WE went to Indian Tiffin Room with the best of plant-based intentions. Ideally to promote Indian regional food as the perfect way to celebrate National Vegetarian Week (May 14-20). Then we spotted grilled lamb chops on the menu.
From Mughli to Mowgli, Zouk to Dishoom, overnight spicy marinade to smokily blackened off the charcoal grill, they are simply irrestisible. So at ITR we didn’t resist and never regretted it. These three locally sourced chunks of sheep were up there with the best.
After that normal veggie service was resumed (even if the prawns at the next table were momentarily tempting, too).
The vegan path wasn’t going to be a priority, though with the presence of paneer, that Indian soft cheese so glorious when made in-house, so rubbery when bought in retail packs. It was a choice between it and mushrooms for our foray into the wok-fried Indo-Chinese food regarded as a treat across India.
This Chinese-spiced chilli paneer (£5.50) was fierce but too glutinous, the one disappointment in our meal. In contrast a later main of palak paneer (cheese with spinach, £8.30) was exemplary, as were accompanying triangles of roti.
To start we enjoyed a £7.75 sharing platter of three puris, little hollow pastry bombs full of potato with mint, tamarind or yoghurt providing the flavours that explode in your mouth.
Similarly playful was a bowl of mini-idlies (£4.25), coin-size versions of the steamed rice and lentil dumplings that are a ubiquitous breakfast staple across India, served naturally with a spicy sambar lentil stew and coconut chutney.
Dosas, those crisp crepe tents that define Southern Indian cuisine, rely on the same basic batter as the idlies to create a quite different (usually potato stuffed) treat when creamed swiftly across a hot-plate. ITR do them as well as I’ve had them outside Goa or Kerala.
This time I went for the spiciest of the variants Madurai Masala Dosa (£5.75), where red chilli chutney has been mixed into the batter. On a previous visit I’d found a more radical variant called Pessarattu an equal delight. A moong dal based crepe, it was big green, crisp envelope that, cut into, revealed a scattering of pomegranate seeds, nuts and browned onions.
A portion of vegan bhindi fries (£3.95) was meant to accompany those lamb chops but were so appealing – the equally of Bundobust’s legendary equivalent – that we wolfed them before our veggie lapse arrived.
A pudding for me, a Rasmalai, grainy curd in a saffron sauce, did follow the brief. So tooa suitably tropical bottle of Forest Sauvingnon Blanc from New Zealand. Perfect for toasting National Vegetarian Week.
Indian Tiffin Room, Isabella Banks Road, First St, Manchester M15 4RL. 0161 228 1000; 2 Chapel St, Cheadle SK8 1BR. 0161 491 2020; 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD. 0113 397 2000. http://www.indiantiffinroom.com