Birmingham may be the curry-house capital of the UK, but Lasan takes Indian food to another level.Katherine Alanowent to visit
Birmingham has long been known as the curry capital of the UK, but as soon as you step into Lasan you know you're not in your average curry house. Set in the city's Jewellery Quarter, the restaurant has an understated feel, with neutral walls, heavy curtains draped across the large windows and splashes of gold and red from the decorative pieces on the walls.
Taking pride of place in the entrance among other awards - such as being named one of the Top 10 Indian Restaurants in the UK by The Independent, The Times and The Guardian and winner of the British Curry Awards for three years - is the Gordon Ramsay's F-Word Best Restaurant trophy, which Lasan won in 2009.
The 68-seat restaurant was opened by entrepreneur and director Jabbar Khan and chef-director Aktar Islam in 2002. Islam has a long history in catering - his grandfather and father both owned and ran restaurants - but he first picked up his cooking skills from his mother, later developing them when he started working in the family businesses from the age of 13.
With a brigade of seven chefs, Islam is keen that his food is not described as "British curry" - the type that you would find in any high street or take-away - but a more refined take on this popular cuisine. Islam's menu takes influences from all Indian regions including Kashmir and flavours of Mangalore.
Islam uses a number of traditional techniques, such as tandoori ovens to cook dishes like the starter Hyderabadi seekh kebab (£6.95) (a minced lamb flavoured with nutmeg, fresh mint, brown onion and ginger) and a method of smoking meats using charcoal from Rajasthan.
"What we cook at the restaurant is traditional in the sense that we use old Indian cooking techniques and ingredients, but we use them in a different way," he says, pointing to the main course, hiran achari, a popular roasted venison dish, marinated with chilli, cumin and coriander, served with butternut squash and a caramelised onion and cashew nut gravy (£19.95).
Light and delicate
"If cooked in India, the venison would be stewed to death," adds Islam. "We take the fillet and sear it and serve it pink. The gravy is infused with the flavours of the pickling spices that you would normally find as a condiment. We don't overcook the meat and make sure that the flavours are light and delicate to allow the flavour of the meat to come through."
Islam is also very conscious of working within the seasons and looks at how the produce best lends itself to a particular time of the year. Currently, he is using venison from Balmoral and Cornish lamb, both supplied by Aubrey Allen.
Another dish, balchao king prawns (£17.95), uses cooking techniques from Goa. The prawns are served with a curry flavoured with whole coriander seeds and dry-roasted red chillies and finished with coconut milk and malt vinegar, which is used to cut through the spices and add a slight tangy flavour to give it a unique Goan flavour.
Desserts include firni pudding, a popular north Indian dessert of rice and bread pudding with almonds and pistachios (£5.95), and keshri muzaafa, a traditional festive dessert from Avadh, comprising a fine vermicelli and milk flavoured with saffron (£5.95).
Islam's goal is to join the elite band of Michelin-starred chefs in Birmingham and be the first Indian restaurant in Birmingham to gain a star. "I want to prove that Indian food is up to scratch; that there is a sophisticated side to it. It deserves to be revered alongside British, French and Italian cuisine."
Sample dishes from the menu
â- Adraki murgh Spring chicken roasted in a north Indian fennel and ginger marinade, £8.95
â- Chok ki tikki Lightly spiced traditional potato cakes served with tamarind and ginger chutney, £4.95
â- Macher jhol Pan-fried fillet of bream resting on wilted spinach with new potatoes in a garlic and coriander Bengal fish broth, £17.95
â- Dhaba de gosht Punjabi-style lamb marinated with mustard oil, ginger, garlic, yogurt, cumin seeds and chillies and slowly stewed, £12.95
â- Chukkar ki shorva SuprÁªme of guinea fowl and caramelised baby onion simmered in traditional gravy spiced with star anise, sun-dried chilli and cassia leaf, finished with yogurt and fresh coriander, £17.95
â- Rasmali Traditional cured milk dessert served with chilled pistachio cream, £5.95
â- Gajar halva parcel Punjabi-style carrot dessert in puff pastry, served with ice-cream, £5.95
â- Mango and almond crumble Freshly baked Alphonso mango coated with roasted almonds, topped with oat crumble, served with iced apple custard, £5.9
Lasan 3-4 Dakota Buildings, James Street, St Paul's Square, Birmingham B3 1SD