Foodies lamented when Richard Smith closed the doors of his Crosspool restaurant Artisan for good.
It stood empty for many months, but the building is now in a new reincarnation – and one in which it has lived before. Long before Smithy bought the site, it was an Indian restaurant – and it is to its spice roots that the venue has returned, thanks to Shoukat Ali, 30 years a West Yorkshire restaurateur
He is quick to dispel rumours that his classy Aligarh (the name means House of Ali) is part of the popular Aagrah group. He is a distant relation of the family, but this is solely his venture and, he hopes, the first of what will become his own chain.
Shoukat was told about the site by Richard, came for a recce and loved its size and location. He thought Crosspool needed a new Indian, snapped it up, and has spent the last few months refurbishing. The layout is as it was – you walk into the bar and reception and there are two conjoined rooms beyond. A private dining room with theatre kitchen is planned for upstairs, where cookery lessons will also be held. Hurray, the decor is not the usual Asian cliché. It’s simple and refined contemporary modern in shades of green, with the merest nod to the East.
The menu is all about authenticity, though. Shoukat has strived to replicate the dishes Indians, Afghans and Pakistanis eat at home and proudly boasts all dishes are cooked from scratch – no bought-in sauces or one size fits all. This is particularly evident in the tangy Hyderabadi sauce accompanying the husband’s Shahi Jinga tandoori main, £12.50, which arrives sizzling on a griddle. It is vibrant with cardamom and fresh coriander, yet tempered with cream and coconut to balance the heat of huge prawns, smoky from the tandoor and punchy with chili, which lounge on soft-roasted onions.
The standout dish is my £9.50 Nihari lamb shank. What a dish. All melting softness, it comes with the aromatic gravy it was slow-cooked for three hours in (it had that slightly gelatinous texture you only get from meat cooked gently on the bone). Saffron lemon rice, £3, and two 90p chapattis, were perfect accompaniments.
Kashmiri chefs from Bradford are in the kitchen and the food is as subtly spiced as the decor. Though, as it’s only weeks in, they haven’t got their heads around the desserts menu. The handmade dishes are not available on our visit, so we declined the bought-in fancypants ice creams and settled the bill. A reasonable £50.40 included two poppadoms with pickles, a large glass of white wine, two bottled Indian beers and a £12.50 seafood sharing platter starter – fried, spiced seabass, tandoori prawns, haddock in masala batter and tilapia machli which should have been served individually on a larger plate instead of heaped into mini fish mountain. We couldn’t tell one from t’other.
Address: 32-34 Sandygate road, Crosspool, S10 5RY
Contact: Tel. 0114 2666096
My star ratings out of six