For a true taste of Northern Indian cuisine at its very best, try The Dhabba

The whole Poussin at The Dhabba was a taste revelation
The whole Poussin at The Dhabba was a taste revelation

The Dhabba is an authentic North Indian restaurant serving traditional food with a twist here and there to satisfy the western palate, and all with a certain flair and distinctiveness in convivial and contemporary surroundings.

Located in the Candleriggs area of the Merchant City (Glasgow), in what has become in recent years, an upmarket and trendy part of the city following huge improvements to the locality.

There's nothing to beat a well made Naan

There's nothing to beat a well made Naan

There is plenty of on-street parking available locally as well as an NCP car park (five minutes walk) on King Street. Be warned it’s not cheap to park in the latter at £6 for two hours and £9 from three hours – and it’s regularly patrolled, so you have been warned.

The restaurant is easily accessible for the disabled with level access from the street via the main door. Set out as an open plan dining area, there’s loads of room to manoeuvre between tables, even with a wheelchair. The bathrooms are on the same level and fully accessible.

We were early, arriving at 7pm as opposed to 7.30pm, but regardless were met with a friendly face and escorted to our table without any fuss. The menu, in the guise of a two-page newsletter, was on the table, and our server who appeared immediately to take a drinks order explained he could advise should any assistance be required with dishes. The staff are all dressed casually rather than uniformed. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a restaurant’s waiting staff should adhere to a more formal dress code, which, in my opinion, promotes a different level of professionalism. That said, everyone who attended to us displayed the epitome of good service. It was obvious very early on, that staff are well trained in the constituent components of all dishes on the menu, and despite my attempts to throw them ‘a curve ball’, this failed miserably!

The décor and interior styling are not typically what one expects from a traditional Indian restaurant, with not a piece of flocked wallpaper to be found. What we did get was redolent of a Moroccan tile floor, slate pillars, wooden panelling and modern prints.

It's a fair feast for street food!

It's a fair feast for street food!

On the evening of my visit, it’s true to say the place was ‘buzzin’, using Glasgow parlance. The restaurant offers an early diner’s teaser menu for £11.95, available up to 6.30pm, which is excellent value for money and filled up quite a few tables.

The menu, as mentioned earlier, is a double A3 sheet in the form of a newsletter and lays out very clearly the food offerings. These include Chaat Pakodi – a selection of seven cold starters. Think authentic Indian street food we were told, and you won’t go far wrong with a description for Chaat. However, my dish of Sheetal Kachori, a meal of bean sprouts, pomegranate seeds, cucumber, sweetcorn, and carrot served on a crispy bread and drizzled with a cool yoghurt, could never have been eaten walking down the street! There was enough in the dish for both myself and my daughter who had decided to venture forth with her father, quite possibly on the basis of the free food offering. Unfortunately, the advertised ‘crispy bread’ wasn’t crispy as a result of the wet topping it contained. However, that said, this was a well-balanced and interesting appetiser with plenty of flavour, texture, and colours.

Another couple of noticeable touches were the warm plates, the linen napkins (always gets an extra point with me does that one) and the fact that if you ordered water, a jug of tap water along with glasses containing ice was brought to the table. No requirement to spend on expensive bottled water at The Dhabba.

Oh, and did I mention the complimentary poppadoms. No, well let me digress a moment. Don’t be expecting dinner plate sized crispy offerings, because you’ll be disappointed. This is a small dish of around ten mini £2 coin sized crisps! The two dips, a mango chutney and a coriander/mint and chilli were both home-made and very tasty, but there just wasn’t enough of the poppadoms to satisfy.

Pulled lamb and peppers - deliciously spiced.

Pulled lamb and peppers - deliciously spiced.

Next up was the starters. A Hariyali Mokal - £5.25 - for me while daughter dearest opted for the Gosht Kathi - £5.45. She oohed and ahhed over the pulled lamb and pepper filling all wrapped up in a Roomali (Rumali) roti. Four pieces were supplied along with a lime dressing and a small side salad. This was more like traditional street food and easily eaten with the fingers. It was well spiced, neither too hot or mild allowing for the flavours of the lamb to come through. My chicken which had been basted with basil and lemon was delicious. Tender and succulent, it too could be eaten with the fingers. The spice paste, which had a slight chargrill flavour, added to both the flavour and texture of this starter, which in my eyes was a surefire winner.

One thing to warn of at this point is if you order any Chaat dishes, be aware that your starters will probably appear at the same time, as did ours. It would have been nice if starters are not served until the Chaat dish is cleared from the table, but I appreciate that this might just be the way things are done at The Dhabba. Merely a small point to keep in mind.

The staff don’t hover, waiting to pounce the moment you take a bite of food to enquire if everything is fine – a pet hate of mine! But, they are acutely aware of you and a mere nod of the head will see someone winging their way to your table. They’re certainly on their toes in this restaurant and this all comes across as a pretty slick operation overall.

And, thankfully, the speed of service between starters and mains wasn’t so frantic so we had a little time to spare. And, talking about mains, here we go.

There may have been only two prawns, but they were the largest ever encountered

There may have been only two prawns, but they were the largest ever encountered

I chose the Nisha Lababdar - £22.95 – a dish described as “fresh jumbo tiger prawns, creamy, cashew nuts, velvety.” OK, so that probably didn’t help too much, let me go further. Arriving at the table was a dish containing two prawns in a sauce. Don’t jump ahead of me here, for this was the two largest prawns I have ever encountered, so much so, they could easily have been lobster tails! Huge doesn’t even come close. They were succulent, sweet and tender - perfectly cooked. I believe it’s the sign of a good kitchen brigade when a chef can cook prawns properly. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve returned similar dishes with overcooked rubber bullets masquerading as crustaceans. The sauce wasn’t the usual garish, bright, fluorescent orange either, so unlikely to be full of horrible additives and E-colours. It was a slightly sweet, creamy, almost nutty flavour and a perfectly balanced foil to the seafood. This was a very good dish indeed.

My daughter’s tandoori Chooza - £14.95 and Maskawala sauce - £4.25 arrived, and for the first time in a very long while, she was struck dumb. What was delivered was a slow-roasted poussin (small chicken) and a bowl of sauce. This I knew was going to provide me with many Facebook posts for quite some time. “What do I do with this” the cry echoed across the table. Quite obviously she’s been too pampered at home with pre-prepared chicken breast portions! A short lesson later in chicken dissection and we had the wings, thighs, and breasts successfully removed. Once more it was obvious that the kitchen knows how to mix spices to get the best out of the meats and chicken they’re applied to. This poussin had been gently cooked in the tandoor just enough without drying it out. The flesh fell off the bone and was soft and tender with just the right spice kick to it. The sauce was a mix of tomatoes, cream, ground cashews, and seasoning. This was a rich, decadent, luxuriously unctuous dressing for the chicken. But I’m going to let you into a secret. I’m betting it would have been a match made in heaven for the king prawns and is something I’ll be asking for the next time I visit.

We had the usual two accompaniments, a steamed Basmati rice, which was light, fluffy and unlike other grains, these only expand lengthwise so kept a refined, slender characteristic. No Indian meal would be complete without a bread product, and for us it was the obligatory Naan. Again, cooked to perfection in the tandoor, blackened crispy edges and a soft, pliant doughy-like centre was perfect for mopping up the remainder of the sauces.

The Dhabba’s website claims “It’s an experience that has brought people back time and time again to discover dishes never-before encountered in Scotland.” I’m certainly not going to disagree with that. If you want to savour the true taste of Northern Indian cuisine outside of that region, then I urge you to pay a visit that will leave you wanting for more.