table and butt in between virtually every mouthful. Just annoying.
Desserts were OK. The milk dumplings were all sold out, sadly, so this may have deadened the enjoyment of the good-looking-but-unsatisfying kulfi but the Gajar Halwa with ice cream went down a treat. Not often you have carrot for afters, so I always enjoy it. Cost-wise, Tapasya is probably pitched about right. Traditional curry lovers will complain that there isn’t enough on the plate for the £94 for two we spent, but we left nicely stuffed and the quality of the ingredients used in the kitchen is, I would estimate, fairly reflected in the price.
When I return to Tapasya – and I will – I shall order double starters and leave the mains alone. This may not be the way most people like to eat when they are having curry (As big a mound of grub as the table can hold – I’m with you, people) but there are plenty of places for that.
I like that Tapasya are trying something different in a city not used to refinement from their curry houses. I think they should go further this way, swim right against the tide and lose the main courses altogether. Loads of beautifully made little dishes of tasty food would suit me just fine, let everywhere else serve up the plate-fillers.
Tapasya, 580 – 582 Beverley High Road, Hull HU6 7LH. Tel: 01482 242606. www.tapasya.org.uk.
Opening times: 5pm – 11pm every day and 12 noon– 3pm Monday to Saturday.