[Gatley, Greater Manchester] Bhaji Pala

This is a new opening in the premises formerly occupied by the predictably shortlived Punjab Tandoori. Unlike their predecessors, the new owners have spent money on refurbishing the space. It now has a bright modern feel to it, although the tables are a tad small and a tad too close together. They may have overdone the unbroken hard surfaces of the walls, as the noise of other tables bounced around we found it not easy to chat across the table. The restaurant is, apparently, the first entirely vegan Indian restaurant in the metro area and bases its food on the western provinces of India. I say “based” because the restaurant website notes that they have adapted recipes to suit local vegan palates. Expect to see dishes that, elsewhere, use non-vegan paneer replaced with tofu. More oddly, dishes which traditionally use cauliflower, like aloo gobi, see it replaced with broccoli. We are omnivores, so have no commitment to vegan food, and had booked a table because the restaurant was near home and the menu looked interesting. And it was a good thing that we had booked – midweek, it was packed, so they’ve clearly got off to a good start.

It’s a shortish menu. Starters come from the now fashionable “street food” and Indo-Chinese offerings of the Mumbai area. And there’s around twenty main courses. Some dishes are familiar from other local “street food” restaurants, even if adapted to vegan requirements, whilst others were new to us. So, my partner ordered a masala dosa to start. It’s a dish we often order – we know how it should be and this was a good version. Crisp pancake, lightly spiced potato filling, served with sambhar and chutney. Bharli Vangi is another dish we’ve eaten elsewhere. Baby aubergines are split open and long cooked till they almost fall apart and are served with a thick, slightly sweet, peanutty sauce that had a nice chilli kick to it. Definitely Indian, not an East Asian satay sauce. A really tasty dish as it has been when we’ve eaten it before.

I decided to order dishes that were unfamiliar to me. I may not have chosen well, but you can only write about that you’ve actually eaten, not what you’d hoped to eat. Thali Peeth is described as a multi grain pancake but it’s texture was more bready than pancake. In fact, I didn’t really like the texture – overly dense that I can best describe as sort of eating thick wet cardboard (although not as bad as actually eating cardboard, of course). It came with a raita and a nicely zingy chutney. For a main course, I ordered Dudhi Chana – snake gourd cooked with chana dal. It was nice enough – a mild, comforting dish for a cold January night – but not something I’d order again as I prefer my South Asian dishes to be more assertive in their use of various spices. . We shared tandoori roti and steamed rice – both good.

Unsurprisingly, we came away with different views about Bhaji Pala, with my partner being more enthusiastic that I was. But even my partner, who drinks alcohol and fancied a lager, was disappointed there was only Cobra on offer. We may return at some point, but there’s no compelling reason to add this to our list of South Asian restaurants we visit regularly.

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I do that quite often, especially in new restaurants where you’d not heard of any specialty or must-not-miss dishes. Unfortunately, it also meant that we may end up with a dud. :laughing:

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I had a version of this at Babur in South London a year or so ago. It was OK, but they served it as a plated main course with a semolina cake, and I really felt it would have been better coming with something less soft.

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I used to go to Babur a lot when I lived in Forset Hill. The beef rib xacutti I had there is one of the best dishes I’ve had anywhere. I still remember it 14 years later. I haven’t been since I moved in 2007. Maybe time for a revisit. Still worth it?

That’s a good question, but I’m not the right person to answer it, because the above is the one and only thing I’ve ever eaten at Babur. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but nothing recent — though this is almost certainly because people don’t tend to talk much about places that have been there for ever, unless they’ve got significantly worse. (This could therefore be interpreted as a good sign?)

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