Parsis, 14 Parade, Leamington Spa, CV32, (01926 330068).
Dinner £15 per person. Weekdays 6-10pm, Saturdays 12-10:30pm, Sundays 1-9pm
An oddly protruding ruby-red restaurant front juts out onto the pavement of Leamington Parade, emitting a warm glow onto the icy road. Though this Bombay-style eatery has not long existed on the high street, its interior is packed, and waiters and waitresses dart frantically across the floor. Inside, a blackboard playfully announces the café ‘rules’, including “NO MISCHIEF MAKING” and “NO BARGAINING”, whilst a hand-painted sign jokingly reminds guests “ALL CHAI IS COMING WITHOUT OPIUM.” A mixture of booths and wooden tables create a communal, American diner-esque vibe. A strange but pleasing mishmash of vast hanging wall lamps, rickety metal ceiling fans, old telephones, sepia family portraits and stained mirrors, creates a faded elegance reminiscent of the old Irani cafés of Bombay that Parsis commemorates.
We’re encouraged to browse the vast menu, which features a range of chaat and small plates, biryanis, curries, naans, and grills. Our friendly waiter quickly brings complimentary fresh, crisp poppadoms with tiny stainless-steel bowls of sweet, cooling mango chutney and beautifully spiced dips. We quickly select the vegetable samosas (£4.50), the chole bhatura (£6.95), the mattar paneer (£8.95), and the house daal (£5.90) alongside obligatory garlic naan (£2.80) and steamed rice (£2.90). Each arrive sporadically, or ‘as they come’, which creates the impression of each being freshly rustled up.
The samosas are golden and crisp, packed full of lightly spiced vegetables, and pair excellently with the chutneys and dips. The chole bhatura, however, is the star of the show. A hearty bowl of spiced chickpeas and raw red onion provide an explosion of flavour, and we mop up every last scrap with the delectably crisp fried bread it arrives with. The mattar paneer comes a close second, a delicious combination of soft, creamy paneer with peas, in a mildly spicy tomato base. If you are cautious with spice, beware of the whole chillies floating enticingly on top! Finally, we taste the black daal, which, though rather unappetisingly dun-coloured, provides a welcome thick, nutty flavour to an otherwise creamy and spicy spread of dishes. Though far less startling than its previous competitors, it is a pleasant finale. We happily attack the last few lentils with the buttery garlic naan, which, slightly haphazard in form and pleasingly charred, does not necessarily look to have been recently liberated from its supermarket wrapping. Homemade or not, it was a nice addition. This largesse costs a derisory £16 each.
Impressively, we are not rushed to leave, despite the distant restaurant telephone rings that suggest a busy night ahead. Instead, we order a spiced chai tea, and then another, as it was easily the best I’ve had the pleasure to taste.
Beyond the price, I mainly return out of deep affection for its wonderful worn-out elegance that is impressive and comfortable in equal measure. Dishoom has a rival on its hands.
Oh, and when you’re there, be sure to check out the toilets. You’ll see what I mean.
Value for money 8.5/10