Restaurant review: XenukBy Sally Bryant
October 03, 2012
Until last week I hadn’t been to Xenuk for about three years – why on earth did I let that happen?
This restaurant has been at the top of my ‘favourites’ list since I first moved to Berkshire, so why haven’t I spoiled myself more often?
If your idea of curry is something scorchingly hot and bright orange that finishes off (in more ways than one) a boozy Friday night, you probably won’t understand my dismay – or read much further.
But if you care about your curry and prefer subtle spicing and distinguishable flavours to a raw, tonsil-searing flash, you should be at Xenuk on a regular basis, too.
Proprietor Sultan Ahmed has been running this Finchampstead restaurant for more than a decade and it is a very, very well-oiled machine. Service is friendly, swift and a joy to watch – even the way tablecloths are changed so quickly and precisely will bring a smile to every perfectionist’s lips.
As a xenuk is a rare pink pearl, the decor is water-themed and a recent facelift has opened up the dining area even further. It has cosy corners for couples, but can just as easily cope with large groups and all combinations in between.
A marine tank with a clown fish darting in and out of an anemone, a fat little puffer fish and a fearsome lionfish is a stunning talking point.
But enough of the decor and Finding Nemo, what about the food? The short answer is it is superb and I don’t think the onion bhajees and breads, especially peshwari, can be beaten anywhere.
A trademark of Xenuk is that dishes are served straight from a burner at the table. Anything that sizzles really sizzles and everything else bubbles enticingly. As I always order Lamb Shashlik (£9.50) -– charcoal-cooked lamb with peppers, tomatoes and onions – I had decided before last week’s visit I was going to try something new. I almost weakened at the last moment but had a Chicken Tikka (£4.75) starter instead, so I didn’t miss out on that glorious charcoal taste.
My husband Tony had Lamb Tikka (£4.95) and both were superb. The meat at Xenuk is always of the highest quality and both the chicken and the lamb was wonderfully seared and slightly sticky on the outside (not hard) and tender within. The marinade gave a delicate flavour and the accompanying tamarind sauce, curiously sweet and tart at the same time, with fresh salad got our evening off to a flying start.
I kept my promise to myself and ventured into new territory next with Gosht Kata Massala (£8.95) and what a discovery that was! Melting diced leg of lamb with equally melting onions in a thick sauce, gently warmed by ginger, garlic and garam massala – heaven. The glossy brown sauce was akin to a rich gravy and the dish had the comfort factor of a casserole, but with many more warming levels of flavour.
Tony chose King Prawn Jalfiazi (£13.95) and asked for it to be quite hot. He said the ginger, green chillies and other spices were upped to a perfect pitch while the tomatoes added enough sweetness to stop his eyes streaming. Again, the prawns were cooked so they were tender – anyone who has cooked prawns knows how just a few seconds too much can turn them to rubber, which is really unpleasant.
Side dishes at Xenuk are just as exciting as the mains – in fact, I would be perfectly happy with the rich, coriander-flecked Mushroom Bhajee (£4.35) alone. I am a connoisseur with years of mushroom bhajee adoration behind me and this is the best. The Aloo Zeera (£4.35) is a scrummy mix of tender, but still slightly waxy potatoes that have soaked up all the spices and tomatoes.
The Onion Bhajee is a feather-light and crisp puffball with a tender heart, the Pilau Rice (£2.95) is delicately fragrant and words fail me for the almond, cashew and sultana-rich Peshwari Nan (£2.75).
It won’t be another three years before I go back to Xenuk. It might not even be three days, because writing this has made me crave for the meal again.
If you want fantastic Bangladeshi and Indian food in a stylish restaurant where service is slick but comfortable, you had better follow me. And if you need any more encouragement, Xenuk is offering tailor-made menus for the festive season – all your Christmases could come at once.
- Telephone: 0118 973 6100
- Website: www.xenuk.co.uk
- Address: Xenuk
428 Finchampstead Road,