AS ANYONE who has even glanced at the Evening Express restaurant reviews before knows, I like curry.
And as anyone who has seen my shambolic, asthmatic frame attempt to heave itself up a relatively short flight of stairs is equally aware, “healthy” ain’t at the top of the list in how to identify me in a game of Guess Who.
But in the spirit of self-improvement that everyone else guilts you into at this time of year, I found a compromise in the small but perfectly formed Monsoona, an inviting restaurant with friendly staff.
Their USP is just what’s needed post-Christmas – healthy Indian cuisine not slathered in oil, ghee and all of those other delicious things – but without sacrificing on taste. Low-fat yoghurt and cream are also used and they claim they constantly try to reduce the amount of salt and sugar in their food.
“Yeah, yeah!” I can hear you cry. “No chance.”
But after the usual poppadom, with the pickle perhaps a touch lighter than usual, a starter of mixed kebab for my equally-sceptical dining partner put paid to those voices. Wonderfully tender and lean lamb, moist chicken and sheek kebab without a hint of grease but with all the flavour of charcoal, warm spices and meat were among the best he’d had.
My tangy, tomatoey lamb chaat starter came with a refreshingly dry puri bread, light rather than lardy, flaky not flabby.
Similarly, the lamb in my naga zhaal had all of the tenderness of the starter and it came with a delightful realisation that there was no Exxon Valdez-style oil slick either on my plate or on top of the curry.
The onion, green pepper and chilli pickle was beautifully balanced with a decent background heat and distinctive flavour from the titular buttery, savoury-sweet chilli. Matt’s chicken mango malai was also a delight, but I’m not sure it could really be classed as healthy. Run through with crushed mango, for a real fruity wallop, the cream and coconut sauce was rather sinful – but that was the only step into the dark side during the whole meal.
A side of pilau rice was just that – it’s not like it’s usually deep fried. It’s rice. It’s a little fragrant, fluffy if you’re lucky (we were). End of, really.
Given that the food on the whole was supposedly healthy, we had to pig out a little. And we were rewarded with a peshwari naan that, thankfully, wasn’t coated in ghee or the usual honey/sugar/syrup concoction, putting it on the side of the angels and not masking the nuttiness or weighing down the airy dough.
And a side of Bombay potatoes – wetter than I’m used to – was still delicious, hitting all of the right notes.
After friendly and attentive service, as the place got slightly busier, we struggled to be noticed for the bill. But that was only one tiny issue in an otherwise great meal.
I’ll be honest – we ended up just as stuffed as usual.
But the thought that the food wasn’t clogging my arteries as I grudgingly left Monsoona’s cozy surroundings certainly made the meal that little more special.