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Jan 3, 2002 11:49 PM

FOUND! Best Manchester, UK Quality Chicken Tikka Masala...Here!

  • j

Almost two years ago my wife joined me on a trip to England that allowed us to search for the best "curry" in the U. K. Officially this was business since I had a number of meetings in Manchester, Birmingham and London. Truthfully it was an opportunity for 9 meals in 6 days at restaurants that I had persistently and thoroughly researched as worth the incredible caloric investment that this was going to take. On Wilmslow Road in Manchester (England's second largest city) they have a once a year "Curry Championship" with the winning restaurant (there are almost 100 in a nine or ten block stretch) hoisting a victory banner that assures long lines for the coming year.
We ate at the last three years' champions with Shere Khan our favorite. In fact after dinner one night we returned for lunch the next day-and ordered the exact same meal.
We drove into the countryside, thirty miles north of Manchester to a local legend called Shazan. It alone was almost worth the trip to the U. K.
In London we went to the top three listed in Zagat, which frankly, had little to do with the curry palaces of Wilmslow Road. The Michelin starred Zaika which was also the winner of the London Restaurant Award as "Best Indian" in the city may have had some of the best and most creative "modern Indian" food that I have ever tasted. Certainly the most original. Chicken Biryani had a pastry crust covering its porcelain serving bowl that when flaked with a fork allowed an aroma that caused nearby diners to turn and, in the case of a couple next to us, ask for a bite.
Zaika also had incredible Chicken Tikka Masala and Kashmir rice.
Some, such as Star of India and others which were highly regarded in Time Out, Zagat and other sources disappointed, not on the level of Zaika, Shere Khan or Shazan.
When we returned to D. C. our obsession began, our quest to find Chicken Tikka Masala and Kashmir rice the equal of not just what was good for the U. K. but rather, what was the absolute BEST in the U. K. such as what we found on Wilmslow Road at the past curry champions.
We looked for two years-I even posted a message on here. Several e-mail responses sounded really promising. One, which we received at 6:30 in the evening, found us on the Beltway driving the 45 miles from Reston to Smoketown Road near Potomac Mills where we were seated 15 minutes before they closed. Others saw trips to Langley Park, to Baltimore, even northern New Jersey to an Indian enclave which was reputed to be extraordinary. Of course we ate our way through K St., Connecticut Avenue, Bethesda, Herndon, Falls Church, even Heritage of India on Wisconsin Avenue (great Tandoori shrimp) and just about everywhere else.
No where was there anything that even came close to what I would call average for the U. K. let alone among the best.
Until tonight.
At Tysons Corner. My God! Of all the places on the face of the earth to find this. Tysons Corner. Who would have thought!
Bombay Tandoor was reviewed in the Washington Post a number of months ago. It was a positive review by Tom Sietsema one that caused us to put it on a list to eventually visit. Well, tonight we did.
We had four things: Tandoori shrimp which were truly mediocre at best, nan with fruit and nuts (examplary), Kashmir rice (again with fruit and nuts) and Chicken Tikka Masala, the national dish of the United Kingdom.
The last two were as good as Shere Khan on Wilmslow Road.
I know nothing else about ANY of the other food in this restaurant. I make absolutely no claim about anything other than the Chicken Tikka Masala and Kashmir rice. In fact for what may be twenty or twenty five visits over the next few months (?) we will probably not have anything else.
We don't need to.
But to know just addictive, how fattening, how, well, satisfying a dish can be I would suggest a trip to Bombay Tandoor. This is on a street that runs on the side of Moore Cadillac off of Route 7. It's in an office building several blocks in. It's actually rather big, almost like a banquet room. Really, there is no atmosphere to speak of.
Don't dare go there and order anything else. Nothing else. Only Chicken Tikka Masala and Kashmir rice. If you do just think of all the money you will have saved by not having had to fly to England.

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  1. m
    Michael Krantz

    It's interesting that you are writing about CTM. I have always avoided 'Indian' food on trips to the US simply because the experiences that I have had have been totally dire.

    If I get back to DC, I will certainly give the places you mention a try.

    You are quite right when you say that CTM has become the British National Dish and when it is good it can be very satisfying. Like you, when I find somewhere that does a decent CTM, I'll return time after time. Unfortunately, a vast majority of Indian restaurants here use pre-made sauces which they serve with perhaps some freshly chopped cilantro or a dash or cream to give the illusion of freshness.

    Let me know the next time you are in London and I will point you in the direction of some great examples of real CTM. All of my suggestion are however outside of the centre in places like Brick Lane, Wembley, Southall, my favourite being in up in North London in un-salubrious Turnpike Lane.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Michael Krantz

      I've been to Zaika, Vama, Star of India and Chutney Mary's with Zaika and Vama my favorites. Vama had the best Tandoori shrimp I've ever had and was overall excellent. Zaika is in a league all its own, I almost wouldn't even call it an Indian restaurant. (As for cost it's also the only Indian where two people can spend $140.00 with very modestly priced wine!) In truth the CTM, overall, was somewhat better on Wilmslow Road in Manchester at Shere Khan or at a restaurant north of Manchester in the countryside called Shazan.
      If I had known you were from London I would have eliminated the Italian restaurants from the list I mentioned. I think Zafferano is outstanding, having been there four times over the past two years (along with the River Cafe) and, for me, neither Obelisk or Laboratorio is better although Laboratorio is definitely an interesting overall experience and Obelisk, in its simplicity, is outstanding.
      I am hoping that you went to Citronelle. Kinkead's has, reportedly, been uneven lately since he opened another restaurant in the Washington suburbs. For years this James Beard Award winner was outstanding. I just don't know based on recent reports what kind of experience you might have found.
      The Inn at Little Washington is another matter. There are numerous threads on here over the years where many people will positively rave that it is, indeed, one of the great culinary experiences of their lives- certainly THE place for a celebration. Others have a differing opinion, finding it uneven.
      Back to the CTM: I will definitely contact you when I return in the summer for recommendations. Thank you.

      1. re: Joe
        Michael Krantz

        Since you are so interested, if you send me your street address via email, I'll try and arrange for you a subscription to the quarterly magazine 'Tandoori' which gives the low-down on the entire UK curry scene.

        You may also be intested in visiting these sites


        1. re: Michael Krantz
          Simon Majumdar

          An interesting thread for a brit to read, BUT

          1) As an Anglo Indian, it always horrifys me that people consider the monstrosity that is CTM to be Indian. Nowhere in my original homeland would anyone recognise this dish, it is a purely anglo invention. That does not mean that it cannot hit the spot after a few pints of lager, but it does not warrant the attention of knowledgeable people such as yourselves. Likewise "kasmir" rice. Go for a rich butter chicken and a truly Moghul Byriani instead.

          2) Zaika, Vama and others in London all fail miserably trying to offer what is ostensibly a home food in 3 star surroundings. The fact that Zaika, Star of India and vama have CTM and the like, shows that they have fallen to the levels of the bog standard "curry house"

          If you do want to try "proper" Indian food in the UK, avoid Brick Lane, head for Tooting and Southall where family run places cok for the local communities. There you will find Byriani's cooked "dub" style and Butter Chicken rich in Ghee


          1. re: Simon Majumdar

            there isn't a punjabi/moghlai restaurant in india that doesn't serve chicken tikka masala - its basically chicken tikka kebabs simmered in butter chicken gravy .

            of course, here in gods own good land the bangla deshis have morphed this wonderful dish into some sweetish yellowy unrecognizable thing. which is then consumed in vast quantities, a good time being had by all.

            sick as i am of standard punjabi restaurant fare, i still crave butter chicken. unfortunately, finding decent butter chicken outside the motherland is by itself an almost hopeless task - though there was a pretty reasonable version at the punjabi diner just off queensborough bridge.

            1. re: howler

              I too was surprised to recently find chicken tikka masala on the menu of everyplace I recently visited in the mother land. as far as CTM goes, the need to put tandoor grilled tikka into a creamy sauce which then obliterates the flavor of grilling in the first place escapes me, but to each his own.

              I think the main reason you can't get chicken makhani to compare to what you might find there is chicken itself-the scrawny full-flavor chickens you receive in India are closest to free-range birds you get here and I have yet to see an Indian place here offering free-range chicken.

              However, the food item that for me is most different in the motherland is paneer. The freshly made from raw milk with full nutty flavor stuff you get there is a completely different issue than what passes as paneer here (which in comparison could be called ricotta passed through a sweat sock)

              I also don't understand "kashmir rice", not only isn't it not served in Kashmir, but there is nothing about it that is particularly kashmiri. Kashmiri food being notable for its higher meat content, kashmiri red chilis, and the use of fennel seed powder and asoefetida in spicing.

              excuse the rant, on with the chow

              1. re: zim

                I am probably using the wrong adjective for the rice. The rice I originally spoke of included sultana raisins and almonds, possibly other fruits depending on the restaurant. Looking at the menus I have from both Shere Khan and Shazan, I apologize but I used the wrong name. They both call it "special pilau rice."

                1. re: Joe

                  At Bombay Tandoor it's one of the "Pulao" rice dishes; curiously, though, it's not included on the (less-than-complete) web version of the menu, http://www.bombaytandoor.com/menu.htm....

            2. re: Simon Majumdar


              I actually don't remember Zaika offering CTM, rather it was a dish they offered which was very similar to that which I've had elsewhere. (I am probably prostituting their menu to call it CTM but, essentially it WAS CTM.) Zaika which I have been to twice, once with my wife and once with a group of six, is a non traditional restaurant which, if I were to describe it as anything, would be kind of an "interpretative Indian." I realize that depending on one's expectations or traditions that Zaika is a real departure. But for whatever style it may have been called we both thought it was, frankly, outstanding. Certainly far superior to anything I have had in the U. S. I have also done my best to sample as much of their menu as possible.
              Star of India (which originally was recommended to me by the same person who recommended Shazan) for us was no better than much of what we can find here. Vama had some good moments but, curiously, while we were in the dining room three other tables around us were all complaining of something. But much of what we had that night was excellent. Yes, they did have CTM but we ordered quite a bit of food, again doing our best to sample as much as possible.
              The overall best "Anglo Indian" style meal of the trip (I don't know what words to use but I mean a more traditional English interpretation of an Indian restaurant) was in Manchester at Shere Khan on Wilmslow Road. I realize that this is 250 miles from London but I am curious if you have ever been there. Shazan, in the countryside 30 miles north of Manchester was outstanding also.
              One more thought: London is outrageously expensive in comparison to Manchester. I have the menus from Shere Khan and Shazan here as well as Zaika and Vama (don't laugh! some people take matches, I find these more interesting.) and the the London restaurants are MORE than double. Star of India is also almost double. Chutney Mary's was relatively expensive also. I realize that, of course, this is a reflection of the respective cities but the comparative cost for similar dishes was quite striking.
              Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my posts. Good luck on your trips to New Orleans and Texas.

      2. Well, . . . such an impassioned post undoubtedly is deserving of our most serious attention. So I sped on over to Bombay Tandoor for lunch today, and ordered . . . chicken tikka masala and the kashmir rice.

        The CTM was ok. Indeed, it was among the better versions that I've had in the D.C. area. But it wasn't especially notable. Now, I haven't ever eaten CTM in Britain, so I'm not familiar with the Gold Standard. But I can't imagine this is it. And what's more, the dish was, like all CTM I've ever had, incredibly rich and buttery, and eating it left me exhausted for the rest of the afternoon. (This version was not, however, cloying in the manner of many I've had. Nor did the butter overwhelm all the other flavors. Like I said, it *was* ok, which can't be said about most CTM.)

        The rice wasn't at all distinctive. (If you want really delicious rice, bop on over to Shamshiry, in the same mall.)

        Overall, I thought Bombay Tandoor was good, but not as eye-opening or as satisfying as, say, Minerva or Bombay Bistro.

        A major caveat: I went for lunch, and everyone else in the place was eating the buffet. Perhaps the head chef isn't there for lunch. Joe, I'd be curious to hear your assessment of the CTM at lunch.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Marty L.

          I've never been for lunch. The cardomon flavor was pronounced the night that we had the CTM. Yes, it was quite buttery but it really tasted like they had ground all of the spices from scratch and it was fresh succulent tandoori chicken chunks that went into it. The rice (which I could be confusing you by calling it Kashmir-really, it's with toasted almonds, sultana raisins and chunks of fruit) is quite different from Shamshiry. I've had their's and I agree, it's superb. In fact I've posted elsewhere on here that I believe Shamshiry's rice is the best of all the Persian restaurants I've been too. It probably the best in the D. C. area. but very different. As I write this I'm taking a bite of what we brought home that night from Bombay Tandoor. This is really, really good stuff.
          I don't know what to say. My wife is looking over my shoulder: she is telling me that we will NEVER go to lunch at Bombay Tandoor based on the experience you have had. But she emphatically agrees that whether it was one truly extraordinary night or just a crazed visiting perfectionist chef what we had was truly exemplery.
          We've been to Bombay Bistro. In fact the one on Route 123 is one of the first places (along with Haandi) that we went to when we returned from our trip. Before this trip I had liked it a lot. When we came back we were somewhat disappointed.
          I'm sorry. I really am. As much for not sharing the same experience we had as for our current FEAR that when we go back (tomorrow?) that it might not be the same as only several days ago.
          But thanks for trusting my opinion. I really appreciate your time and effort.
          God, I hope this wasn't a one time experience!

          1. re: Joe

            No, no, no! Please don't be sorry, and please *do* go back for lunch! To be sure, my lunch today was something of a letdown (but that was fairly inevitable after your rave, no?). But it was a perfectly decent meal -- a bit more than decent, actually. I had fun rushing out to provide another point of reference for fellow D.C. hounds. Hey, who knows? Perhaps you'll both go back for dinner a couple of times and experience Nirvana again, and then try it at lunch and realize that there's someone in the kitchen at *dinner* who takes a perfectly good rendition of CTM and elevates it to the clouds. Or maybe you just got lucky one glorious evening -- that's no small thing, either. Or perhaps I just haven't had enough bad CTM to recognize what a fabulous version tastes like. Fear not: if you, and I, and other D.C. area chowhounds try it often enough -- and by all means we should sample the rest of the menu as well -- we will be much more likely to reach some consensus, even if that consensus means knowing exactly when to go to BT, and exactly what (and what not) to order. Or perhaps we'll have an array of opinions. That would be worthwhile, too. We need more regulars on this board whose varied and sundry tastes and biases we come to know and recognize. (For a long time, I've been very confident trusting Jim Zurer and CapHill (where is he?), and to avoid places touted by one or two others; but beyond that I'm winging it. We need many more "known entities.")

            P.S., for points of reference: (1) The chicken was very fresh, and the spices did taste freshly ground. I did not taste pronounced cardamon -- and I'm a cardamon *lover*. (2) I had the same rice you did. It just didn't do anything for me. (3) Forgot to mention that the mango lassi was pretty good, but not as stellar as some I've had around here. (4) The Bombay Bistro I know and love is in Rockville (I've never tried the one in NoVa). But I'm under no illusions that it rises to a world-class level. It's just remarkably consistent and solid. (That's high praise 'round these parts.)

            1. re: Marty L/

              We did have Tandoori shrimp as an appetizer at Bombay Tandoor and, frankly, it was mediocre at best. The Tandoori shrimp at Heritage of India on lower Wisconsin Avenue (at their best) are superb. I've had them four or five times with only once being less than this. Overall I do think this is D. C.'s best Indian. As for Bombay Tandoor my wife and I have been to its sister restaurant on K Street and thought it was very good (amazingly, we did order the same dishes!) but not in league with this one meal. I do have the feeling that based on the shrimp this really might be a two dish restaurant, if that.

              I do feel somewhat "redeemed" about curry however. Michael Krantz in another post about this mentioned three websites specifically deveoted to "curry restaurants" in the U. K. (Gives you an idea of others who share my obsession. What a wonderful "national dish.") Well, for the last hour or so I've played with two of these and looked up Shazan in Blackburn which I mentioned in my oriignal long rambling post. Although there were only five reviews of it they gave it a 9.8 out of 10 which was the highest rating of anything I saw on the site. Zaika wasn't rated but Vama was called trendy and overpriced and another person said that "there were only three tables filled in the dining room and all of us had a complaint."
              Go figure!
              Anyway these two are the highest rated for London in the Zagat Guide and both were finalists for winning a London Restaurant Award which is their version of our James Beard Awards.
              I've also thought about the CTA and, really, it is very buttery, really rich because it's made with heavy cream so it would be cloying. It's possible that for all my "hyperbole" I may have created an expectation somewhat different from what it is. I also wonder if that which was served for lunch might have been reheated from the night before? And the rice dish which is cooked to order and takes 15 minutes or so might not have had the same fate? It is a bit "greasier" the next day and does lose some flavor.

              But again thanks for taking the time to visit the restaurant as well as to report on it and the words of encouragement.

              It could have been worse. You might have driven to New Haven after my comments about Pepe's and Sally's and hit either of them on an off day. I would suspect your post might have been interesting! Thanks, again.

              1. re: Joe

                Not to worry. I need not take anyone's word for Pepe's and Sally's: I spent three years in New Haven, and while I patronized Moderna (which I also love) much more frequently because of convenience, I still yearn for Pepe's and Sally's. I do, however, think that Pizzeria Paradiso is right up there (as is, perhaps, 2 Amys on a good night).

              2. re: Marty L/

                (For a long time, I've been very confident trusting Jim Zurer and CapHill (where is he?), and to avoid places touted by one or two others; but beyond that I'm winging it).
                Well excuuuuuuuse the rest of us who are now wondering which one of us has steered you to a rotten dining experience! This is a friendly place. Be nice.

          2. m
            Michael Krantz

            Why not try and recreate the experience at home. Here's a recipe:

            Chicken Tikka Masala
            Part A:
            2 lbs. boneless chicken breast
            1/4 cup yogurt
            3 t. minced ginger
            3 t. crushed garlic
            1/4 t. white pepper
            1/4 t. cumin powder
            1/4 t. mace
            1/4 t. nutmeg
            1/4 t. green cardamom powder
            1/4 t. chili powder
            1/4 t. turmeric
            3 T. lemon juice
            4 T. vegetable oil
            Melted margarine (for basting)

            Part B:
            5 oz. tomato paste
            10 oz. tomato puree
            2 lbs. tomatoes, chopped
            2 t. ginger paste
            2 t. garlic paste
            2 t. green chilies
            1 T. red chili powder
            2 t. cloves
            8 green cardamoms
            salt to taste
            3 T. butter
            2/3 cup cream
            1 t. fenugreek
            2 t. ginger, julienned
            honey to taste

            Whisk all of the ingredients in Part A together in a large bowl. Add the chicken breast, cut into 2 inch cubes. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake the chicken for 8 minutes, basting with margarine twice. Drain excess marinade and bake for another 2 minutes.
            While doing this, make the sauce in Part B. Deseed and chop green chilies. Put tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato puree in a pot and add approximately 4-1/4 cups of water. Add ginger and garlic paste, green chilies, red chili powder, cloves, cardamoms, and salt. Cook over low heat until reduced to a thick sauce. Strain through a strainer and bring to a boil. Add butter and cream. Stir. If the sauce tastes sour, add honey to taste. Add fenugreek and ginger juliennes, stir, and serve with the chicken.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Michael Krantz

              Fenugreek! That's the spice that Shere Khan added in Manchester! I remember asking the server because their's was slightly different from all the others and that was the spice he mentioned which I had forgotten.
              Mike, thank's for the recipe. I will make it next weekend when I return from a trip. One question: instead of baking the chicken would it be an improvement to cook it over charcoal on an outdoor grill in a feeble attempt to recreate a tandoor?
              Which London restaurant would you consider to have exemplery CTM?
              Thanks, again.

              1. re: Joe
                Michael Krantz

                Yes by all means use your BBQ. The chicken will benefit from being marinated for a good 24 hours in your fridge. Make sure you get those coals v v hot.

                All this talk about CTM caused me to drive across town to the Jashan in Turnpike Lane and we had a superb meal there. It really hit the spot, I really wish you could have been there!

                The great thing about the Jashan is that although it is in a less salubrious part of London, you will always meet people who have come a fair distance to eat there. Today, there were two long distance truckers from Budapest in Hungary who told me that they vist the Jashan whenever they are in town.

                Truck drivers are often very good judges of comfort food and in my opinion CTM IS the ultimate comfort food!

                1. re: Michael Krantz

                  I actually relate quite well to both less salubrious people as well as less salubrious parts of town. There's a level of comfort there.

            2. m
              Michael Krantz

              This thread throws up a huge question. What constitutes a great CTM.

              Even our Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, recently refered to CTM in a speech as an example of Britain as an evolving multi-cultural society absorbing different dishes into our national culture.

              CTM comes in many guises. The worst examples here in the UK feature tasteless chicken in an over-creamy sauce dyed with a hefty dose of tartrazine to lend a luminescent orange glow and with almost no pungency or flavour from the spices. One has to remember that CTM was a dish created to apease British tastes during the time of the Raj and has nothing whatsever to do with Indian food per se.

              The best examples of CTM features boned chicken breast fresh from a charcoal-fired and not an electric or gas-fired tandoor, it's subtle spicing discernable through the flavours of the sauce which should be un-coloured and fragrant with freshly ground dry-roasted spices. I also like to be able to taste the tomatoes and I always ask for some extra chili.