This, the former New Himalaya, was where you’d come for your Friday night curry. You might have fond memories of their Sunday evening buffet, all you could eat for £6 or thereabouts. But these days, you come here to Salkaara for some of the best Indian cooking in Cardiff.
The Wellfield Road branch has followed Llandaff North and Henleaze to become the third Salkara ‘proper’- another has just opened in Banbury, and they have a street food arm is on Bristol’s Gloucester Road. That more casual menu is full of familiar names: lamb coconut fry, Chickens 65 and lollipop, kati rolls. But it has been a while since I ate here in Cardiff, so here comes the tasting menu.
At £32 each it seems eminently sensible: there is another, briefer post-9pm taster listed for £25, but presumably that comes with a Gaviscon chaser.
A trio of starters: Roti Meen Nirachathu is a thin, flaky flatbread sandwich of spiced tuna, while the chicken tikka, a furious Kashmiri chilli red, is subtly flavoured, impeccably textured and tamarind-laced.
The comedy potential of Dahi Puri can never be underestimated: that little gram flour shell filled with cool spiced yoghurt pop of cool spiced . If you’ve not tried this before, please heed the ‘eat it in one’ advice. The alternative is hilarious. Not for you: you’ll be rueing your impetuousness and your dry-cleaning bill. But to me, and to anyone watching. It never, ever gets old.
We dont have the optional fish course (£7 supplement) of sea bass, and the menu mentions a sorbet, which doesn’t arrive. We don’t realise until later, which means my palate goes uncleansed. I didn’t get the chance to cleanse my pallet, either, (free little blogger joke for you there) though I might have struggled to get it through through the narrow door and that might have attracted stares from the pearl-clutchers of Penylan, dahlings.
No matter. Good things keep on coming.
From the North of the country comes the dhabha chicken, a favourite at Punjabi road side restaurants. It’s ruggedly spiced in a thick onion tomato gravy and the snap of yellow peppers; saag gosht’s braised lamb is a beauty of a thing, the meat tender and sweet and aromatic with fenugreek.
A thick, pale coconut paste clings to the plump, meaty prawns in the Peera, a delicately flavoured and evocative dish. It’s another hit: besides, I’m anyone’s for the tang of tamarind.
It’s all rounded out with a classic thoran, that comforting blend of stir-fried green vegetables tempered with mustard and curry leaves, steamed rice and a couple of their excellent peshawar and chilli and coriander naan.
A rosewater crème brûlée stays just the right side of over-sweetness, so the tandoori pineapple is a welcome balance. Literally my last mouthful is the only disappointment: the chocolate in the chocomosa is set, rather than doing its sultry ooze. This is a little misstep in a thoroughly enjoyable meal, an impression only heightened by our lovely server’s offer of extra portions of anything we particularly liked. And when many restaurants’ offers feel calculated and costed to the last detail, this is the sort of touch which wins you loyalty.
A very enjoyable tasting menu, then, and it’s worth repeating that it was just £32. It’s so good, it plays on my mind, so I can’t resist the prospect of yet another offer. (They were running a 20% off for eating ‘in’ deal, so I indulged. And indulged again.) Over several visits, highlights include Pazhampori beef, a dry fry of little beef nuggets, enthusiastically spiced, which brings a heat which builds and lingers and is teamed with sweet plantain fritters.
Taken as a whole, Salkaara’s is an inclusive menu. 5 starters are meat-free, and seven of the mains are fish based, seven vegetarian. No one is excluded. Choondakaran prawns are so good, we have them twice. Marinated overnight and then doused in the lightest of batters, and butterflied to maximise surface area for texture and penetration, these are essential.
On neither of my follow-up visits do I get to try Kakka Irachi Thoran– Welsh cockles in a pepper masala with coconut chips- their fishmonger has come up short, unfortunately. It’ll have to wait for another visit, but there’s something about teaming that quintessential Welsh ingredient with the spicing from well-known Keralan love of seafood which gets my juices flowing.
Nandu Vattichathu- softshell crab- is an able deputy. Often served simply dusted with curry leaves and deep fried, here it is slathered in a rugged shallot and tomato masala.
What is billed as ‘A royal Hyderbadi Muslim lamb dish’, lamb Laziz is another thickly sauced dish, rich and hot with tomatoes, onion and chillies. Their take on chicken tikka masala is heftier than many but well liked.
The star of the show is Tharavu Varattiyathu (‘Backwater Duck’), a sauce of hearty richness and proper pepper punch standing up very well to the dense meatiness of breast.
These meals confirm a couple of things. One, that Cardiff’s Keralan food is a true strength, and perhaps the only genre we do (whisper it…) better than Bristol. If you’re keeping score, that is.
And secondly, that there is enviable consistency here. Having eaten at both Cardiff branches several times, and at Henleaze too, this skilful, accomplished cooking is a sure thing.
If this is your first time here, have the taster menu: it’s a lovely way into what they do here. And make no mistake: there is very little to even rival that for value in this city right now. You won’t go wrong whatever you choose: I have no reservation in telling you to make one.
Salkaara, 24 Wellfield Road, Cardiff CF243PB
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