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Ruth Allan finds another jewel in Ramsbottom's crown (and that’s it we’ll stop worrying the town to death now. Ed)

Published on May 6th 2009.


South Indian cooking isn’t what Ramsbottom is best known for, but thanks to the arrival of Sanmini, just opposite Ramsons restaurant, it’s another great reason to hit the M66. Open for a mere six months, the restaurant has accrued a band of fans. To date they include Neil Sowerby from the Manchester Evening News, Ramsons’ owner, Chris Johnson, and if the limited availability of tables is anything to go by, many more.

I first heard about the restaurant a month back sitting next to Chris Johnson (aka Bilbo Baggins’ great uncle according to Gordo) at the Northern Hospitality Awards. Our conversation turned to food and between courses and winning prizes, Chris couldn’t pile enough praise on the town’s new arrival. “The food at Sanmini is excellent,” he raved. “I particularly like their lunchtime thalis. Where else are you going to get ten, tiny dishes to try in one sitting?”

At the top of Ramsbottom’s high street, Sanmini can be found in an old gate house, dating from 1857. Solid and church-like, it’s got thick, white walls and deep-set windows. With simple lighting to boot, it’s a galaxy away from the neon brights of Rusholme.

Owned by husband and wife team, Padmini and Dev Sanhkar, the two medics (she’s a doctor, he’s an anaesthetist) converted the building into a two-floored restaurant over the course of last year. It’s got a capacity of less than 40 covers, and aims to showcase cooking from the overlooked region of Tamil Nadu. Fresh, vegetarian curries are a theme alongside bright spices, thalis and pancake-style dishes such as dosai and uttappam. So far at least, they’ve achieved what they set out to do even if there are a couple of quirks still to be ironed out.

The most obvious one is the foyer. Despite bringing to mind the Fisher’s funeral parlour in Six Feet Under, it’s not an unpleasant space. The beige and brown colour scheme, flowers and leather sofas do seem a little at odds with each other though and as we waited for our drinks, I wondered what was in store.

With booze and juice in hand, my son Arthur, his dad Mark and I made our way into the main room for dinner. The décor is better in here with the windows lending a vicarage vibe to proceedings.

Hot, crisp poppadums – appalams as they’re known here – and three home-made chutneys (£4.25) kick-started the meal. Laid out on white china, the trio included a turmeric-spiked raita and delicate bean and tomato curry. My favourite was the latter, thanks to its soft spices. Arthur couldn’t get enough of it.

“I love this,” he said, piling the lot onto his wafer. “Can I come here for my sixth birthday?” Being a family business and all that, Dev came over to talk us through the wine list. From a solid selection that includes a couple of rosés, a French merlot and an Australian shiraz, he gave his Indian red the hard sell.

“When Neil Sowerby came here, he tried the white which he thought was very bad, but we’ve not had anyone complaining about the red,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.”

I wouldn’t say I liked it, but the Chateau Indage Tiger Hill Merlot Shiraz (£14.95) wasn’t awful. A bit fuzzy and light, it was a pleasant enough companion to the rest of the meal.

Madras prawns, sautéed (£6.75) were next up. Cool to the touch, and sprinkled with fresh green chilli and ginger, the menu description made them sound better than they were in real life – something which couldn’t be said of the masala dosai (£5.95).

This South Indian staple is seldom spotted in the Manchester area. You can get it in Rusholme’s Punjab, I think, but that’s one of the few places I’m aware of that serve it. A treat for vegetarians with its winning combination of pancake and curry, the dosai is spectacular at Sanmini. Curled to some height and filled with hunks of potato, the dish arrived with extra chutney on the side.

“This is our house special,” Dev explained, “and people usually eat it with their hands, dipping the pancake into the chutney after picking up some curry.” Arthur liked the style of eating so much that it was a full week before I could persuade him to use cutlery again.

His father and I wondered if the good times would continue to the main event. We’d gone for the mutton madras (an unbelievably reasonable £10.50), a spinach and chickpea curry (£7.50), and chicken made with chettinad spices (£9.50), all of which came with flavour to spare. Aniseed, chilli, coriander leaves and nothing in too great a proportion, they were all good. Occasionally, I’ll make allowances in Indian restaurants for patches of oil or overcooking, as long as the flavour is up to scratch but none of that was required at Sanmini, and a helping of lemon rice (£5.75) on the side was tip-top too. Zingy and light, it provided refreshing contrast to the curry.

We shared the halwa (£3.50) for dessert. There are many varieties of this dish around the world. Most popular in the UK is probably the sesame seed version that you find in health food shops. In Tamil Nadu, though, it’s typically made with carrots, milk, sugar and, topped with toasty, sweet cashews. You’ll find a similar version at Altrincham’s Dilli but it’s better here. Warm, gooey, spicy and comforting, it’s everything you wouldn’t expect from a dessert made from donkey food.

Sanmini specialise in cooking with care. The food reminds me a little of Michelin-starred places I’ve been to in Spain – Es Moli Den Bou, near Arta, for example – where the chef makes perfect versions of classic Mallorcan dishes. Sanmini isn't at Michelin-star standard yet, but it’s excellent value for what you get which is simple, well-made, south Indian food.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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20 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

molthedollMay 6th 2009.

another great regional Indian restuarant is Lil's in Ashton Under Lyne, which is located adjacent to ASM supermarket - so even better if you wan to buy some Indian groceries and then grab a bite to eatIt is pure south Indian vegetarian food in style so do not expect chiken tikka masala!!there are several varirties of dosa here - all of them tasty and the food is frshly made to order - you have to wait a few minutes longer than in your average Indian - but it sooo worth the wait

AvoMay 6th 2009.

Sounds liek a good place which I am definitely going to visit in the near future however that lemon rice has got to be something special for £5.75.

GordoMay 6th 2009.

Blimey, I want to go and eat here as well now.

philtaylorphotoMay 6th 2009.

Anonymous. well, first off Sanmini's is a regional Indian restaurant, serving very regional food. Don't go there expecting the same food as you get in any other 'Indian. restaurant, no Tikka Masala for example.The other places, with few exceptions are Bangladeshi run, so naturally having a different regional slant, with tastes suited to the British palate.Was it mutton you had,not lamb. Very muttony when I went, with thicker muscle fibres in the meat.

vinistarMay 6th 2009.

Yes I go to Lily's in Ashton under lyne....not the the best of locations but you'll be served up some great Gujarati and south indian food which is seriously lacking on the streets of Rusholme.....I've long said that the food in rusholme is not true to the food in india, mediocre at it's best....the people of manchester have been long fooled over the food served up here....and i'm sick and tired of people who've ate here thinking they are experts in curry so when they do come to eat something of quality they rant over it.......so I'm very glad the the sanmini's and lily's of the eatery world have at long last come out to play....go to these places then you'll be talking about proper authentic indian food......oh and another tip if you want to be spoilt some proper indian food again go to leicester rivals rusholme 10 times over for food, decor and atmosphere

philtaylorphotoMay 6th 2009.

Anonymous. well, first off Sanmini's is a regional Indian restaurant, serving very regional food. Don't go there expecting the same food as you get in any other 'Indian. restaurant, no Tikka Masala for example.The other places, with few exceptions are Bangladeshi run, so naturally having a different regional slant, with tastes suited to the British palate.Was it mutton you had,not lamb. Very muttony when I went, with thicker muscle fibres in the meat.

philtaylorphotoMay 6th 2009.

It's a great addition to the Rammy Gastro Trail. Don't forget The Lounge, run by the gang from The Dining Room, and the sadly closed Geese on the same site. First Chop is great by the way.Sanmini's when it opened, with the sons on board, and mother and daughter in law in the kitchen reminded me a bit of the Kumars at No 42. However, it didn't detract from the feeling of being invited for a dinner party by some great friends, who happen to have a restaurant in their lounge.Grab a table if you can. If 'Bilbo Baggins' eats there, it must be good

AnonymousMay 6th 2009.

well we must have gone to a different sanmini's it was the worse meal we ever had and the most expensive indian we thought we would never get out the service was so slow, I had a headache listening over and over about the story of them opening this restaurant, the lamb was all gristle and the rest was oridinary, not a patch on the mogul in whitefield

AnonymousMay 6th 2009.

What can I say about the food - excellent. The place is a must for Indian food lovers. Try the Thaali. Tiny pots of food. Flavours and tastes that dance in your mouth. It's an adventure of foods, like a child with a bag full of different coloured sweets who doesn't know what to expect. You truly will not be disappointed. My only critisim is the lack of atmosphere (although plenty warmth was provided by the owners Mini and her husband who could not do enough for you). Maybe some background music would be welcome, piano/classical. But once again I cannot stress how lovely the food was. Try it, you will not be disappointed.

CastlefieldMay 6th 2009.

Have just Googled that First Chop and it sounds great! Going next weekend, can't wait!

molthedollMay 6th 2009.

sorry that should be Lily's

Pedro1874May 6th 2009.

So different from normal Indian Restaurants, the freshness of ingredients and the wonderful taste sensations made our two visits here memorable. If you like the different style of Indian food in Zouk (Punjabi), or Quillon in London (South Indian, 1 Michelin star) you will love Sanminis. In my view, the tastes in Sanminis are a notch superior.

AnonymousMay 6th 2009.

phil, how condescending are you? And twice over.

No need for carMay 6th 2009.

And you can get there easily from Bury on the 472/474 bus!

BarryMay 6th 2009.

Rammie is surely Manchester's gastro centre....you've already raved about the Budha Lounge and have yet to visit The First Chop (Lancashire Tapas)

maMay 6th 2009.

And three times he may be before the cock crows

SusanApril 29th 2011.

Visited the restaurant March 2011 - had an awful experience. Starters were fine. Then came the main course, we both ordered the chicken dishes - this was a birthday treat and was hoping for something special, but be warned THE CHICKEN IN ONE OF THE DISHES WAS ACTUALLY RAW!! We complained, there was no apology and in fact the waiter/chef did not even seem concerned about the serious problem. He said he would replace this but we didnt want it so chose an Aubergine dish as a replacement - the other food on the table ie rice and chappatis were not taken away and kept warm or evey replaced, so when the replacement dish was brought this was obviously cold!! The whole night had been ruined - We asked for the bill of which in hindsight we shouldnt have paid - I complained by e mail to the restaurant a few days later but to no avail - not even a reply. I WILL NEVER VISIT THIS PLACE AGAIN - IF THE CHEF CANNOT SERVE COOKED CHICKEN - IT IS IN MY OPINION A HEALTH RISK. BE WARNED!!!!!

Lisa MullenOctober 8th 2012.

Rubbish overpriced and small potions

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