Saturday, August 22, 2009

Indian Fish Festival

Kasturi are having a fish festival in September, and I was very privileged to get a sneak preview of the festival menu (plus a some chicken), this week.

Kasturi’s Aldgate premises are unassuming from the outside, but elegant and fresh within. The food looks fantastic and tastes even better...

Starting with a dreamy creamy mango lassi (for £2.10) was very enjoyable, especially as the lassi was not too sweet. We were then served an assortment of little starters on one big platter. These included a wonderful crab kebab, packed with fragrant herbs and hot spice, that did not drown the delectable crab flavour. There was also salmon tikki, which I would never have chosen from a menu, (salmon and tikki not quite matching in my head), but which was absolutely delicious – beautifully cooked, as well. Pieces of marinated chicken were the tenderest chicken I have ever eaten, again beautifully cooked. My fellow diner and I were quite stunned by it. I am told that 15 hours of marinating is the key to that tenderness. I don’t know why, but I think I subconsciously assumed that you go to an Indian restaurant for flavour rather than perfectly cooked meat and fish, but this extra dimension of care took the meal onto a whole new level.

Back to the platter, because there were also little chicken joints in a sweet red sauce that had caramelized and gone gooey and crispy during cooking – too sweet (for my taste) to have that alone, but a thoroughly delicious contrast to the other light, fragrant and spicy starters. The starter platter came with a punchy salsa and a gorgeous green sauce, which tasted almost like freshly cut grass, and was apparently made with a mix of herbs, green fruits and seeds.

For our main course, we tried the seafood biryani (£11.95) and mahi rolls (£9.95). The Biryani had a rainbow of flavours, the memory of which are making my mouth water as I write. It included perfectly cooked seafood, of course, with the unexpected addition of dill, which worked really well with the other flavours, and tied the salmon to the rest of the biryani.

Mahi rolls, seafood biryani, vegetable curry and ochra with shallots

The mahi rolls were something else; delicate fillets of fish, encasing a mixture of herbs, spices and chopped fish, and all covered in a fragrant coconut sauce - a very special dish.

Our main course came with a vegetable curry for the biryani, and some addictively scrumptious crispy fried ochra and shallots.

We finished off our delectable meal with mango kulfi to share. I so wanted to try the delightful-sounding dessert with cardamon, saffron, cream and carrot, but just didn’t have room. After my experience of Kasturi, I am not surprised that this multi award-winning restaurant is getting so many rave reviews.

So, if you fancy trying some of the dishes I so enjoyed sampling, make sure you don’t miss the Kasturi Fish Festival! While I was enthusing about the food to the restaurant’s passionate owner and manager, Bashir, he reminded me that the samples I was tasting were not as good as if it were cooked for the festival, because mine was done individually that evening – if cooking in big batches for the festival, the food would have longer to marinate, and flavours would develop further in the larger quantities.

Kasturi specialises in Pakhtoon cuisine, with grilled dishes that make the most of the cooking juices from meat and vegetables. They serve an exciting range of dishes, and place lots of importance on colour and texture, without “changing the true nature of Indian food for the sake of undefined modernisation”.

The service I experienced was good. Some of the junior members of staff seemed a bit nervy, as if it was their first day of work, but the management made sure everything ran smoothly, and general manager, Rahman, was warm, kind, and very helpful.

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