Restaurant Review: It's not just the curries that make Ormeau Road's Cafe Naz a hot ticket
Cafe Naz, 393 Ormeau Road, Belfast
Tel: 028 9064 8635
Lucky Rosettans. Rosetta, the district at the top of the Ormeau Road whose population of scaffolders, bathroom fitters and bookies has moved up to Carryduff making way for broadcasters, lawyers and management consultants, has been transformed into a bijou quartier of tasteful interiors, gravel paths and clipped lawns. The new Rosettans are time-poor. They can afford to eat out and drink but are so busy working and earning all the money, they barely get out at all.
Which is why they are so lucky to be in Rosetta. Everything good is on their doorstep, no need to wait for taxis or buses. What’s more, it’s all very chic and fashionable now.
Bia Rebel, Root & Branch and Kaffe O are all impossibly on trend. Boosted by the more recent arrival of District, Al Gelato and La Taqueria it’s worth pausing a moment to see who was there in the first place. Who actually started all this Rosetta-is-the-new-Ballyhackamore, anyway?
Well, in the beginning there was the Errigle, the Pavilion and l’Etoile. I put all the rising house prices, Ted Baker slacks and Zara weekend wear firmly at their door. Two great pubs and a charming bring-your-own restaurant with the most interesting net curtains in Belfast were enough to sow the seeds of trend which would, some decades later, result in the creation of a part of Belfast that has become very desirable.
In the centre-ground of the trendiness is a series of robust, quality, value for money restaurants such as Shed, Macau, Gaze and the Bengal Brasserie (the best Chinese takeaway up here, by the way, is the Golden Harvest — you should try their dumplings). The stand out right now is Cafe Naz.
Step forward Naga the formidable Bangladeshi chilli dish, kufta khazama meatballs and sallie lamb and a few others you won’t find on every menu.
Here is a modest north west Indian/Bengali/Bangladeshi restaurant of tiny proportions pumping out huge flavours and opening for many of us an exciting new chapter in curries. Its been there a few years now, of course, and I have visited many times but only recently did it become noticeably different. The adviser and I recently hit on the Cafe Naz again at a friend’s house who, beyond being able to cook, phoned Just Eat and a whole new world of deeply spiced and lush vegetarian curries featuring much spinach, caramelised onions and lady’s fingers among others, and the lightest possible, most brittle poppadoms, opened up to us.
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Days later, we did a rerun in our house and everything from the railway favourite, chaat, to the hot chilli Naga lamb was an utter indulgence, sinful, addictive and designed for the very greedy.
There is everything in Cafe Naz to keep the regular curry lover satisfied, particularly in the vast portions they serve up. But it’s the little sides where the real magic lies. The daal masala and Bombay aloo are vegetarian heaven with a depth of flavour and after taste which lingers (but doesn’t repeat).
Mixed vegetable bhagee and saag aloo are particularly interesting. The julienne dipped in light batter forms a crispy nest all crunchy texture and fresh veg within, the potato and spinach of the saag aloo salty, tangy and reassuringly softened by the potato.
I love the small plates here which are still called starters and sides, but Cafe Naz now talks of tapas, although not in its takeaway menu. There’s still that little touch of class consciousness between those who sit in, and those who takeaway. So if you’re a real Rosettan, you’re going to book a table ahead and order the tapas.
On closer inspection, these are “chef’s selection of lamb, chicken, king prawn and vegetables served with salad, it is designed to share” which means a selection of tandoori starters and a side or two.
This is an exceptional curry house and the fact that it has succeeded is a tribute to Rosetta whose residents now venture as far as the Holylands to get to Bo Tree Kitchen, the amazing Thai canteen in University Avenue: they know the difference between okay and quality, and Naz is firmly in the latter park.
Chicken pakora: £4.25
Chicken chaat: £4.25
Vegetable bhajee: £3.95
Naga lamb: £12.95
Butter chicken: £12.95