A few weeks ago I was finally back in Brum, city of dreams for a curry loving food blogger. Who cares about abandoned warehouses, ugly motorways and the worst accent in the country when you can eat like a Mughal Queen for less then a take-away pizza in London? Apart from the excellent curry houses Sundarbon, Jyotis, Desi Express, and Miss Salted Cod’s Favourite Chamon (a curry-mini guide to Birmingham will be on the blog shortly), Al Frash truly stands out among the lot. And I’m far from the only one raving about this pearl…
Al Frash is quite brightly lit and not particularly cosy, but it is incredibly friendly, and the atmosphere is loud and cheerful – it’s BYOB like most curry houses in Birmingham. If you don’t book in advance you may have to wait a moment for a table, in which case you’ll be seated in the waiting area to read reviews and newspaper clippings about the chef Azam.
We visited on a Saturday night but were seated rather quickly. Our slightly hungover selves were incredibly grateful for the jugs of water quickly placed at the table, as well as the popadoms with chopped onions and raita. Of course, this is standard for curry houses, but at Al Frash you aren’t charged for any of it, and you get their excellent sweet and hot tamarind sauce instead of some boring mango chutney.
For starters we ordered a mixed grill to share, which came at £12 but was well worth it. We were given tender masala fish, savoury onion bhajis, succulent lamb chops and hot tandoori chicken wings and thighs. It was all delicious, hot and spicy, and steaming fresh off the grill. With a refill of the delicious tamarind sauce and cooling raita we politely licked our fingers to the very last bit.
Our mains took a while, however the service was attentive in the meantime so we did not mind. There was a birthday party of probably 30 people being served before us and we were quite impressed by the speed by which the cheerful waiters managed to get food out to everyone, especially seeing how one of the slightly intoxicated guests from the birthday party insisted on helping on serving it, for which they had given him a waiters outfit and all. When our mains did arrive they all came in sizzling balti dishes, as is the custom for Birmingham curries – after all it was here the balti style of cooking gained its fame. Jessi was not entirely happy with the strong masala flavour of her achar gosht (lamb with pickle), but one of the waiters quickly picked up on this and had it back to the kitchen for a change. When it came back a few minutes later (with some extra rice for comfort) she was pleased.
Me and Beth had an amazing dish called afrodisia, made out of finely chopped king prawns and chicken mixed with plenty of coriander and oyster mushrooms in a hot green chili sauce. It sent me sweating but also smiling like a drunk out of food happiness. Amy had a sweet and sour chicken Pathia, and Aurelie a really strong chicken Jalfrezi. They were all lovely and hot, and together with the truly massive, almond-filled and honey drizzled Peshwari naan we ordered to share we really felt quite satisfied. “Large naan” does not quite do it justice in terms of its size, as you can see from the photo at the top. Despite it’s terrifying size, it is velvetly soft but crispy in the bottom, so if I came back I would go for the big size and just not get any rice.
To the food we also ordered some mango lassi (soothing my burning tastebuds) and coke which was cheap at £1/can. If you fancy some beer or wine to your dinner, the staff will recommend a nearby off licence.
The best thing about Al Frash is not the food – although the massive naans, grill starters and Afrodisia dishes are absolute beauties and worth the journey on their own – but the familiar service and the atmosphere inside the restaurant. The waiters are engaged and helpful, advice about your dishes and clearly take the food very seriously. Watching the birthday party leave, we noticed that everyone gave the two main waiters either a handshake and a “cheers boss” or hug and peck on the cheek. The waiters also made sure all us girls came home from the restaurant safely in a pre-booked cab. Finally, for all this loveliness Al Frash is also very cheap – we ended up forking up less than £15/each for the whole meal. Therefore, we jointly awarded it 9 meatballs out of 10.