The first recommendation from Andy Munro’s “Going for a Balti” is Al Frash on the Ladypool Road, smack in the centre of the Balti Triangle. This is one of the longest standing of Birmingham’s balti houses with a good reputation built up over the years.
Overseen by owner Mohammed Ahmed, the restaurant is open, clean, simply but comfortably furnished, designed with contemporary clean lines. I went along with a colleague on a Tuesday evening, thus ensuring a relatively quiet night without too many customers making too many demands.
The menu is simple, relatively short (always a good sign in my view), offering straightforward traditional Balti favourites and others with a bit of a contemporary twist. The young waiter was pleasant, well-mannered, and suitably attentive without overdoing it. Is there anything more irritating than having your waiter constantly appearing at your table asking “Is everything all right?” If it wasn’t, the restaurant would surely have been told....
Anyway, none of that at Al Frash, just good old fashioned service, and damned good food.
A couple of lightly spicy dips, one of them a mint/sugar/masala infused yoghurt accompanied our starters, vegetable pakoras and tandoori chicken nibblets: both cooked just “to the point”, so to speak, neither greasy nor too dry.
My friend had the Lazeeza Balti Fish and I the Archar Gosht (Lamb Balti) for mains, with Sag Aloo (Spinach and Potato), Roti, Plain Boiled Rice. The fish was delightfully fresh, on a base of tomatoes and onions, with undertones of garlic and coriander. It was tender both in taste and texture, light and delicate in spite of the fish’s natural chunkiness.
My lamb was not quite uniformly tender but overall still good. There was a strong, but nevertheless subtle, flavour of Cinnamon, Coriander, and most definitely powerful Green Chillies. This was spicy but not tongue-numbingly so. Subtlety is more important than overt power at Al Fraish, it seems. The rice was fragrant, with the slightest hint of Cardamom, firm enough and not too soft or chewy as is often the case. The Roti bread was firm, soft, flexible and tasty, just right for gathering up the curry.
It’s BYO when it comes to drinks at Al Frash and we elected to accompany this dinner with Banks’s Best Bitter. That worked pretty well, cutting through the spices without fighting with them or neutralising them. A not too fruity New World Sauvignon Blanc would have accompanied the fish very well and perhaps something like a Sangiovese from Puglia would have been ideal with the Lamb.
This was a spicy, fruity, and entirely tasty dinner experience. Our waiter was happy enough to chat to us about ingredients and cooking and later Mohammed Azad, the chef, came to our table to talk about his cooking, the spices and herbs involved, the methodology. He was utterly charming, engaging, and open about the ingredients.
As someone who has recently been on a mission to make the perfect curry paste, I appreciated his informal advice. Each chef in the Balti Triangle has his own variation of these ingredients but the one thing which remains a deeply held secret is the basic Masala around which everything else is based. Azad’s Masala? Ah, that will remain a secret, I am sorry to say. Quite right too, as long as he continues to delight and tease out palates with his recipes.
Al Frash, 186 Ladypool Rd, Birmingham.
Dinner for two £30 approximately plus drinks.
#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman
Thanks to Al Fraish for the photos.