Allegedly springing up for Asian workers in the cotton trade, the concept of the Curry Café is a tricky one to pin down. As the word café suggests they are relatively modest places and do not have extensive menus – typically between 4-12 varieties of curry. There is no table service, go to the counter and either read or ask what’s available on the day. Standard practice, and the point of comparison on these trips, is to have rice and up to three of the curries. Additional options vary from almost nothing to a pretty extensive range of kebabs, samosas and various other snacks, although many places do not have tandoor or a grill. Bread will be available, though presumably cooked on a tava or under a grill. There is obviously some crossover as often Curry Cafes will serve kebabs and similarly Kebab Houses often also offer curries - however it is usually clear as to which the business is geared up for. The way it has been defined for the purposes of these reviews is that if they have curry hot and ready to serve it’s a Curry Café. Hence Hunter’s BBQ is a Curry Café – even though it sells a variety of Kebabs.
Rice and 3 - In this case lamb, chicken and daal.
Another - this time potato and spinach, chicken and chickpeas
It is our view that most ‘indian’ restaurants have menus which are far too long and it would be beneficial for their food quality to offer fewer dishes freshly and independently cooked, rather than using 50 variations of the same base sauce. Perhaps it is the stereotype of the curry after a night on the beer that makes most restaurants over spice, colour, salt and oil their food – none of which is usually apparent in the lunchtime environment of the curry café. A seemingly unique and superb concept, however sometimes seen as a little bland in comparison to their restaurant counterparts.
Nihari is a dish of cheaper cuts of lamb, traditionally cooked overnight so as to make a rich broth with extremely tender meat. Cooked like this it would be ready and eaten in the morning (which is what Nihari means), after prayers but before sunrise by devout muslims. The spice combinations are warming and fragrant rather than sour or hot and, more than most dishes, it tastes extremely meaty having all the marrow and goodness from the lamb bones dissolved into it. It’s customary to add your own flavourings to pep it up right before eating – fresh lemon, coriander, crispy fired onions, slivers of ginger and finely chopped chillies are usual condiments.
Nihari is available in quite a few Pakistani restaurants all the time however the smaller places often limit it to Sundays or Weekend only – and some won’t serve much else on that day. There’s quite a tradition in the Northern Quarter of going for a Nihari on a Sunday, Kabana is pretty popular for it and our favourite.