Feeling that Friday night feeling, STEVE SNELLING samples the delights of Norwich latest Indian restaurant Rishi in a gloriously transformed former pub.
You know the feeling. Friday night. End of a long week's toil. Time to unwind into the weekend with a relaxing evening out while others take the strain of serving up a meal that sets the tone for that restful, regenerative break you've earned.
Maybe that's where we went wrong. Too much expectation, too little forethought. It didn't take us long to realise that a heaving
Rishi restaurant was not going to deliver up that much desired shot in the arm of peace and calm. In fact, the warning signs were there the moment we weaved our way in and out of the jam-packed car park to find a place jutting out onto Norwich's busy Mousehold Lane.
Of course, none of this should have been surprising. As the city's latest Indian restaurant on the block, it was always liable to draw a crowd. We just hadn't bargained on that crowd being quite so big.
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Just walking through the door of the gloriously transformed Duke of Norfolk pub was like entering a whirlwind of dizzying sound and swirling movement as a jumble of diners and waiters tried to find a measure of order in the apparent confusion.
My mind was working overtime. First impressions were chaotically registered, of a swish, stylishly lit nightclub style design that continues the trend set by the Spice Lounge, of a mainly young, eager-to-please and, in the cir-cumstances, remarkably efficient staff let down by an overly cramped table plan that merely added to the oppres-sive air and rising decibel level.
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In fact, I can't ever remember more tables and diners so tightly packed together. Great if you want to spend an evening ear-wigging on other people's conversations, but not much fun if you want an intimate night out or a con-versation that doesn't require you to shout to be heard.
There were, however, plus points. The service was especially impressive. Quickly seated, albeit in a corner with barely room to swing a mouse let alone a cat, we were catered for swiftly by an always attentive and seemingly endless stream of unfailingly polite waiters.
Rishi also delivered on its promise of wonderful cuisine with a range of traditional, easily recognisable Indian restaurant dishes spiced up with the welcome addition of a selection of Bangladeshi-inspired recipes that are said to reflect the 'authentic cooking from the rural villages of North East Bangladesh'.
I can't vouch for any of that, but I can say that the quality of the food, with its adventurous and tangy, mouth-tingling sensations, went some way to compensating for an atmosphere that was decidedly more raucous than our fondly-anticipated but foolishly misconceived quest for karma had led us to hope for.
And even amid the hubbub of a relentlessly busy Friday night I was able to appreciate that the Rishi was up there with the very best of Norwich's Indian restaurants.
For starters, we revelled in the zingy delights of a well-presented dish of tandoori-style fresh capsicum bursting with spiced prawns (�4.50) and a more conservative, but no less pleasing, yoghurt-marinated quarter of tandoori chicken (�3.95).
And then, eschewing our usual preferred choices of chicken dansak and prawn kurma or bhuna, we plumped for the new experience of a rich Bangladeshi biryani, with its densely flavoured chicken-freckled basmati rice in a smothering curry sauce that fairly exploded in the mouth (�10.95) and another Bangladeshi specialty, a dish of Eddo chicken (�9.95), with its slow-cooked potato-like main vegetable base coated in a spice-laden sauce that seemed a good deal hotter than its 'medium' label suggested.
An accompaniment of nan bread (�1.95 per portion) and a side dish of lightly spiced chick peas (�3.25), all washed down with the ubiquitous half pints of Cobra beer, made for an assault on the senses altogether more agreeable than the one that had first assailed us.
At least next time we go, we'll go prepared. For given its quality and its evident popularity, I suspect that the Rishi will be crammed to the rafters for a good few Friday nights to come.
l Prices: Starters from �2.95, mains from �7.50, side dishes �3.95
l Vegetarian option: Loads both on the main menu and a vegetarian speciality menu.
l Wheelchair access: Yes.