Last Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to be invited along with five other food bloggers to the East India Café in Cheltenham. It was to be masterclass to remember with the theme being a celebration of Bengali New Year.
I really had no idea what to expect, the only thing I was slightly concerned about was perhaps it was going to be a bit of a serious ‘foodie’ cookery lesson and I was going to be out of my depth, I had however been told by work colleagues that it was a fantastic place to eat so the bar was set high before I even walked through the door.
I took along my sister Sally as my plus one and we set off on a very warm afternoon to the restaurant which is only a short walk from our Old School House in the centre of Cheltenham. When we arrived we were greeted warmly and received a welcome drink which was a chilled still juice containing lemon, sugar and mint, very refreshing and set the tone nicely…we were in for a treat!
The restaurant itself is small and intimate, with a modern and fashionable Anglo Indian twist on your standard ‘Indian’, there is a beautiful, brick fireplace which caught my eye full of candles lit to create a cosy atmosphere. Across the wall was a large map of India which was refereed to many times during the afternoon as we were guided through the history of our dishes and the culinary journey India has taken over many hundreds of years.
The amuse bouche followed the welcome drink which was a mixture of red pepper, pomegranate seeds, sweetcorn, various types of bean and spices. Like all the best things in food, simple but deliciously subtle in flavour. We gobbled it up before being guided through how to make the perfect gin and tonic (being seven months pregnant was a little of a hindrance here but I will definitely be using the tips at a later date!) We were handed around some Darjeeling tea leaves to smell and were taken aback by the perfumed aroma, cloves were the dominant flavour and an inspired idea to add it into a gin and tonic we thought. Also added to our own gin and tonics were juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, star anise and Turkish delight! I had a less adult version with homemade raspberry concentrate and it was delicious.
The first starter we were served was a guinea fowl dish named Panta Vat, served in a small bowl with noodles, tofu and roasted broccoli. Again the spicing was subtle and delicious, I could have eaten a lot of this one!
We were then set a little challenge of making the Tamarind khata to go alongside the next course, with guidance we mixed and tasted the ingredients given to us in our groups which included tamarind, green chilli, ginger (which I added far too much of!) salt, sugar and cumin. We eventually came up with something that didn’t make us all wince and seemed to semi please the chef so we were fairly pleased with our achievement.
Onto the second starter and we sat and listened to the chefs talk about the dish they were about to demonstrate called Mackerel Pakora. They explained that they had eaten this dish for breakfast at Bengali New Year since they were young boys and their stories brought the dish alive. It was mackerel served two ways both cooked with Bengali mustard chutney, one piece of fresh mackerel was fried in a light chickpea batter and the other steamed in a banana leaf under the grill. They were served with cold overnight soaked rice which was a new thing on all of us and complimented the fish perfectly.
The main course was undoubtedly the star of the show, who doesn’t love a chicken curry? This was called Moddhannor Noboborso and we were again guided through the complexities of curry making by the chefs. It was so interesting to see their skill as each section of the curry was explained to us, including the colour of the onions, how to roast the spices to allow the oils to permeate through and the cooking of the chicken to ensure it is succulent and tender. I would put myself in the category of a ‘proper western curry eater’ and therefore like a good bit of sauce which this did not have but it was no less delicious because of it. We were served the main with rice and carrot (a revelation), red onion salad and a roti. Everyone was offered seconds and thirds of everything if you could fit it in, again the pregnancy thing got in the way a bit here (see my previous blog on eating out as a pregnant lady), head had to rule heart and I declined extra portions as I knew there was desert to come and everyone knows you have to save space for desert.
We were served a mango sorbet as a palate cleanser, which I would have quite happily eaten a bucket of as it was simply divine. It was at this point I felt like I was drifting into a food haze and was feeling thoroughly spoilt and lucky to be being served dish after dish of exquisite food in such an intimate atmosphere…..what could dessert possibly bring?
It will be no surprise to you that we were not disappointed, named Kodhur Nadu it was a quenelled Indian sweet with pumpkin, parmesan, cardamon, nutmeg and chocolate. This was served with chilli chocolate dust and pistachio ice-cream.
We were sent away full to the bursting with a doggy bag containing some of their family recipe garam masala and the dry ingredients to make a chai latte. The whole afternoon was a culinary delight, served up with a dose of culture and history, truly a memorable experience and an absolute pleasure to attend, I will certainly be heading back to eat with the masses soon.