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Zaika's Gourmet Banquet

Sarah Tierney avoids a curry coma on a refined Indian feast

Published on April 4th 2012.

Zaika's Gourmet Banquet

WHEN presented with the menu for Zaika's Gourmet Banquet (or 'Executive Dining Experience' as it says it italics), I had a 'What have I signed up for?' moment. Four starters, five mains, and three desserts – for lunch. Was this a meal out or an eating contest?

My fellow competitors were Confidential staffers Emma and George, neither of whom looked like they could chomp their way through a dozen-dish Indian feast on their dinner hour. We exchanged worried looks over the papadoms and considered calling in reinforcements.

Img_8991Then the starters arrived and we relaxed. I was expecting dig-in dishes that would fill us up before we'd even looked at the mains. Instead we each received four dainty morsels sitting calmly on a long, rectangular plate. Tasting them, food fear turned to excitement. This was good stuff.

The chicken tikka was a single, tender piece of meat with flavours that got your palate buzzing. The South Indian prawn dumpling was a light, fluffy fishcake that enlivened your appetite rather than hitting it over the head. There was also a lone king prawn imrani with a juicy middle and a chilli kick, and an airy vegetable pakora made with a delicate mix of finely-shredded aubergine, onion, red pepper and coriander.

It seemed that the plan was to stun us with quality not stupefy us with quantity. Zaika is a plush Indian restaurant not an all-you-can-eat basement buffet. And this turned out to be the kind of banquet served to an Indian prince reclining by a lily pool, rather than one you might fill up on during a Friday night curry binge. The smells, tastes and colours were big and bold but the experience itself was refined.

Img_9017Zaika's owner, Bob, explained that he'd designed it to feature dishes from all over India from Bengal to Punjab. It seems he'd also wanted to give British fans of Indian food something different to get excited about. This food was more adventurous than the bhajis and dupiazas usually found on banquet menus; many of the dishes were new to me, and the more familiar options stood out from other restaurant's versions.

The décor as well as the food said 'upmarket'. Fresh red tulips on the dark wood tables, white linen serviettes, and a pleasant view towards the Great Northern Square if you get a window table.

After the starters, we were served a tall glass of nimboo pani – sugared water with fresh mint and lime. A spoonful of glistening lemon sorbet sat alongside it. It was a delightful palate cleanser that revived our appetite for the next course.

Img_9021The waiter struggled to find space on our table for the spread of dishes plus rice plus naan bread that made up the main course. Emma's favourite was the North Indian chooza makhani – a chicken tikka in a deep red, smooth tomato sauce, low on chilli heat and high on flavour. She always has this at Zaika and I can see why. But there were several options I'd return for repeatedly.

I loved the Goan fish curry – soft discs of white fish swimming in coconut milk with fresh coriander. The Bengali jhal golda chingri was another highlight – a dish made predominately of prawns, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with green chilli and coriander.

The other curries were a traditional Kashmiri rogon josh, and a South Indian vegetable samber. The Hyderabadi rice was a dish in its own right with fresh mint, chillis, cashews, and onions amongst the pilau.

Img_9026Finally, the desserts. As with the starters, we were each served three petite portions, enough to charm but not overwhelm. A shot glass of delicate mango-infused rice pudding, a kulfi ice cream with sweet chilli sauce, and a chocomosa – Zaika's own creation. It's a warm chocolate-filled crispy pancake disguised as a samosa. No, it's not authentic, but it is divine.

Although we were squeezing the banquet into our lunch hour, it is intended to be enjoyed over a long evening or afternoon to give you time to savour each item. We left feeling sated but enthusiastic. Go with an appetite and relax into it – if it matches up to our experience, you will be impressed.

The Gourmet Banquet at Zaika is currently available with 25% off at £29.95 per person (normal price is £39.95 per person). A vegetarian alternative is available - find out more.

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