I’ve been to India. I’ll just get that out there first. I went a few years back for a few months and travelled all round, visiting pretty much everywhere you would feel the need to. I’m telling you this because a) I like to show off, b) I like to try and portray myself as a well-travelled, cultural individual and c) there’s no better way to segment into a look at Zouk’s new Spring Specials Menu which I was lucky enough to try this week.
While in India I’d probably say the most prominent thing that has stuck in my mind was the food. Oh and there was one time when I was forced to stand on a train for 5 hours while a baby cried right next to my face. But if I’m being honest, the food wins out. The sheer variety of stunning dishes, flavours and ingredients as you travel to the different regions of the country is sometimes overwhelming and as a simple English man who likes to stick with his Lamb Tikka Masala, naan and a pint of Cobra, there were enough dishes that I didn’t try than did.
Zouk has been a prominent player in the modern Manchester Indian restaurant scene for a few years now and its continuing success is clear as soon as you enter. The open kitchen, prominently displaying their meats, ingredients and ovens clearly shows a pride in what they are doing and the ingredients they are using. It’s been a favourite for many for a while now, and one aspect of this is their often unique and different take on traditional Indian and Pakistan cuisine but with a modern twist – offering you something that you will not find anywhere else in other curry houses. Their new Spring Specials Menu is no exception.
To begin with we were treated to a couple of starters – as is the tradition in most restaurants on Earth. The Murgh Tikka Hariyali (£3.95) was a classic Bengali chicken kebab. But this was by no means the kind of kebab you’d find yourself falling asleep on at 2am in the morning – it was a dish of succulent charcoaled chicken pieces which had been marinated in fresh mint and spices to create a freshness that felt like my mouth was running through a spring meadow. The chicken was perfectly moist and the juxtaposition with the freshness and the slight charcoal flavour from the flame oven kept me going back for more.
We were also served Kashmiri Lamb Kebabs (£4.95), these were a rather strange and unique offering from the Kashmiri region in the North West of India. Imagine minced lamb and Kashmiri chilli, mixed together and then coated in breadcrumbs. The concept was a little strange to begin with, but once you bite into one and taste the spicy, succulent lamb inside – you’ll definitely want more. A word of warning though – these were spicy. If you don’t like the spice, maybe take a Petit Filou in your handbag with you, you pansy.
For mains, Zouk have introduced a couple of delicious north Indian dishes that I’ve definitely not seen or tried before. The first I tried was Lamb with Sweet Potato & Almonds (£9.95). From the name alone I was conjuring up a sort of sickly sweet korma-style dessert curry – I couldn’t have been more wrong. The lamb was so tender that when I put it in my mouth it melted faster than that guys face at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – and the sauce was a complex mix of sweet potatoes and almonds, without being sweet or sickly at all.
Next up was Qasuri Methi Murgh (£8.95), which is a brilliant dish consisting of chicken with fenugreek. I’d never heard of fenugreek before this so I did some Googling for you. Apparently it provides a dish with “a complex sweetness and subtle bitterness”, which with my atrocious palate I’d just have to nod slightly and agree with. What I can tell you though is that this dish was fantastic – the chicken thighs were fantastically juicy and tender, while the fenugreek and sauce gave it a unique and fabulously fresh taste. Again, this was something I’d never tried before and was pleasantly surprised by.
On top of the food, there are also a selection of delicious spring special cocktails and mocktails on offer. I was glugging the Kharbooza (melon liqueur, blue curacao, vodka and ginger) all night, while the Spring Fling (tequila, orange juice and prosecco) was also fantastic. I didn’t get to try any of the others because I was too enwrapped up in these two but it’s safe to say that if you enjoy gin and you enjoy mango, then you’re all set. My girlfriend was smashing the Pineapple and Ginger Float Mocktail like they were going out of fashion – and she’s so fussy that usually she doesn’t drink anything other than plain tap water with the occasional shot of orange squash.
We finished by sampling a selection of desserts, including a Mumbai Mess – a deconstructed cheesecake which suitably topped off a massively full stomach. I was suitably very impressed with what I’d tried at Zouk – they are offering something truly unique and different in Manchester, which you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The specials reminded me exactly how much I missed the food in India, as well as how much of the food in India I actually missed.
Zouk Tea Bar
Unit 5 The Quadrangle Chester Street
Manchester M1 5QS
0161 2331 090