We don’t get to Nuneaton that often. Maybe twice in the past few years – usually after we’ve been invited for the blog. So how we could manage to choose the day that the whole town was on lockdown after someone took a few people hostage beggars belief really, but hey, no such thing as a drama-free Sunday night in north Warwickshire.
Lucky for us, the situation was resolved without anyone coming to any harm, and we managed to get to Amid Palace for what was promised as an “adventure in taste”. Now, without wanting to slight one of my county’s towns, I’d be lying if I claimed Nuneaton was a foodie mecca. While towns in the south of Warwickshire tend to have plenty to offer for food fans, both independent and chains, in the north we’re slightly bereft (Rugby included, I’m sad to say). So with that in mind, I was intrigued to see exactly what kind of adventure Amid Palace was going to take us on.
Based near a retail park/leisure development on the outskirts of Nuneaton, the restaurant doesn’t look particularly stand-out from the outside. Inside, it feels like it once may have been something like a Little Chef but has been thoughtfully converted to present a smart interior that’s as far from Olympic breakfasts as you can imagine.
We were greeted by manager Ali who oozes infectious passion about what they’re trying to do at Amid Palace. He settled us with the usual openers of drinks, poppadoms and dips (goodbye stereotypical metal containers of onion salad, mango chutney and yoghurt and mint dip – hello swanky glass jars and marble tray) as we looked through the menu – unaware of the feast that was about to befall us.
Before we could choose, we were treated to Amid Palace’s own version of Pani Puri – delicate little puri filled with spicy chickpeas and onions but instead of tamarind chutney inside, they were perched on top of a shot glass of a sweet, slightly sour tamarind sauce. All the same flavours, but more of a deconstructed, refined way of presenting it. This proved to be a running theme with many of the dishes at Amid Palace – tried and tested flavours but a serious effort to give people something a bit more elegant than the average curry house.
A quick look at the menu backs this up – from classic ‘Clay Oven Treasures’ and ‘Old Favourite’ curries to more avant garde Signature Dishes like ‘Fish and Chips’ or Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Berry Sauce, it’s a mix of the popular dishes that make curry one of our firm faves and a more modern take on what’s become an English classic.
While we mulled over whether to stay traditional or go a bit more off-piste, we were presented with another tempting little treat – Aloo Chop. Small but perfectly-formed, these Bengali fried snacks are basically crispy potato balls. The crispy outer shell hides inside a soft, fluffy potato filling full of onion and delicate spice. I’m not sure how similar these beauties are to the traditional version but they were pretty darn good.
Since we’d struggled to decide, we let Ali help us out. He decided that we should definitely go for one of their seafood platter starters – an impressive hunk of wood piled high with a collection of all sorts of fish. While the seafood puri and the pan-fried fish were nice, our favourite by far were the sweet chilli prawns. Big, fat prawns doused in a sweet, tomatoey, spicy sauce. As showstopping as the board was, I could happily have settled for a whole bowl of these to start.
Keeping things sophisticated, we were presented with a palate cleanser of homemade sorbet. A great addition after so many flavours and so many more to come, and it certainly lent itself to that fine dining feel. It makes you wonder why you don’t get palate cleansers in more Indian restaurants really.
Already feeling a bit full, we moved on to the main course. While Mr M and I left our meals in Ali’s hands, my mother-in-law, the Queen of Pathia, stuck to her favourite King Prawn version to see how it compared to other places. She enjoyed the taste but in her view it was lacking in some of the sweetness that makes her love a pathia so much.
In contrast to her choice, my meal was as far from traditional as you can get. Having told Ali that I often tend to opt for the ‘healthier choice’ like tandoori meats or shashlicks, I was brought an elegant yet substantial plate of lamb kofta-style meat on a pool of yoghurt-y dip served alongside a carefully-presented cuboid of fragrant lightly-spiced mashed potato (yes, mashed potato – told you it wasn’t traditional) with crunchy, refreshing salad piled on top.
It was a great dish if you’re looking for something that little bit different. The meat was full of flavour with the right use of spice to accentuate the lamb rather than mask it. The texture was right too – none of that too-fine mince that convinces you that, yes, you’re definitely eating mechanically-recovered meat. Instead, a bit of substance without being tough or grisly.
Jamie had a similar style of dish – a whole tandoori poussin served on the second impressive board of the night and again, mash and a rainbow of light salad.I’m not sure how blown away by it Mr M was and whether that’s because he prefers a big bowl of curry. I know I would probably have enjoyed it on my endless quest to justify an Indian meal by having the ‘healthy’ version.
The feast wasn’t finished there, though we were definitely flagging. Dessert was another bit of theatre – a cauldron billowing with dry ice, prompting oohs and aahs across the table, concealing ice-cream underneath. Another impressive performance compared to the usual Pingu you’d get from your local curry house.
By the time we left we were full to the brim and a bit overwhelmed mentally by the sheer number of dishes, flavours, colours, textures and creations we’d experienced. Amid Palace is certainly endeavouring to do something different, and doing it with heart and soul. For me, one or two of the dishes were perhaps slightly off the mark, but I love that they’re trying to stand out from the crowd and show people that Indian food can be much more than a bowl of curry and a naan.
When places aim to impress, there’s always the risk that it could be a case of style over substance, but I don’t think that’s the case here. We had some good flavours, though one or two dishes had perhaps gone too far into the realms of impressing the eyes more than the taste buds. However, dishes like their take on Pani Puri, their Aloo Chop, those sweet chilli prawns and my kofta are enough to make me want to return to Amid Palace and give it another go. Because passion, heart and stepping away from the norm is hard to find in this world, so let’s not be too quick to pick fault.
We were invited for a complimentary meal at Amid Palace.