Friday, 16 February 2007
The Spice On The Tyne is all mine all mine!
Life is full of surprises, and last night was no exception. After a full day of research for our business, driving around North Tyneside and generally getting nowhere, my wife and I decided that a meal was on the cards. Newcastle has moved on so much as a city, improving drastically in every direction. One welcome addition to the Newcastle night scene are the amazing selection of top quality restaurants. I noted one particular restaurant last week when I was walking around with baby in pram, window drooling as I took in each menu of eateries I had never heard of.
Rasa (www.rasarestaurants.com) is situated by our beautiful quayside on Queen Street, just under the Tyne Bridge. Although I had noted some of the mouthwatering food they serve by their window menu, I had no idea that I was in for such a surprise. The food was simply sensational. The brainchild of Das Sreedharan, Rasa serves traditional Keralan food, an area on the South West coast of India on the Malabar Coast. Like all of the best food you can eat, it is derived from the need for survival and utilising the fantastic array of ingredients they can assemble. Das grew up in a village in Kerala and learnt his trade from observing and helping out his mother to cook for the whole family. He moved to London to study but soon found out that food was his forté, and in 1994 he opened up the first Rasa in Stoke Newington. Since then, Das has opened up 7 restaurants in the London region and Rasa Newcastle is the first to be opened up outside of the capital. Oh how happy I am for that choice Mr Sreedharan!
How can I explain this cuisine? Delicately spiced is one phrase. Beautiful and subtle combinations of ginger, cardamon, sesame, chilli, tamarind and coconut to name a few ingredients. Almost Thai-like in flavour but with it's own identity, Karalan cuisine is a taste sensation. You feel emotional eating it, savouring each mouthful and not wanting any flavour to disappear. Moreish and magnificent. It is so good that I want to eat there every day. The finance states that it will be more like every month but how I anticipate my next visit.
I had 3 dishes last night. The starter was a silky soft dumpling, shaped like a doughnut which was made of lentils, chillies, onions and ginger and served with a pungent curry sauce and a refreshing coconut chutney. Main course was a King Fish (almost like swordfish in texture) served in a delicately spiced sauce with tamarind and tapioca root. Tapioca root?! Beautiful. My wife had roasted aubergine pieces in a hot, sour and creamy cashew nut sauce which was equal in taste explosions. My dessert was a simple banana pancake served with banana ice cream.
The Rasa restaurant chain has won so many awards but I could not help gushing with enthusiasm to the head waiter on my experience. The chefs are highly skilled, highly trained and serve high standard food that begs to be eaten. Just writing about it makes me excited and I have an urge to discover more about this amazing cuisine. All I can say is if you can get to a Rasa, whether in Newcastle or London, get there soon. I can guarantee you will fall in love with the place. Below is a recipe I found for my starter, Medhu Vadai, which I will attempt to make one day. Until then, I will just dream. Oh Kerala, so much to answer for......
To serve 4-6
250ml Urad Dal (black lentils, or use mung or azuki beans as a substitute)
3 chopped green chillies
1 thumb of ginger
10 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
10 curry leaves
1 - Soak 1 cup urud dal in sufficient amount of water for 1 hour and grind into a thick fine flour.
2 - Add 1 tsp salt, 2-3 chopped green chillies, 1 tsp whole black ground peppers, grated ginger, the curry leaves and mix well.
3 - On a flat surface place a ball of the 'dough' and flatten it by hand.
4 - Deep fry this in oil and turn over until it turns golden brown.