Star of India is squids in by fusing the old with the new
Naz Din’s culinary reputation is further burnished by a move around the corner from his old place to a modish room of near-cosmopolitan chic
Naz Din is as Belfast as Carl Frampton. He has the same charm and wit and he pulls no punches. Good job he is a restaurateur, though, because Naz is more of a lover than a fighter. He won’t mind me saying that, because everybody knows how resilient and single-minded he can be. Also, his understanding of hospitality and the need to keep customers happy makes him a natural at this game.
Take his old gaff, Nu Delhi in Bruce Street. In defiance of all Indian restaurant tradition, Naz introduced masala chips and cocktails to Belfast, creating an atmosphere of almost cosmopolitan chic, which attracted cool young Asians among Belfast’s hip crowd.
Then he opened Slums downstairs, a kind of burrito fusion takeaway and sit-in for the lunchtime trade. I told him Slums was a terrible name, but look who’s laughing now.
Then, just before Christmas, he moved to a new space a few yards away. New Nu Delhi is now a loft-like restaurant on the first floor of the block which houses Ginger Bistro. Of Slums there is no sign. It may resurface elsewhere. In the meantime, focus is on the new Nu Delhi, which I hoped would be an upgrade on the former. It is.
This is a relief, because I had included it in my list of favourite places to eat in 2018, and this was more in tribute to the old place. The new one is, frankly, miles ahead of every other Indian in town. He could have gone more modern, he could have been bolder in the menu but, having said that, the Eighties-chic thing works for me.
A 48-sheet poster-sized portrait of a very beautiful Bollywood actress adorns one entire wall, so just in case you weren’t sure where you were after getting out of the lift, there’s no doubting this is a curry house.
The adviser and I agree that curry can be the most joyous food in the world, but only when great ingredients are used. I’ve been to too many Indian restaurants where the chicken is cheap, chewy and tasteless and of uncertain provenance, and where simple features like naan and poppadoms, rice and chutneys are shop-bought, or just badly put together (and often stale). There is a simple lesson which will very quickly help you gauge whether or not you’re in a good restaurant: raita, mango chutney, chopped onion dip, the crunch factor of the poppadoms and the lightness and soft crispiness of the naan’s exterior will all immediately reveal the quality of the kitchen staff ’s talents. Here, the tests pass no problem. The server advises me to try the squid. Squid masala? Yes, please. That’s the thing with Nu Delhi: they love to try new things, to fuse the unexpected with tradition. Most times it works. This squid is a great example. Fried in a light batter, which is full of unmistakably classic masala flavours, the squid is tender and tasty. Other options include lamb chops, monkfish and more conventional bhajis and pakoras.
The adviser suggests that Naz is becoming the Indian Eddie Fung, and that Nu Delhi is a successful Indian reinterpretation of Zen. She is on to something. There is glamour and buzz and the food is good. In fact, the food is excellent.
A mixed tandoori grill features chicken on the bone, and is full of the deepest, spiciest, charry textures and hits. It’s a concentrate of all the savoury favourites you’ve ever had (and there’s a lot on the plate).
Highlight of the meal is a dark and dangerous daal makani, made of lentils and chickpeas. The depth and warmth of this humble-looking dish is like a blanket of comfort, TASTE OF THE EAST: a shield to ward away all evils, something to provide an unmovable barrier between you and the outside world. It is phenomenal and the very essence of comfort.
Nu Delhi mixes Belfast craic and Asian culinary excitement perfectly well. I wonder, has he plans to open a Nu Belfast in Delhi?
a picture of a Bollywood actress at the Nu Delhi restaurant on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street