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Sanjha, Shirley Road, Southampton
THERE’S a fresh feel about Sanjha, Southampton ’s newest Indian restaurant.
It’s not just the food, which I had been told would be stunning, but the atmosphere, the look and the feel of the restaurant which specialises in Punjabi cuisine.
It’s apparent the moment you arrive, a modern, up-to-date take on an old now almost familiar culture to us British.
Large panoramic windows, an open kitchen, smart tables, equally smartly attired staff – and beaming smiles, everywhere beaming smiles.
It’s infectious really, I decided, after being shown to my table. A bright welcome to reflect the light décor.
It’s no accident of course.
The restaurant is the ‘baby’ of Punjabi-born Amarjot Singh. It’s also the fulfilment of his ambition to build on the successful takeaway and catering business he has been operating from the Shirley Road premises for the last two years. Taking the opportunity to expand into the vacant plot next door, walls were knocked through, the kitchen expanded, and Sanjha is the result.
It was Amarjot who scoured his native Punjab for the marvellous collection of traditional musical instruments and antiques that line the walls and shelves of the restaurant. And it was his wish to blend the old with the new that culminated in the creation of the restaurant’s unique ceiling incorporating traditional Punjabi wedding material.
But, as with any restaurant, it is the food that truly matters, and at Sanjha, my sources had told me, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
The menu turned out to be extensive, but with a fair few surprises.
Starters included such offerings as Fish Pakora with its garlic and bishop weed flavoured cod fried in batter, or Peneer Pakora, home made cottage cheese stuffed with mint paste, coriander, green chilli, cashew nuts and then deep fried.
Cold starters were available from the chaat counter, and of course there were Tandoor Se, which could be taken as starters or mains.
The menu carfeully explained each of the cooking techniques: Dum Biryanis I learnt – to my shame for the first time – was the method of sealing food to stew and cook to prevent the steam from escaping.
Tawa cuisine was born among the refugee camps, particularly around the time of India’s separation.
The choices went on. Tikka Tak-a- Tak, Punjabi Chicken Curry, Goat Beliram Tarriwala.
Decisions had to be made and for a taster I tried the Papri Chaat, cold crisp fried dough wafers served with potatoes, chick peas, chilis, yogurt and tamarind chutney topped with chaat masala and sev.
A Tandoori Mix for two of us to share came with its beautiful tandoor hood and included delicious chicken, Murgh Malai Tikka, Seekh Kebab, Lamb tikka and sizzling Ajwaini prawns. A meal in itself, believe me.
For our main course we enjoyed Lahori Kadhai Chicken – a chicken tikka cooked in rich tomato gravy with peppers and three types of coriander. It was accompanied by dishes of Pilee Daal Tadka of yellow lentils (the staple diet of Punjabis) with onions, garlic and tomatoes, as well as Saag Paneer with its cubes of home-made cottage cheese cooked with spinach.
It was all gorgeous, as I had been promised.
To end the meal we were served cheesecake the like of which I had never tried before. Rich, creamy, and a world apart from the stuff served by Americans.
Prices were reasonable: mains at around £7, side orders £3.50 and starters from as little as £2.45.
I will return. And soon.
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