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Swaad, Altrincham, review

Jennifer Choi on Indian-style Kedgeree, a stiffening Caterpillar Fungus and the consequences of a pound shop facade

Published on November 23rd 2009.

Swaad, Altrincham, review

Being a city-dweller, going to Altrincham for a meal has always been a bit of a trek. Dilli had, on previous occasions, tipped the scales just enough with an enticing range of ayurvedic dishes, as a more refined departure from the homogenised Curry Mile. However, the prices were a departure too, as was the occasional absence of friendly service. In short, alternatives need to be explored. Altrincham is home to a few other modern Asian joints, so I wondered how Swaad, a six-month-old Indian-cum-Nepalese just up the road from Dilli, would measure up.

He told me also that a certain main, the Kama Sutra (in culinary form), is a best seller, particularly for those takeaway orders. It's made with the prized herb known as the Himalayan Viagra, called Yarshagumba.

First impressions were not promising. Swaad, meaning taste in Hindi, did not have an exterior one would call tasteful. With its name in bright yellow 'ethnic' font on a blue background and red border, I have seen classier signs amongst Cheetham Hill takeaways.

It was much more respectable inside. Swaad had decently-stocked bar on one corner of a spacious dining area, with a collection of loosely-related decorations, including a spice-filled dish at the window sill and a wall-mounted Ghurkha knife display. Soft Hindi music played in the background.

Poppadums accompanied our menus as standard. As we dipped and crunched, we overheard hushed giggles and squeals from the next table, where a young mum was feeding her toddler khichdi. Kedgeree to us, this lightly spiced dish of lentils and rice is a child's typical introduction to solid food. This was specially made for the little girl so she could share the eating out experience with mum and dad. At many other Indian restaurants, young 'uns or those unaccustomed to the heat would have to make do with the Anglicised section of the menu (aka chip shop grub by numbers).

One of us took advantage of the Set Menu (3 courses for £9.95) but we also ordered à la carte to keep things interesting. We opened with Machchhi Koliwada (part of the Set Menu), Mele Ki Samose (£3.95) and Jhinga Nisha (£5.95). Machchhi Koliwada was described as a Bombay-style fish snack dressed in spicy batter. What we got were sorry-looking, spiceless yet orange fish fingers, worth eating only when doused in the chilli-tamarind sauce.

The Samosa and Jhinga turned things around. The samosas, a robust pastry filled with mash, peas, chillies and masala was the litmus test of Swaad's food. My native Kolkattan friend deemed it 'fine', which was good enough for me. The Jhinga Nisha saw two king prawns marinated, butterflied, and grilled to perfection in a clay oven. The impossibly springy flesh was flavoured with saffron and topped with lemon and cilantro. It could easily have been a signature dish.

As we ate, steady streams of people came for their takeaway. Giri, the owner and manager, told me that the business is evenly split between those dining in and the takeaways. He told me also that a certain main, the Kama Sutra (in culinary form), is a best seller, particularly for those takeaway orders. It's made with the prized herb known as the Himalayan Viagra, called Yarshagumba. Aside from the obvious benefit, the Yarshagumba also boosts the immune system and strengthens the respiratory tract, amongst other medicinal virtues - explains why my mother fed it to me in broth all those years ago then.

It's infinitely less attractive than a blue pill and also goes by the name of Caterpillar Fungus. A quote from the Nepalese tourism website (click here) sums it up: "Before the rainy season begins, spores of the cordyceps mushroom settle on the heads of caterpillars’ that lives [sic] underground. The fungus gets so much into the body of the caterpillars’ that it grows out through its head and drains all the energy from the insect and ultimately it dies."

Aided by such (a)rousing imagery, we chose a King Prawn curry with a dose of the Yarshagumba powder. The most expensive dish at £24.95, we were presented with those jumbo prawns again, swimming in a tomato-based gravy. Taste-wise, above average but there was nothing to give away the presence of this 'viagra'. Maybe just as well should we ladies ever need to sneak some in and want to avoid the awkward discussion. (If the £24.95 price tag seems a little hefty, Swaad also offers Kama Sutra Tea, Coffee, or Soup at £13.)

As we were unable to immediately assess the effectiveness of the 'Kama Sutra', we moved onto Chicken Chettinad (Set Menu) and Himalayan Champen (£11.95). The Chicken Chattinad had satisfying bite-sized breast pieces in a creamy tomato-y sauce brought to life by whole black peppercorns. Himalayan Champen was the name for racks of lamb hung in set yogurt overnight before being grilled to give off a heady aroma of spices. We devoured the meaty delicacy with enthusiasm.

We finished things off with a side of Paneer Makhan Masala (£6.95), Garlic Naan (£2.95), Palak Aloo Wala, Pilau Rice and Plain Naan (all part of the Set Menu). Of these, the cubes of paneer were baby-soft and served with masala sauce with a judicious use of cream, the palak aloo (spinach with potatoes) was a brilliant splash of colours as well as flavours, and the others tasted as they should - subtle but ideal vessels for scooping up the last of those wonderful gravies.

By this time we were very full. So Giri offered a digestif platter of playful-looking sugar-coated seeds. Lovely stuff. we left in high spirits and tried once again not to cringe at Swaad's garish storefront.

Aside from this, and a lacklustre fish finger or two, we had no complaints. The bill was a fraction compared to that of Dilli's, and the service was sincere, unrushed, and brow-raisingly educational. I can't help but think that with work on the marketing front and less emphasis on the takeaway aspect of the business, this place would be bustling.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 food
5/5 service
3/5 ambience
Address: Swaad
18 Regent Road
WA14 1RP
Tel: 0161 929 0800

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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AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

It's coriander in these parts ;)

WayneNovember 23rd 2009.

This is very good. Very good. Crap to look at but wonderful to go too.

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