Zama Restaurant Review
There was a time when a typical visit to an Indian restaurant in the UK involved dining on oily, made-for-British-tastes curry, accompanied by pilau rice that looked like it had been sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. Brass food warmers topped orange-stained tablecloths; sepia images of Colonial India adorned the walls and traditional sitar music played on repeat.
Authentic, contemporary dining
I’m not knocking these establishments and this particular dining experience will still appeal to many, but I for one am grateful that the Indian culinary scene, especially in Brighton, has made a move towards a more authentic, contemporary experience – I’m talking Planet India, Curry Leaf Café, Indian Summer, Manjus and the newly opened Zama, on Church Road in Hove.
Stylish interior décor is more brasserie than 1970’s curry house – lots of dark wood and monochrome tiling – and there’s an informal café style vibe. Only Bollywood background music and distinctive aromas reveal Zama’s culinary focus. Swiftly seated by a bubbly waitress we order poppadums for snacking (rude not to!) as we peruse the menu. Zama specialises in Punjabi cuisine – a region known for its rich flavours, tandoor cooked meats and variety of breads.
Thinking outside the box
Whilst the menu features a handful of recognisable classics (Lamb Rogan Josh, Chicken Tikka, Biryani), it’s predominantly an offering of unfamiliar, exotic-sounding dishes such as Chicken Makanwala, Ajwaini King Prawns and Keema Aloo Matar. With its Punjabi orientation, there’s no surprise to see an enticing selection of both meat and veggie tandoor dishes, designed to be eaten as a starter, before moving onto a biryani or curry. But I’m most excited about the ‘Street Snack’ section of the menu.
I’m a sucker for both Indian street food and small plate dining, and could happily graze my way through all ten dishes. Next time…!
Street snacks and starters
The waitress returns with our poppadums – ten-pence piece sized wafers that are light and moreish – and offers some much-needed advice on how to structure our dining experience. To start with we choose two street snacks – Paneer Mirchi and Samosa Chaat – and the House Tandoor Halloumi, which the waitress gushes enthusiastically about. She’s right to rave about the halloumi. Artfully chargrilled, the smoky, saltiness of the cheese is complemented by a sweet, sticky mango chutney. The Samosa Chaat is equally mouth-watering and bursting with colour. The crunchy samosa pyramids, smothered in spicy chickpea sauce, and sprinkled with plump pomegranate seeds are insta-worthy. However, it’s the Paneer Mirchi that provokes the loudest, mouth-filled, murmurs of appreciation. Creamy, sticky, spongy cubes of deliciousness.
Wow! I wonder if it would be greedy to order another plate of paneer – it’s just £6 – very tempting…
Time for Thali
Watching us struggle to make a decision about the main course (curry or biryani? do we need a dal?), our waitress suggests the Thali which offers a bit of everything, allowing us to sample a teasing selection of dishes, and is an extremely well-priced £15. Our meat Thali (there’s a veg option too) comprises of tasting portions of three curries: Chicken Tikka, Zama’s signature Chicken Curry and Lamb Rogan Josh. Each dish has a distinctive flavour: the Rogan Josh is earthy; the Chicken Curry zingy and fruity; the Tikka characteristically chargrilled. The chunks of meat beneath the sauce are perfectly tender.
Accompanying the curries is a bowl of fresh kachumber raita, a mini naan, fluffy pilau rice and a rich, creamy Punjabi Dal Makhani that’s so good we order another portion!
The conversation is minimal as we greedily scoop up mouthfuls using still-warm Paratha and Roti to spoon and mop up.
Leave room for pud
Despite our best efforts, we can’t quite polish off everything and reluctantly admit defeat. Maybe the second dal was a little over-ambitious!
There’s an enticing dessert offering: Zama’s take on an Eton Mess, with mango and passionfruit, looks particularly appealing, but I’ve left no room. We leave with a promise to return, clutching our leftover dal (thanks Zama, it was a yummy lunch the following day). Whether you’re looking for a leisurely lunch of street food plates, or a more substantial curry meal, Zama is an extremely well-priced, welcoming and authentic option. Two bits of advice: don’t leave without trying the Paneer Mirchi and save room for dessert.