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In this brave new world of perpetual lockdowns, Zoom ‘socials’ and click & collect takeaway nights, one cannot help but applaud the ingenuity of firms like Simla Restaurant in North Warwickshire, whose entrepreneurial flair and eye for opportunity has seen them embrace the peril of their circumstances head-on with lucrative new business opportunities designed with diners in mind.
The plucky Tamworth start-up underwent a full-scale re-launch mid-pandemic last year - complete with all-new Zenna Cocktail Bar, fully re-vamped menu and revitalised restaurant space. This latest lockdown has prompted owner Mo Nanu to think even further outside the box with the launch of Simla’s all-new Dine At Home service - a hands-on and fully authentic Indian dining experience delivered direct to your door and available from anywhere in the UK.
Intrigued? I know I was…
Part culinary masterclass, part ‘big night out’ indoors, diners can choose from one of two mouthwatering options: the 11-course Simla Curry Box, comprising popular pan-Indian appetisers and house favourites, or, for those seeking a break from the traditional Sunday roast, the Simla Surf & Turf Box - a majestic banquet of speciality dishes from the Indian subcontinent. The selection includes Kashmiri Garam-Masala Rib Eye, Rajeshwari Lamb Chops and Mombai Aloo Mash, complete with papadoms, chutneys… and even Yorkshire puddings!
Simla Dine At Home is priced at £67.50 (including delivery by courier guaranteed by 6pm) and suitable for up to four people. Yes, I concede that, at first glance, this may feel a little steep, given the absence of that much-missed ‘restaurant ambience' and the not-insignificant preparation involved. But my advice is to embrace this ‘new normal’ head-on. Who knows, you may just come out the other side with a greater appreciation for the ingredients, flavour combinations and indisputable craftsmanship that goes into this ancient and surprising cuisine.
True to their word, my Simla Dine At Home box arrived promptly by post on Friday morning. On a first glance at the package, it was clear that every attention had been paid to ensuring a high standard of safety and hygiene, whilst at the same time making sure all ingredients were individually packed, fully in-tact and easily indentifiable to any amateur sous chef in waiting.
Each Dine At Home box comes complete with a 'menu card' (which includes a full list of ingredients) and easy-to-follow instructions for cooking. Again, it was clear that every care had been taken to make the at-home cooking experience as stress-free as possible. Each sauce arrived pre-prepared, with only a splash of oil, a dash of water or fresh cream, or a sprinkling of fresh coriander demanded of the amateur chef on the ground before frying or roasting. Even the onion and pepper mix arrived pre-diced, as did the deliciously fresh paneer (cheese), which, combined with the onion, pepper, garam masala spice mix and jalfrezi sauce, produced one of the absolute highlights of the evening.
What was even more impressive was the variety of dishes on offer - from the deliciously indulgent Butter Chicken, made with fenugreek and fresh cream, and the pungent and richly spiced Lamb Bhuna, right through to the Tandoori Palak Chicken - a nutritious and flavoursome combination of spinach, fresh coriander, diced chicken and aromatic spices. I was particularly pleased to see Simla staying true to its standards and refusing to play it safe with tried-and-tested curry-house favourites. Special mention too, at this point, must go to the Machar-Jhol, a traditional Bengali Fish Curry, made with mustard oil, friend tilapia fillet and hot curry sauce - a daring addition to any ‘dine at home’ menu, and delicious to boot!
For the non-meat eaters amongst you, the Achari Aloo Gobi (braised potato and cauliflower), with mango & lime pickle accompaniment, was a masterclass in authentic Northern Indian flavours, whilst the Dhal-Fry Rogani - three-lentil stew cooked with mustard and garlic and finished with chilli oil - provided the ultimate comfort food for any cold winter’s night in lockdown. Best enjoyed with a sprinkling of fresh coriander and parantha bread, the undercurrent of heat from the chilli oil complemented the rich, earthy tones of the lentil, turmeric and mustard perfectly, as did the tangy punch of the mango & lime pickle accompaniment.
And, of course, what Indian banquet would be complete without a helping of fresh poppodums and chutney, served with a sweetened pineapple & paprika raita. Bliss.
If I could make one small improvement (and I do mean small), I would have loved the menu to feature some more information about the origins of the dishes themselves and their ingredients. So much of the magic and mystery of Indian cuisine is down to its rich heritage and how that heritage has been reinvented across the centuries. As a diner-turned-chef dipping my toe into this new world, I was hungry to discover more.
On a purely practical level too, some amateur chefs may benefit from more precise instructions on the quantity of ingredients required for certain dishes - but perhaps that’s just my urge to serve lashings of coriander with everything! In some ways, that’s the joy of Simla Dine At Home - you can cater to your own tastes, safe in the knowledge that the real hard work has been taken care of by the experts!
Whilst it’s safe to say none of us wants to live in a world where the very idea of visiting a restaurant in person feels like a far-off reality, I can't help but feel that Simla's Dine At Home service has life beyond this temporary hiatus. True, nothing can replace the unique atmosphere of visiting a restaurant in person; the friendly and attentive service, the sense of occasion, the uncomplicated joy of having your food served to you from frying pan to fork... the lack of washing up. And yet, like so many enterprises which have emerged from lockdown, this creative approach to authentic Indian cuisine not only captures the essence of Simla’s passion, creativity and craft, it also has the potential to open up that creativity to a much larger audience, for whom the whole of Britain is now their ‘local’.
That’s quite a thought, and it takes a certain kind of entrepreneur to think it, let alone realise it.
I, for one, wish them every success, and wouldn’t hesitate to bubble up with Simla for my next ‘Friday night dinner’ at home, or (when the time eventually does come) at the ‘home from home’ of Simla Restaurant in Tamworth.
Simla Restaurant is located between Tamworth and Atherstone. Click HERE for more information about its Dine At Home service.
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