Everyone wants to be a street food place these days. They’re the cool cats, the trailblazers, the ones on Instagram and Twitter that everyone bigs up. And quite rightly so. It’s the street food guys who, in my view, have made the biggest change to eating out in quite some time with their creativity, accessibility and constant innovation.
With that in mind, I’m a tiny bit sceptical when other people jump on board with the title ‘street food’. Whether it’s a big chain or a solo restaurant, are they just jumping on the latest bandwagon to join in on one of the bigger trends we’ve seen in food and drink over the past few years? After all, who could blame them.
It was with this slight reservation that I rocked up to Indico Street Kitchen and Bar in Shirley. Set among a few other dining spots opposite the bright lights of that mecca that is the big Asda, it proudly refers to itself online as ‘Shirley’s Finest Indian Street Food Restaurant’. I’m not sure how many others Shirley has but either way, I was curious to see what they had done with the street food label.
Indico is all about celebrating Indian street food. Inside, the decor transports you far away from the neon green of Asda to somewhere far more exotic. The kitchen itself looks like a street food truck, the walls are adorned with captivating murals and the ceiling is adorned with a rainbow of coloured umbrellas. It’s gaudy, it’s bright, it’s fun, and it’s different.
Like London’s Dishoom, I think the aim is to transport you to the cafes of Mumbai and there are some echoes of the Big Smoke’s version. But much like the way us Midlanders don’t take ourselves quite as seriously as our counterparts in the capital in so many ways, Indico manages to bring a bit of fun to the mix.
When we arrive at 6.30ish, the expansive restaurant is fairly full with the early crowd. Families grabbing something to eat, couples having a post-shopping bite. It’s bustling and it smells good! We’re shown to our to our table and talked through out newspaper-style menu, which offers ‘Street Food Chaats’ – tapas- style small plates that you can have as starters or as a bit of a feast as you would the Spanish version.
There are also Dhaba curries (Dhaba being the name for roadside restaurants in India) as well as my mum’s favourite, Thali, Tandoor dishes, Kathi rolls (parathas filled with all sorts of yumminess) and a few other dishes, including Indico’s own version of fish and chips. I’m sure experts might say it isn’t entirely authentic to Indian street food, but it’s refreshing to see somewhere doing something a little bit different with Indian food and giving people a taste of what might be more similar to Indian street food that a chicken tikka wrap from Tesco.
There’s a more-than-adequate drinks menu, including plenty of softs, wine, beer, Indian mocktails and alcoholic cocktails. Props to the barman, whose Jaipur Passion mocktail, simple but delightful mango martini, and dessert-like Gingerbread Martini were all a bit too quaffable.
After much deliberation, we agreed on a few Chaats and a Thali, deciding if that wasn’t enough we could always order more.The dishes arrived when they were ready, bringing that street food/tapas vibe to the whole meal as we dug in without the formality of starters and main courses, just the prospect of a good feed! Word to the wise, the Thalis are not mean portions and include curries, rice, naan, and all sorts, so don’t be getting too ambitious with what you can squeeze in alongside these.
First up was the Chilli Paneer – fried paneer that was crispy on the outside and simultaneously soft and yielding inside without the rubberiness that can sometimes put people off this highly underrated cheese. Plenty of chilli brought warmth and depth with fried onions and peppers bringing an almost slightly Chinese sweet and sour feel to it. Far more delicious than I’d been expecting and a dish that’s making me salivate as I write this (sorry for over-sharing…)
When a dish is labelled ‘The most popular Mumbai street food’ as well as being called an ‘Indian version of England’s chip butty’ you really can’t help but try it. It turns out it’s the perfect description. A deep-fried patty of potato, onion and green chilli sandwiched in a bun, with a yoghurt dip on the side. For something quite innocuous it definitely packed a punch, with that smoky fiery hit of dried red chilli taking us both by surprise yet not ruining the dish.
The third dish, lollipop chicken – chicken on the bone apparently marinated in a chilli soy sauce – looked impressive enough, but played second fiddle taste-wise to two more memorable dishes.
If the Chaats were the support act for our meal, the headliner certainly didn’t disappoint. We’d gone for the Chef’s Special Thali which includes poppadoms, aloo pyaz ke pakora (a potato, onion and spinach pakora), a daal makhani, mixed vegetable masala, raita, rice, naan and your choice of two curries. We had opted for Chicken Taka Tak, described as a ‘lip-smacking’ house special curry, as well as the chickpea-based Punjabi Choley.
If you haven’t heard of a Thali, or haven’t had one, I suggest you make sure you try one next time you see it on a menu. If you’re someone who likes a tonne of different tastes or maybe someone who doesn’t like sharing, this could be the one for you. Everything all in one place and technically ‘your’ meal so you don’t have to hand any of it over unless you particularly want to.
Where to start? The highlights for me were the Daal Makhani, the vegetable masala and the naan. The first was creamy, delicately spiced, fragrant, and just right in texture terms. The vegetable masala was a welcome break from the tasteless slop you get served up so many times under this title (often with a biryani for some reason). And the naan was some of the lightest, fluffiest naan that I’ve had in quite some time. Even the rice was blimin well executed, again fragrant with the texture absolutely nailed (by that I mean good).
Everything else was good, just not quite as good as my favourite elements. Chicken taka tak was tasty but I wouldn’t necessarily use the term ‘lip-smacking’, and the Punjabi Choley was pretty good but not a patch on the Daal Makhani. Even so, nothing was greasy, nothing was bland, nothing was identikit, which can occasionally happen when you place several dishes so closely together. We roared through a quarter of the tray of food, battled through the second and third quarters and gave up on the fourth, getting it packed up in a doggie bag to take home for lunch.
With any reservations well and truly dismissed, we couldn’t help but opt for a dessert my mum used to cook for me as a kid (don’t ask why – she likes it, we liked Indian food, so she learned to make it) – Gulab Jamun. Basically deep-fried milk dumplings soaked in sugar syrup. Sweet, sickly, tooth-rotting and delightful. These were possibly not quite as heavenly as I remember from my childhood days, though that could have something to do with the volume of food I had just shovelled down my neck.
Nevertheless, they were everything they should be – slightly crispy on the outside, soft inside, with the sugar syrup oozing from them with the lightest of pressure. I think I remember the syrup having more rose petal notes, and perhaps that’s what was missing for me but hey, what do I know! I’m certainly not an expert on Indian dessert.
As we supped our final cocktail (actually, a Chai for me – my first and probably my last, sorry if that makes me a heathen) we realised Indico was just as busy as when we’d arrived, but now with a slightly later crowd. Dates, groups of friends, post-work meals, and seemed to be showing no sign of quietening down.
I can see why. It’s different and far apart from your stereotypical ‘curry house’. The service is good, the decor a bright, smile-inducing setting, and the drinks pretty darn good. The street food it speaks of isn’t about jumping on a bandwagon but about trying to bring a taste of India and its own street food to Shirley.
Of course, it may not be entirely authentic – in the same way you wouldn’t bring some of the dishes you’ll find on the back streets of a Thai street to a restaurant in the Midlands, it might be necessary to slightly tailor things to the audience. Let’s be realistic, you can put whatever you like on a menu but if people don’t want it, you ain’t going to be serving for very long. If what Indico is doing helps show more people that Indian food isn’t always about a balti or an onion bhaji and filling a restaurant at the same time then let’s embrace it.
I was invited to dine at Indico. Our meals were complimentary.
Pin for later: