Thank heavens for little curry houses, for little curry houses get bigger every day, as Maurice Chevalier might have crooned.
The Nu Delhi Restaurant and Lounge in Belfast’s Bruce Street is the first curry house to succeed the cross-over from innocent to sinful, from conventional to modern with cool cocktail bar, nightclub atmosphere, charming and knowledgeable service and very good cooking.
I had resisted going up the stairs of what was once the metal-heads’ favourite city centre haunt, the Venue, because of its awkward location between two sets of traffic lights.
But reports coming back from Nu Delhi were universally favourable and people who know more about Asian food than me were particularly complimentary.
The first thing that strikes you about the place, once you’ve reached it at the top of the stairs, is the sound. There is a constant throb of quality Bangra and Indian pop music, but not so loud as to be annoying or intrusive. The second noticeable feature is the glamour of the place. The servers are all supermodel good lookers and you’d forgive them if they were a bit on the dopey side, except they’re not. They’re full of knowledge, gentle wit, charm and attentive interest.
The cocktail bar is a fully developed feature — not an afterthought bolted on as some restaurants seem to do. It attracts a hip, mixed Asian crowd, which gives the whole place a metropolitan vibe, and I have to ask the adviser to remind us that we are where the Venue used to be.
So, impressed by the environment we wonder will the food match? And it does. By the spadeload. There are lots of old standards to steady the nervous, but a few additions that don’t usually make it on the circuit add some genuine mystery and exoticism. Maybe if you’re from London, Birmingham or Bradford you might laugh at this, but for us poor Belfastards, it’s a step beyond the usual curry to have a choice of Indian tapas.
For under £3 each (mostly), the choice of tapas means you can have a rainbow of different flavours and sensations. Better still, let them make the choices for you — for £14 they’ll bring you a selection of five small plates of various curries and a couple of sides like naan, rice and so on.
There’s always something suspect about restaurants who know how to sell themselves to the punter using large chain discount sales techniques. But Nu Delhi’s marketing and packaging should not deter you, because the food as well as everything else in the place is far better than the commerce might indicate.
For instance, the naan, which comes fresh from the oven and precisely sliced, is subtle, light, thin and crispy. It provides the perfect support for what ever you happen to be dipping it into. The poppadoms are cute, brittle triangles and the raita tastes as if it were made a couple of minutes earlier in the chill room.
The local mussels are uniformly perfect — there’s nothing rustic about this dish other than the robust Goan liqueur which is a dry, musty, coconut affair which works beautifully with the sweet and juicy shellfish.
The adviser has reached for the tandoori platter of starters, which is a classic offering up a selection of chicken and lamb skewers marinated and baked to a tender, confit-like tenderness, bursting with that addictive tandoori deep spiciness.
The two chicken dishes — one in a Punjabi butter sauce, the other in garlic and chilli — are bright, tasty and colourful meals. Both are exuberant and so tasty we want them to last the whole night. A little side order of dal tadka, however, steals the show. The texture of the chickpeas and lentils is perfect — they retain their shape yet immediately soften and disappear in the mouth. The sauce is a blanket of the most comforting flavours, with the driness of the turmeric coming through the mildly bitter tomatoes. It’s buttery and thick and life-giving and I make a note to come back and have it for lunch.
The adviser, who is a curry fiend, is in seventh heaven. Cosmopolitans and tandoori? What can possibly be better?! Her view of the cosmopolitan is uncertain and she has to try a second one to make sure. This time she’s sure. It’s one of the best in Belfast (she still maintains the city’s best cosmo is in the MAC).
Nu Delhi is a brilliant addition to Belfast’s Asian restaurant portfolio and one we should be proud to bring visitors to from expert centres like Brum and Bradford. If you have any views on this (many have contacted me about where the best Indian is) please tweet me. twitter.com/jorisminne
Tandoori platter £6.95
Goan mussels £4.95
Chicken chilli garlic £8.95
Punjabi buttered chicken £10.95
Dal tadka £3.95
Steamed rice x 2 £3.50
Trad naan £1.95
Poppodum x 2 £1.80
Chutney tray £2.50
Cosmopolitans x 2 £11.90
25 Bruce Street, Belfast BT2 7JD
Tel: 028 9024 4747