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The Silk Route is situated on the first floor of Sol Central replacing what was once Bollywood, which specialised in buffet dining working to a price where quantity perhaps upstaged quality; The Spice Route certainly does not follow in its footsteps. The location of the fine dine experience is perhaps not the best in Northampton as Sol central is probably the most characterless bit of concrete within the town with cold draftee malls more like wind tunnels leading to its few attractions and overpriced car park, certainly not the attraction that it was originally hyped up to be when in its building stage but it exists probably as an embarrassment to those who commissioned it.
All this aside The Spice Route has now been established since December last year and is a breath of fresh air to what we in Northampton know as Indian cuisine, with exception of the Mem Saab all other so called Indian Restaurants are owned and staffed by non Indians mainly from Bangladesh serving standardised Euro Asian food from a standard heat graded menu which in no way reflects the diversity of real Indian regional food. Please do not get me wrong on this point, I am not decrying this concept as it has captured the imagination of the British and is a success story in itself. However there is more to Indian food than offered by these establishments and there are Indian restaurants that do serve Indian food in something more than a standardised masala gravy where each dish is so similar with the only difference being the main ingredient, the chilli heat and perhaps a few extra ingredients such as tomatoes or peppers added for good measure. The Silk Route offers a very varied menu and has been brave enough to introduce regional Indian dishes some with a Southern influence and has also retained the tried and tested favourites so as keep there newly acquired clientele in a comfort zone.
On entering the restaurant there is a lounge area with sofas, coffee tables and tall tables to stand against, as is your wish to relax and have a pre meal drink or to retire to after the meal, you can also partake of a cigarette (whilst the law allows) however the restaurant area is strictly non smoking. I am not sure whether I liked the restaurant layout or indeed the colour scheme or general décor however I am sure that the new owners inherited it from what was Bollywood and I am sure that they will change this to a more sophisticated image as time goes on so I will not dwell too much on this point. We were shown to our table by the Matre'D and a drinks order was promptly taken, at the same time we were supplied with a wine list and the main menu. We decided against starters but to order a few side dishes with our individual main dish but did order popadoms and pickles. As the drinks arrived we perused the menu of which I think we all were of the confirmed opinion that we wouldn't be choosing the standard tried and tested favourites but would go for something more adventurous and authentic. The main ingredients were lamb, chicken, duck, prawn, red snapper, sea bass and lobster tails, the dishes offered were in from various locations of India including Goa, Hyderabad, the Malabar Coast (kerala), Kashmir and the Punjab to mention just a few. They could be pan fried, baked in the tandoor or cooked in a very traditional dum pukht method and the main ingredients could be in a coconut gravy or tempered with the very South Indian curry leaf, soured in tamarind, glazed with honey, pickled or in various spicy gravies the choice was innovative and adventurous.
The popadoms and drinks arrived; the popadoms were of the mini variety served with mint raita, a mixed pickle and erring on the side of safety the very British mango chutney. After this we were presented with a complimentary serving of lightly seasoned tomato soup, now this may sound very westernised but whilst soups are not generally taken in India there are some communities such as the Bohris Muslims from Gujarat who serve soup and lets not forget the Mulligatawny soup served to the British Raj was a variation on the thin soupy dish called Rasam from the region of Tamil Nadu, all this aside it was most welcome even if not 100 per cent traditional. The main course arrived after 20 minutes, Madiera Kereili Gosht was a very large and tender lamb shank served in aromatic gravy with a touch of brandy and the taste was superb, Gosht Kalimirch was a hot and spicy dish of tender lamb, Gosht Saagwala was as described lamb with fresh spinach, Prawn Coconut Masala presented massive prawns in coconut gravy with a splash of lime and gave a very Southern Indian taste plus the Murg Malabari was a chicken dish tempered with the curry leaf and coconut from the South West coast in the state of Kerala. All the dishes were exquisitely blended and all so different from one another in taste, texture and appearance. We also chose side dishes of Paneer Makhan Palak which is Indian cheese similar to cubed compressed cottage cheese with spinach creamy gravy and it was a pleasure to be served this dish which was not bulked out by a pureed mush of spinach so often experienced in the majority of restaurants, a spicy new potato dish was good and a Punjabi speciality of whole black urid dal cooked overnight on the cooling embers of the tandoor was served under the title of Dal Kabila but is more widely known as Ma Ki Dal in the Punjab. Two portions of Lemon Rice and a selection of Naan bread plus Roomali Roti (like a very thin square Chapatti) but personally I would have been happier with the common everyday traditional chapatti but the menu wasn't designed around my wishes.
The food was authentic and probably the best in Northamptonshire giving the Mem Saab lots of competition and a very good run for its money. The atmosphere was great although a party of nearly 30 Gujurati ladies were very loud and were having a girls night out added greatly to party feel of the place. A good indication of good Indian food is that apart from the Bhaji On The Beach party the clientele was partly Indian which is an accolade to authentically served food. My first impression was it could be expensive but whilst being more than average the final bill was far less than I expected. I will return to The Silk Route at the earliest opportunity and will advise anybody who is thinking of going Don't Stick To What You Know choose from the delights of a very varied menu and be adventurous after all every dish is accurately described, lets face it you can eat your chicken madras or korma at any old so called Indian restaurant in the county although I bet it wont be half as good as served at The Silk Route which really is a Jewel in the Crown of Northampton.
One last word to the owners Please Please do something about the carpet and the colour scheme!! And you will have the biggest WOW factor in the county and beyond.
Paul rated this 10 out of 10.