“Sholay gave us rare chance to dabble between thought-out Indian dishes and tastes and prize a certain quality over quantity.” For 365Bristol.
Coming from Bradford, the UK’s curry capital, I’ve struggled to find Indian food that quite matches the sorts found in my hometown. But on the uber-trendy Wapping Wharf, Sholay Kitchen is an Indian eatery which can sit triumphantly as an anomaly to this trend. Just in a different way.
On the day we visit, Wapping Wharf’s answer to Grecian grub, The Athenian, is offering 241 Souvlaki. Thanks to the power of Facebook events, it’s heaving. It has been all day. But, when we arrive at Sholay Kitchen, it too is crammed: certainly, a promising insight into what was coming.
Sholay Kitchen opened its doors here on Wapping Wharf around a year ago, promising diners a contemporary switch on Indian street food. We walk into its slick, Bollywood-themed settling, and seated right next to the doorway with their recently revised menu.
More varied than its original, Sholay’s new menu remains simple and straightforward: a few small plates, some large, and sides. Ignoring the typical trend for comprehensive curry lists, Sholay focuses on a more refined, contemporary use of ingredient and dish, with only one curry – “Grandma’s Curry” (£10.50) – making it onto the cultivated spread. The mystery of this dish makes it my choice.
As we look over the slightly crumpled list, Bollywood-pop sounds float around the cargo, while waves of scrummy scents crash about; the sizzle of the freshly-prepped dishes surrounds, and chitchat from couples curate Sholay’s friendly and busy atmosphere.
First, I order a pricey Keralan Paanch cocktail (£8.50) with our friendly waiter. Served in a glass you might find in grandma’s cabinet, this creamy concoction of two different rums, coconut cream and, pineapple juice had star-anise scattered over ice, arriving complete with a bamboo straw. It’s velvety texture soon dissolves into a crisp aftertaste. It’s makes a perfect accompaniment for my feast, and is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve had.
Our food arrives quickly, all at once. The modest banquet of vivid colour and varying texture bounce from the chipboard below, forging what would be a bloggers’ dream Instagram shot: an aesthetic appeal abounding throughout. Sholay’s Bollywood theme is surprisingly tasteful. Painted murals depicting quotes from the classic blockbuster Sholay fill the walls; their bright shades are mirroring the menu’s dishes. Creating an elegant capsule of culture right here in Bristol, the themed setting avoids a poor execution.
We enjoy three Kale and Onion Bhajis (£4.50) and Chaat (£4) to begin. The mounded Chaat; a deconstructed samosa merged with crisp salads, pomegranate seeds, chickpeas and, sauce is aesthetically alluring, while the light pastry of the Bhaji strikes a harmony between chew and crunch. Garnished with flower petals, these dishes prove Sholay values presentation as part of their carefully crafted plates.
Grandma’s Curry turns out to be a dainty bowl of slow-cooked red curry filled with extremely tender chicken and fresh veggies. I also order a plate of doughy Indian bread, (£3.50) which (again) are some of the best I’ve had. The curry isn’t revolutionary or particularly gourmet, but delivers everything a red curry should have: fresh ingredients, soft meat and, flavoursome sauce. It’s the perfect comfort food.
As my partner digs into his hefty shallow-fried Masala Fish (Sholay’s take on traditional fish and chips for £12.50), we have an amicable natter with the restaurant’s partner, Chueng. He emphasises Sholay’s commitment to using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients – but he really doesn’t have to. The freshness of the food speaks for itself: beneath the well-seasoned batter, huge flakes of Masala cod tear away with ease. We finish our feast with a shared stick of novel pistachio ice-cream or ‘Kulfi’ (£4.00); a sweet conclusion to our visit.
We both leave Sholay feeling good; not gluttonous. Instead of staggering overburdened by the portion sizes, or bored with stagnant flavours; Sholay provided us with an opportunity to dabble between thought-out dishes and prize a certain quality over quantity. Not even in my beloved Bradford have I been able to do this.