Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Bangla in Bangor

115 Main Street Bangor. Tel: 028 9127 1272

By Joris Minne

Last week, I was lamenting the silence that surrounds Bangor, Co Down and its once great reputation as a food destination. I had just been to Gary Bell's new restaurant, Underground Dining, and had a quick check to see where the old greats had got to.

They were all there. Wheathill, Cafe Essence, Guillemotte, Boat House, along with a few others, had combined to make Bangor a kind of northern Kinsale. I was relieved to see they are all in rude health and still serving great food.

Towns and communities with less to offer make more of their restaurant repertoires than Bangor by promoting specially designated restaurant weeks and food festivals. I was making the point that the town deserves a promotional shove.

Happily, I'm back in Bangor this week to eat in the joint winner of the Irish Curry Awards 2017 Best Restaurant in Ulster, Bangla. Bangla sits in a prominent position on Bangor's Main Street and shares the prestigious award with Nu Delhi in Belfast (which will be reviewed very soon).

Bangla is a bit of an institution. Prolific tweeting chef Brian McMillan predicted a few years ago that Bangla would win a key Irish Curry Award, because it's just so authentic.

My rear gunner for this review is Ali Askir, no stranger to good Bangladeshi cooking himself and, indeed, the founder of the Irish Curry Awards. I invited the reluctant Ali along. For the record, Ali needs you to know that he is not one of the judges of the awards. But I am.

Bangla won thanks to three simple factors: the ambience, the service and the food. Its interior is unmistakeably Asian: from the plush purple velvet upholstery, twinkly lights, chandeliers and discreet Bangra soundtracks to the generous hospitality, there is no doubt that even a space alien's first visit to earth happening on Bangla would instantly know where he was.

Ali and I went at lunchtime, when we were less likely to be befuddled, or influenced by other forces. The menu is intriguing and I'm glad he was there to help me through it. Having said that, the server was completely on the ball and knew her subject forensically.

There are plenty of classic starters from the tandoor oven, but more besides. A chicken chaat masala is rich and the chicken fillet tender. It's a quality meat with none of the hinted rubberiness which has started appearing in lesser curry houses.

The masala sauce is dry, full of garlic, ginger and chilli with just enough tomato to bring on a tangy finish. It's so good, you'll be comparing your local masala to this standard.

But the real reason for coming here is the Bangladeshi Golda Macher Malkairi. King prawns grilled and then dropped into a sauce of yoghurt, lemon juice, garam masala and cashew nuts and almond powder. The sweetness of the almond underlines the depth of the garlic, ginger and chilli within and combines to make the dish something both light and very satisfyingly savoury with a nudge of spiciness.

This is a heavenly dish and served with a fluffy plain naan (they quarter the naan, but I'd rather have it straight from the oven still puffed and souffleed like a little pillow), a hearty, wholesome lunch to put you on your feet for the rest of the day. Just try not to burp near anybody.

A lamb saag and a jaljal chicken prove just how different these dishes and curries can be. We tend to fall into a dumbed-down trap of thinking that most of these are the same, their sauces coming from a central pot. But not here.

In Bangla, these dishes are cooked in a flat pan, keeping things ungreasy and light. What's more, there is no central pot, or shared curry paste. It's all made from scratch.

The lamb rump is tender, free of fat, or gristle, and the accompanying spinach offers a counter-balance of irony leafiness. The jaljal is spicy and tangy with the Worcestershire sauce. Both of us are very impressed and even though we have taken the precaution of ordering half portions, there's still too much. Bear that in mind when you get there.

Bangla is a Bangor landmark and, if you're a curry head, this place is not going to let you down.

The bill

Chicken chaat .................................£4.25

Malakairi (half)....................................£9

Jaljal (half).......................................£6.50

Lamb saag........................................£6.50

Plain rice x 2....................................£3.90

Plain naan........................................£1.95

Coke x 2............................................£1.60

Total................................................£33.70

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