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Indian Zest opens in Sunbury on Thames

I remember a few years ago walking past a local Indian restaurant when a big catering van was making a regular delivery. There was a pile of large bags sitting on the tailgate waiting to be carried in. Being a nosy sort of person where anything to do with food is concerned, I couldn't help having a look. I was intrigued to see a couple of large bags of Greenland prawns - so much for regionality I thought!

I followed this up with a squint at the rather faded menu (written in stone nevertheless) next to the entrance. The list of dishes under the heading Fish told me all I needed to know. Prawn madras, prawn vindaloo, prawn rogan josh and so on until I felt a bit like a sag prawn myself.

Even a cursory glance at Indian Zest’s beautifully designed website will dispel any doubts about their menu. Having scored a great success in Hammersmith with Indian Zing, the owners, chef Manoj Vasikar and Bhanu Pratap launched Indian Zest back in February. The pair are clearly passionate about real Indian food and have travelled all round India to experience the best of Indian regional cuisine in private homes, stately palaces and not least from street vendors, who purvey some of India's most exciting cooking.

Indian Zest is located in what looks like an old pub, with its own car park, in Thames Street. It covers two floors and has several interconnecting dining rooms some of which can be hired for private events. There's a lot of slick brown paint, purposefully giving an old Edwardian colonial feel. On the walls are old photographs of stout chaps in burly moustaches posing in front of dead tigers, or wielding polo sticks.

The starters are very grand indeed, beautifully presented with interesting contrasts of colour and texture as well as carefully contrived combinations of flavours. They represent the new look of Indian cuisine in this country - a sort of reverse fusion. The main course dishes on the other hand, whilst having been carefully researched and cooked with passion, follow more familiar Indian restaurant traditions and are served in separate bowls together with side dishes of rice and vegetables. This makes them easier to share, with a few exceptions such as my friend’s monkfish tikka which was arranged on a dinner plate in western style.

Just to highlight the differences between Indian Zest’s fish dishes and your neighbourhood curry house, just take a look at these starters:

Prawn and Aubergine Kharphatla £4.75
A warm medley of jumbo prawns and aubergine finished off with a caramelised onion, tomato & pickle masala.

Mussel Rasam £4.75
Mussels gently simmered in tomato and tamarind broth with a prominent flavour of garlic and curry leaves.

Patrani Macchi £4.75
Seasonal fish marinated in fresh green herbs and coconut rolled in banana leaves and steamed

Not wanting to scare off less adventurous diners, there are a few familiar standards, such as Thalis, a biryani, and a lamb rogon josh that was particularly delicious. It is extensively prepared “in a traditional style originating from the ‘Awadh’ region in North India with a unique flavour of rogan (tinged, flavoured and spiced oil) and josh - a strong punch of knuckle juice and marrow.” Makes you wonder about prawn rogon josh, doesn’t it?!

One of our favourites was the Duck Chettinad £8.50 - Breast of barbary duck in a blend of Chettinad community spices, roasted coconut and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. My saffron chicken came in a deliciously delicate creamy sauce which all too easily became the victim of our sharing. After mouthfuls of the duck and the lamb, I could no longer taste the subtle spices. The selection of side dishes is really mouthwatering, and included one of the best Taka Dhals I've ever tasted. Vegetarians could have a field day choosing from this list which does not include the various rices and flat breads which have their own list.

Puddings can be a bit of a disappointment in most Oriental restaurants but Indian Zest proved to be an exception. I couldn't persuade any of my friends to try a gulab jamin, but we greatly enjoyed something called rasmalai, a milk pudding poached in saffron and caramelised milk - it was gorgeous, with delicate spicing and the accompanying ice cream was of a high quality.

The service was both friendly and ultra-professional, although to be fair, we arrived early so as to beat the main rush. The bill for three courses for four people, which included two bottles of wine, two Cobra beers and four coffees, came to a very reasonable £134.20 including service.

Clifford Mould March 2008

Indian Zest is open daily for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 5:30 p.m. until midnight - the restaurant remains open 365 days of the year. Take-away is also available.

Location: 21 Thames St, Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex TW 16
reservations: 01932 765000

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