A long overdue visit to Lasan, Birmingham
July 16, 2016

I’ve wanted to go to Lasan for yonks. Pretty much since it won Best Local Restaurant on Gordon Ramsey’s ‘F Word’. And that’s not the only award its won, with plenty of other accolades including Great British Menu, which means it’s verging on unforgivable that it’s taken me so long to get there. Needless to say, I’ve rectified this rather sorry situation now and finally made it to Lasan for a night of food and frolics with my pals.

Lasan, Birmingham

Lasan, Birmingham

The first thing that hit me when we wandered up to Lasan after a few drinks at a nearby bar in the Jewellery Quarter is how understated it is from the outside. You’d have thought that somewhere with so many gongs to boast about, and part of a stable of successful restaurants across Birmingham including Nosh & Quaff and Fiesta del Asado, might have moved from its slightly obscure location or emblazoned its bricked walls with more than the simple ‘Lasan’ sign. Not so. It seems that these guys are more than happy with their longstanding, well-won success and don’t really need to shout about it.

That success certainly doesn’t seem to be waning. We’d booked well in advance for our Friday night dinner and even then, didn’t have the pick of times as it was so busy. And when we arrived, the restaurant was as full as any city centre location, and oozing that lovely hubbub that allows you to relax into an evening of fine food and drink.

It took us a fair old length of time to decide between Lasan’s tasting menu and its a la carte choices. I’m a big fan of tasting menus as they give you the chance to try things you might not otherwise choose,  and Lasan’s is pretty well priced at £54.95 per person. But the a la carte was also packed with eye-catching dishes, from the venison shoulder sourced from the Balmoral Estate to spring lamb cutlets, Cotswold chicken and Herefordshire beef.

I loved how the provenance of the food was front and centre of the menu descriptions, and the dishes nicely intertwined British sourcing and ingredients with Indian influences and flavours. We eventually decided on the a la carte – with the agreement that we’d try to avoid ordering the same dishes, and everyone would let the others try their dish.

Before we even got to our starters, we were brought some ‘pani puri’ – little shells filled with spicy chickpeas then doused in a tangy tamarind juice. I liked the element of theatre that accompanied this first foray into Lasan’s food in the pouring of the tamarind juice with a flourish, and the little taster was just right to get our tastebuds going and mouths watering for our meal.

Amuse bouche of pani puri at Lasan, Birmingham

Amuse bouche of pani puri at Lasan, Birmingham

Poppadum dips at Lasan, BirminghamPoppadum dips at Lasan, Birmingham

After some poppadoms and well-flavoured dips, we moved on to our starters. Despite our efforts to all order different, the boys couldn’t help themselves and both chose the Burrah kebab. Dry-aged oyster of Herefordshire beef served with hung yoghurt, black cumin and nutmeg with tomato kachumber. This was a lovely richly-coloured dish, with rich red/brown colours of the beef contrasted with bright, fresh green of the yoghurt.

The taste was as rich as the colour, and the beef tender and moist. The big, bold flavours contrasted with a delicate presentation befitting of any fine dining restaurant and a reminder that Lasan is, indeed, not your average curry house but up in a different league.

Burrah kebab at Lasan, Birmingham

I’d been tempted by the beef, but with two people already choosing it, I opted for Batair. This was described as a ‘tasting of quail’ and was made up of a quail supreme in mango and cashew cream, roasted quail’s leg in date molasses, and a quail’s egg nargisi kofta. Again, another beautifully presented dish, packed with colours and textures.

The quail supreme was delicate and sweet, emphasised by the sweet mango and creamy nuttiness of cashew. The leg was richer, especially with the addition of date molasses, while the quail’s egg was a delicate, spicy version of a Scotch egg – the egg wrapped in spiced lamb mince and coated in a delicate crunch. More subtle in taste than the beef starter, but packed with a whole range of tastes and flavours nevertheless.

Quail starter at Lasan, Birmingham

The winner of the starter choice had to go to our friend, who had opted for the Konkan kekada  – a soft shell crab dish inspired by Lasan’s winning fish course on Great British Menu. Soft shell crab, coated in a Kashmiri chilli batter, plus a Devonshire crab cake, all served with south Indian tomato chutney and sour raw mango.

I’m a massive fan of soft shell crab anyway, and always think it’s a shame that you don’t see it all that often. This was a great way to eat it. The mixture of crispy, spiced batter and soft delicate crab, all emphasised by a fresh tomato chutney and the sour/sweet taste of the mango.

Softshell crab at Lasan, Birmingham

Softshell crab starter at Lasan, Birmingham

For main course I chose the Bathak ki salan – a pan-roasted breast of Devonshire Creedy Carver duck, with spiced confit leg, south Indian cabbage poriyal (basically a fried or sauteed veg dish), and a traditional Hyderabadi peanut and sesame seed gravy.

This looked gorgeous – pink duck sitting alongside bright greens and a pale green gravy. The duck was tender and rich, its skin had that lovely crispiness that it should have. The confit leg was even richer and fell apart in the mouth.

Again, the presentation was well thought-out and delicate, but not too fussy. You might have noticed that there’s no identikit crockery here – something that reminded me of our trip to Nathan Outlaw’s, where each dish seemed to have been put on its own specific canvas in the form of an individual-looking plate. A nice touch in my view.

Duck main course at Lasan, Birmingham

One of our friends went for the Hiran achar – a slow braised shoulder of venison (sourced from the Balmoral Estate don’t you know), with marinated roasted loin of venison, served with onion textures, sweet pumpkin puree, tempered greens, and a ‘Mogul influenced pickling gravy’. The theatre returned here, with a little pan of the gravy served alongside the dish and spooned over by the waiting staff.

I’m told the venison was – as expected – rather great. The roasted loin was delicately laid over a bed of greens while the slow-braised shoulder came in a pan of its own packed with deep flavour and well-balanced spice. The smear of sunset orange was the pumpkin puree which added a sweetness that tempered the pickling gravy.

Venison main course at Lasan, Birmingham
Venison main course at Lasan, Birmingham

Across the table was the Laal maas – roasted spring lamb cutlets covered in a coriander herb crust, rillette of shoulder, all served with spiced aubergine and wilted choi sum. Again, a sauce to accompany it – this time smoked Rajastani lamb sauce. A simple, clean dish, it oozed spring flavours with the added complexity of Indian spices and the soft perfectly-quenelled rillette contrasted with the crunch of the herb crust on the cutlet.

Lamb cutlets at Lasan, Birmingham

As well as the fine dining-orientated dishes, Lasan does a few curry dishes in a more traditional style and Mr M went for one of these. He made a good choice with his Paya raas – slow braised mutton simmered in bone marrow stock, flavoured with caramelised shallots and garam masala. It may look like a traditional curry, but was definitely a bit more complex than that.

In my view, this is exactly how mutton should be cooked, simmered for a long old time to make it tender and allow its deep flavour to spread through the sauce. Add bone marrow stock and you get a rich, robust curry, flavoured with garam masala and sweetened by the shallots.

Mutton curry at Lasan, Birmingham

To go alongside our choices, we opted for steamed pilau rice and a delicious mushroom rice that contained not just mushrooms but caramelised onions.  We also couldn’t resist the Gobhi angara – tandoori-roasted cauliflower sauteed with nigella scented onion masala. Possibly the best Indian vegetable dish I’ve ever had, I could’ve eaten a double portion of this.

And let’s not forget the bread basket, a selection of three different traditional Indian breads, warm and puffy from the oven and perfect for mopping up the delicately spiced sauces we all enjoyed.

Naan bread at Lasan, Birmingham

Full to the brim, and well lubricated with red wine (for the boys) and prosecco (for the girls), we decided to stop at the mains and didn’t venture as far as dessert, though there were some interesting options on the menu. Maybe next time hey.

It’s safe to say Lasan more than lived up to our expectations. The flavours and presentation are something you don’t see that often and I’ve only had this kind of ‘fine dining’ Indian food once or twice before, once being Five Rivers in Walsall, but it’s certainly not something you come across every day.

This, along with knowledgeable, attentive service, make it clear why Lasan has scooped itself some awards.  But – and potentially more importantly – they explain how this restaurant tucked away in the Jewellery Quarter has managed to build and retained a loyal following as well as drawing new people in all the time. After all, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it – there’s not much point having a stacked awards cabinet if nobody’s enjoying your food, and that’s definitely not the case here.

We paid in full for our meal at Lasan – they didn’t know I was planning on writing a blog.

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