Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Indian Zest, Sunbury-on-Thames

It's safe to say that Sunbury-on-Thames is not exactly bursting with exciting restaurants. It’s not even close to bursting; in fact for a reasonably affluent and, in parts almost Stepfordian, stretch of suburbia, it is surprisingly lacking in places to eat. There are a couple of Chinese restaurants, true, and one or two anonymous curry houses, but that’s pretty much it: end of story. Or at least it was until Indian Zest came along. As the sister venue to the well-liked Indian Zing in Hammersmith, this one sounded pretty exciting.

I know Sunbury well, I grew up in the area, my mother still lives out there, and we’ve been waiting and hoping for a decent local place to open up for a very, very long time. Manoj Vasaikar's Indian Zest is housed in an attractive building in the prettiest part of town, down near the river. Up until recently it was (yet another) nondescript Chinese restaurant and before that it was an unlamented branch of Café Rouge, a place in which I can (very) dimly recall celebrating a friend’s eighteenth birthday – a night that quite possibly involved copious quantities of cheap white wine and even larger quantities of French fries.

I’ve wanted to visit this new place for a while and I finally organised myself sufficiently to book a table with my (very much un-vegetarian) mother on Easter Monday. Though we arrived bang on time, our presence seemed to baffle the waiting staff and, despite our booking, we were – after some whispered debate – sent upstairs to a silent and slightly chilly overspill room that had the same elegant colonial décor as below but completely lacked the atmosphere. I suspect the space is not used too often as some of the cutlery was distinctly grubby, there were no napkins on the tables and we were left with only a wine list but no food menu for ages - and were then asked for our orders by a very harried-looking waiter literally less than a minute after being given our menu.

Anyway, anyway: what of the food? The menu contained a couple of interesting vegetarian mains, including my choice of Tandoori Paneer and Artichoke (£8.50). Elegantly arranged in a strip across the plate, the sizeable pieces of Indian cheese were alternated with equally hefty artichoke hearts and occasional pieces of roast pepper and onion. It was an intriguing combination, rather Mediterranean in some ways, but nicely spiced with the sharpness of the artichokes contrasting with the slightly rubbery cheese; the accompanying cashew nut sauce was creamy, but unassertive to the point of being bland and, though it’s possibly my own fault for ordering a dish whose principal ingredient is cheese, there was far more paneer than I could handle - I failed to clear my plate.

A side order of smoked aubergine with onion and corn (on the left, £4.75) was something of a let down. Aubergine is usually such a spice sponge, but the resulting dish of aubergine pulp spotted with corn kernels was lacking in fireworks and was, on an aesthetic level at least, pretty unappealing (I blame the corn).

The simplest dish was in many ways the strongest and my mother and I made short work of the Chana Masala (£4.25); the chick peas were well-spiced and toothsome. My mother’s rather hearty Nilgiri Lamb disappeared with a degree of speed and, between the two of us, we also managed to munch our way through two satisfyingly hot and thin naan breads. I suspect, if I go back, I’ll order a range of vegetable sides rather than one of the mains. To be fair, after the initial confusion, the service did improve considerably and Indian Zest is still a gleaming beacon in the gastro-wasteland that is this corner of suburbia; maybe we caught them on an off day, but the excited word-of-mouth generated by this place had led me to expect a lot more.

Indian Zest on Urbanspoon

Indian Zest, 21 Thames Street, Sunbury-On-Thames, Middlesex TW16 5QF 01932 765000

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