Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Khyber Tandoori, Belfast

520 Saintfield Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9081 3822

By Joris Minne

Rarely does the restaurant trade get to witness the end of an era. Sadly, too many restaurants don't last long enough to qualify for era status. That goes to the likes of Cayenne and Nick's Warehouse who created their own epochs from the 80s to the Noughties. But the Khyber Tandoori qualifies.

Perched for the last 20 years above the petrol station at Knockbracken on the Saintfield Road near Carryduff, owner Tariq Nabi and his sons Jonny, Stephen and Nicky will remove the tandoor oven from the kitchens on May 1 and turn the light off on their way out for the last time.

But do not fear, fellow naan nuts, tikka fanatics and shashlik lovers. Tariq has a cunning plan which involves opening a new Khyber Tandoori takeaway up the road in Carryduff and converting the existing restaurant into, wait for it, The Road House.

The Road House will be an American-themed ribs 'n' chicken, burgers 'n' dogs, fries 'n' beers kind of place which has proven so popular with families in places like Dundonald 'n' Lisburn. (We'll deal with that when it opens at the end of May).

In the meantime, I want to pay tribute to the Khyber which unfailingly served me and thousands of other curry heads our takeaways almost every Friday night for those 20 golden years.

It was not without its occasional screw-ups. The brothers got the order right most of the time but, entertainingly, when they didn't they would deploy their secret team of forensic analysts to find out what might have happened to the three poppadoms I had ordered, why the boiled rice was converted to pilau or how the pakora could have gone missing. Within 15 minutes, a full report, apology and cold bottle of Cobra would be dispatched in Nicky's 3-series or Stephen's Golf by way of buying my silence (And silent I remained. Until now!).

But these were only very minor blips in an otherwise blissful marriage between consumer and supplier. I'll miss those phone calls complaining and the ceremonial apologies, although it remains to be seen if the new Khyber takeaway will have better packers.

What would be great in the new Khyber takeaway would be to see some of the old classics on the menu. The top of my list would feature those chicken pakora, all red, crispy and spicy with the raw onion chutney, a king prawn shashlik with truffle-like dark brown jus, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes and cheeky little vegetable curry on the side. The shashlik comes in three components including one of rice and could feed a small family.

The adviser, normally adventurous and curious, stuck faithfully with the chicken tikka chilli masala, butter chicken and boiled rice throughout the two decades. She says after a hard week at work, the Khyber takeaway is as reassuring as putting the fire on, switching on the telly and reconnecting with the sofa.

Those two dishes soon became part of a religiously repeated weekend ritual and even though she did try the occasional jalfrezi, the odd dopiaza and even a fierce vindaloo on one occasion, we always went back to the two favourites. The yin and yang of fiery chilli masala and velvety smooth butter chicken never failed to delight. Depths of flavours and chunky textures worked beautifully with plain naan and chapati into the order as well: the musty, earthy aroma of the wheat and floury flavour of the flat breads never let me down.

But the craic and the pint of lager while waiting for the takeaway were always priceless. A little waiting area, tucked in between the bar and the dining room featured a low table with a sofa wrapped around three sides of it. It was normally reserved for diners having a pre-dinner drink while their table was being prepared. But when it was free, it became a playground of gentle banter for the brothers and delivery drivers waiting for orders. I came in one night to find Assim, with his Bollywood looks and impeccable manners and who worked for years as a Khyber waiter, sitting in the banter zone talking about his adventures having recently qualified as a commercial pilot. There were the glamorous cousins from Glasgow, the revelation that Stephen and Rebecca were to get married and Jonny's recent trip to Iceland. Nicky's new tattoos always provided a talking point.

It's a good job they're all still going to be there in The Road House because even though I can live happily enough without ribs 'n' things, I don't think I'm ready to say goodbye to the Nabis just yet.

The bill

Chicken pakora...............................£3.95

Lamb shashlik................................£11.25

Chicken tikka chilli masala............£8.25

Butter chicken.................................£8.25

Poppadom..........................................50p

Rice...................................................£1.70

Naan.................................................£2.10

Total:...............................................£36.00

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