Balti and Birmingham are almost synonymous with each other. A Balti experience is like nothing else you’ll see elsewhere – neither Glasgow nor Brick Lane in London which are both renowned for their own different curry scenes can rival it.
My favourite eatery here always used to be the Royal Naim – but alas, in the hiatus in my need to travel to Birmingham on a semi regular basis, the owner tragically passed away and the business was sold on. This was a shame, because it was a proper Balti – the formica tables, with the menu under glass, bring your own beer (and to top it all, an epic Indian sweet shop was also inside), table naans and cheaper than chips – all the features I have mentioned before.
However, this time I was introducing someone to their first Balti. I thought it wise to pick a (relatively) upmarket one – and on the basis of many internet recommendations, I choose Al Frash.
Armed with a rucksack full of bottles of beer, we entered; the decor is slightly better than average, relatively upmarket, clean and crisp. We were quickly greeted with poppadums and a red chilli sauce which was delightful, along with the usual mango chutney and onion/cucmumber mix.
The menu is extensive with its own specialities as well as the classics; all of which are in the Balti style along with epic sized naans. I can thoroughly recommend both butterfly dishes, which on the face of it shouldn’t work, but are both amazing. The starter mixed grill for two could easily serve three (and wouldn’t go amiss as a tandoori mixed grill main in its own right); portions across the board are huge and annoyingly the food arrives so piping red hot (clearly made in the traditional balti way) you have to wait a few minutes, salivating with the tantalising aromas before it is safe to dig in.
The sundries do let it down a bit (keep in mind this is relative – merely satisfactory when compared to amazing does reduce the average); the portions of rice are noticeably small when considered next to the baltis, the tarka dhall could be bolder with its garlic flavouring, though I appreciate some people who aren’t as versed in Indian cuisine may not like it so they may be playing safe, and I found the garlic naan to be a little dense (though huge and crammed full of garlic, to be fair). Booze aside, you’ll leave stuffed and also feeling like you’ve had the bargain of the century – it is thoroughly clear why Af Frash continues to win awards and receive critic’s applause on a regular basis.