Tuesday, 11 January 2011
Restaurant Review: Jinnah, Harrogate
Name: Jinnah’s Restaurant
Location: Harrogate, North Yorkshire
It isn’t everyday that you see a contemporary looking Indian restaurant, built into a former Georgian school house. Coupled with the fact that it is also situated at the end of my road, it had to be sampled.
Inside the restaurant the ceilings are high, presumably as the school would have comprised of two floors originally. Along two separate walls are two large glass panels with water that trickles between the sheets, backlit by slowly changing vivid colours. This actually looks a lot less tacky than it sounds.
The range of dishes on the menu is vast, which raises alarm bells instantly. For anyone that has never considered this when looking at a menu, I don’t want to ruin your dining experience but think of it like this; what if no one orders that braised lamb dish? When was it braised? How long do the owners think it will keep for? Example menu ‘A’ has sausages, chicken, lamb, beef and every type of shellfish, the list goes on. Are the sausages frozen? Is the seafood frozen? What I am trying to conclude is that the larger the menu, the less can be prepared to order, or even prepared that day. That is why when you go to the best restaurants in the country you will find five or six starters and the same amount of mains. That is because they can handle this quantity if the produce is delivered fresh each day. It also means certain dishes don’t go unordered for very long. I’m digressing, but I will re-visit this point later on in the review.
Despite the large menu, it did read very well. Dishes were clearly explained in an enticing way, even giving a nod to the regionality and history in the description. It read like a menu written by someone who knew their onions. If only it had been cooked with the same passion.
We ordered the Poppadoms with a chutney tray. The chutney tray cost us extra. This is unusual for an Indian restaurant but when the tray arrived, it was clear why this was the case. The chutneys were extensive and many of them seemed to be made on the premises. They all tasted great and it was nice to have a variety. Being able to try all the different chutneys reminded me of sampling exciting varieties in London’s Borough Market, a real triumph.
For main we ordered a naan bread to share, a pilau rice to share, a chicken shashlik and a chicken rogan josh. This is where the positives end and the bastardisation of Indian cuisine in this country begins. The chicken shashlik is a great dish, if done well. Large marinated chunks of chicken are cooked with onions and peppers in a 400c tandoor oven lined with coals. This makes the meat incredibly tender and succulent, as well as giving the whole dish a sizzling barbecue flavour. When the dish appeared it was not sizzling. The chicken was barely hot and was served alongside half of a very large Spanish onion, as well as the peppers. The chicken was thoroughly dry. A real disappointment.
A Rogan Josh is supposed to be rich in spices and kashmiri chillies. It was mildly flavoured with tomatoes, but its one saving grace was that it seemed to be the only thing cooked to order. The basmati rice was mildly warm and had formed that harder, chewy layer round it where it had been sat out, slowly losing moisture.
I’m going to cut to the chase. There was a buffet on while we were there. This is something that runs seven days a week so it wasn’t a special day. I return to my earlier point about large menus. How do they cope with this gargantuan list of food? My gut feeling is that the shashlik and the rice, maybe even the rogan josh, were simply pulled from the buffet and glorified in their own little dishes. This isn’t as uncommon in restaurants as you might think. To top it off, the bill came to more than it normally does in my local North London curry house, who by the way do a very good shashlik. It even sizzles.
The problem with some restaurants round this area of Harrogate is that they are nearby to the conference centre that hosts one day business events throughout the year. This means that passing trade will always come to them. This can produce restaurants that get slack and forget that there are people like me who are a stones throw away, seeking out the best places to eat at time and time again.
From this review, I suppose it might seem like I expect the earth from a curry house. That isn’t really the case. Just cook the damn thing to order, balance the spices... Heck, don’t even balance them, just use them! Historically, curry is the food of peasants. Like many national dishes, it is about making the most of what you have, and giving it flavour. If Jinnah’s can’t successfully create peasant food, then they should consider opening a dog food factory.