The vastness and richness of India is one of this world’s greatest wonders. Its pluralistic, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic society makes everything that comes out of the country so profound, that an entire ocean had to be named after it. So it is no wonder that its addictive food too, is so regal and diverse in flavour you’ll forget about your waistline.
To the uninformed, India gave the world the number system, spices, poppadoms, the Taj Mahal, Ghandi, chess, ommm…and yoga. To Manchester – precisely 7 months ago – India gave Scene: India Street Kitchen; a premier, rustic Indian restaurant with enough authenticity to rival Delhi’s very own street vendors.
When the owners of Scene – nestled in Spinningfields’ Leftbank – sat round the table to come up with an apt name for their Indian joint, they must have called on some spiritual being. This comfortable, modern and elegant dining room is blissfully free of the tired and shabby clichés of Anglo-Indian restaurants. Its set-up is like a paperback scene telling a story of India without being too preachy, yet original and expressive with rural trinkets sprawled systematically across the room.
As soon as we stepped through its glass doors, we had a sense of arriving at an occasion, not just dinner. To call Scene relaxed is unfair. Relaxed is a synonym for unexciting; Scene is a big deal that suggests you to dress up, even though there are no linen tablecloths here.
With modern classics like Main Yahan Hoon by Veer Zaara and Yohan Hoon by Javed Ali serenading the dimly lit room, Scene safely qualifies as a ‘Take your date’ and ‘Family treat’ venue.
Whilst being shown around the restaurant by Scene’s Marketing and Events Coordinator Emaan Ali, we were transported to the infamous train station in Agra, with the whimsical ornamental wooden doors and antique vintage luggage adding to the fullness of the scene.
There ought to be a word for the peculiar, particular pleasure of taking a first bite into a starter dish that tastes like a winning main. The grilled lamp chops were exactly as described on the menu – succulent and tender with a hint of freshly chopped coriander.
Although Spinningfields is famous for its fine dining, it has barely a single Michelin starred restaurant – which goes to remind you what a scarcity of taste Michelin has. The best food here is unfussy and wholesome. The prices are pretty decent, with the portions even more surprising. With the Banjari Gosht Rajasthani (£11.95) and Basmati pilau rice (£2.85) all shareable between two, you can have a tapas-style selection of dishes to try, without heart palpitations about the price.
There’s no beef in Scene – metaphorically and literally. However the fieriness packed in the Dhaba Murgh (£10.95) could make you pull all sorts of faces; as if ‘you got beef’. With tender pieces of chicken cooked in a thick tomato sauce with spring onion; fresh coriander and traditional spices, this extra hot Punjabi dish is one of the Chef’s charmingly fragrant specialties.
The early uses of spices, in India’s warm climate, were connected with tradition and the preservation of meats. Now even in cold England, Indian dishes hardly make it to the table without their signature fiery heat. The hot curry mains on the table, including the creamy and flavoursome Chicken Makhani – one of the signature dishes at £11.95 – were thoroughly cooked and aptly balanced in taste by both the classical naan (with onion seeds) and boiled rice with a hint of coconut. The rice, I hasten to add, looked like it should be in an M&S TV advert; with its grains so loose and fluffy.
Whether you choose from Scene’s selection of desserts or create your own, all desserts come at £4.95 per plate. We had the Chocolate Fondant served with ice cream and the traditional Gulab Jaman – both accompanied by a pot of Desi Chai at £2.95, with espresso-style cups.
The Chocolate Fondant; was in-between a soufflé and fudge cake with rich dark chocolate and a gooey core. This requires a real soufflé master to get the balance of both maximum rise and the all important soft centre – Scene has got it spot on.
For the extremely sweet-toothed, go for the Gulam Jaman – soft sweet balls made from full cream, semolina, pistachio nuts, butter oil and cardamom power, dipped in sugar syrup. This dish is the epitome of ‘sweet’ and somehow, with all its ingredients melded together, has a lychee and minty taste.
With the restaurant’s open-plan kitchen spreading wafts of mixed spices and hissing sounds, Scene is still in-keeping with its ‘street food’ identity. What’s more, the hospitality and ambience in this street kitchen evidently matches its triumphant menu. It’s safe to say, Scene is here to stay.
TNT Food Yasin Chinembiri