Restaurant review: Shimla PinksBy Caroline Cook
January 23, 2013
Before I get stuck in to talk of saucy chicken dishes and sizzling kebabs, let me tell you about lassi.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about the heroic dog (that’s Lassie with an ‘e’), but a traditional Indian drink.
Originating in the Punjab regions of India and Pakistan, lassi is a yoghurt-based drink which is made by mixing yoghurt with water and Indian spices.
Mango lassi, as the name suggests, is made with mango pulp, and that was what was brought to our table with our main course at Shimla Pinks.
Like a cross between a smoothie and a milkshake, the lassi, which was topped with a sprinkling of crushed pistachio nuts, was sweet, creamy and fruity – and a handy antidote to the heat of our spiciest dish Chicken Tava (£7.95).
The medium-hot dish, which had a fruitiness alongside the spice, wasn’t anywhere near ‘blow your head off’ vindaloo, but it was enough to make me – a self-confessed spice wimp – grateful for the yoghurt.
The Tava is one of Shimla Pinks Chef’s Specialities, along with the other two dishes we tried, Modhu Rosh (£7.95) and Chicken Tikka Masala (£6.95).
Shimla Pinks opened six weeks ago at the Crown Inn pub in Theale and offers both restaurant-style dining and takeaway.
The Modhu Rosh (£7.95) was a curry I had never heard of before. The menu at Shimla Pinks calls it an ‘exceptional dish’, and although the description is perhaps a bit over-zealous, it is certainly unusual.
With the creaminess of a korma, and hints of the buttery taste you would find in a passanda, the Modhu Rosh was tasty, if a little sweet, presumably thanks to the honey with which the dish is garnished.
As an Indian staple, the masala is always a good scale to judge a new restaurant on, and Shimla Pinks happily matched my favourites. The sauce was thick and rich – ideal for scooping up with a wedge of garlic naan – with the tomato base really coming through.
To start, we had tried a selection of meats, including Chicken and Lamb Tikka (£2.90 each). Brought to us on a sizzling platter the meats, which were joined by a rolled sheek kebab and placed atop a bed of cooked onions, had a smoky taste, with the flavour of the different meats really coming through.
My dining partner Ben, who spends a fair bit of time in the kitchen, suspected from the smoky undertones that the food had been cooked in a traditional Indian tandoor. It turned out he was right and co-owner Zubar Ahmed offered to show us the cylindrical clay oven at the end of our meal. The tandoor, a rather impressive oven, is widely used in Asia and is used for cooking naan bread as well as the meats.
Zuber also told us the samosas we had tucked in to – super crunchy and stuffed with a minced meat which could have done with a bit more flavouring – were made from scratch in the kitchen by chef Zillul Hoque.
Zillul has been in the Indian trade for more than 15 years and has also worked as a sushi chef, previously in the kitchen at London’s Nobu restaurant, which has its own Michelin star.
His time in the Michelin trade has inspired Zillul to be creative with his cooking and he has introduced some twists for the menu, like having something pink in each of his speciality dishes.
A chilli pepper painted pink (with edible paint), or a sprinkling of pink almonds or pink garlic garnishes the plates and he also has plans to spray Shimla Pinks on to some of his papadoms.
The name Shimla Pinks comes from the city Shimla, in Northern India, and a pink spice which originates in the area, and Zuber is keen for people to know it in Reading.
Together with co-owner Jahed Ali, he approached the Crown Inn with plans to have the restaurant within the pub, a trend which seems to be increasing as new businesses try to combat high rents.
Although there is work to be done to integrate the two – it was hard to work out where to sit when we first walked in – it seems like a beneficial arrangement all round, with the locals unfazed by hungry curry diners tucking in to food at one side.
Zuber and Zillul have also come up with a pub menu, offering dishes like three onion bhajis with dip, a Chicken Tikka Pie, or the Raj Burger (their own take on The Big Mac), to tempt pub-goers when the munchies set in after a few pints.
Putting its own Indian twist on pub classics is a neat idea and Shimla Pinks is keen to make the pub/restaurant mix work.
The only thing they might have to be worried about is when people realise how good the lassi is, because they might just start ordering it instead of the beer.
- Telephone: 0118 930 2310
- Address: Shimla Pinks at The Crown Inn