Lasan, James Street

Gordon Ramsay is right – Lasan serves great food, but don’t call it curry.

Just off St Paul’s square, tucked away on James Street, you’ll find Lasan, which opened its doors in 2003. Its head chef is Aktar Islam, a Brummie born and bred, who is making a name for himself as a clever and innovative chef with a strong grasp of all things South Asian. Lasan has also done its PR work, has been on telly, and comes highly recommended by Gordon Ramsay. The loudmouth chef said it was the “best f***in curry ever”, or words to that effect.

We booked a table for three which turned out to be a spacious wooden one with nice comfy chairs, no tablecloths and wine glasses. Lasan has stone floors, shiny curtains and enormous ornatemirrors. Its style is bold and proud with delicate touches. There’s a full bar and a substantial wine list.We opted for a bottle of Shiraz for £20, a full-bodied wine for spicy food.My guests weremy wife Corinne and ourNorwegian friend AnneHelene, a scribe who currently lives in London. Apparently, the curries near her are a bit average, so I thought some good Brummie grub wouldmake the trip worthwhile.

LET’S GET STARTED

I wanted the chef to show me what he could do with a piece of fish, so I went for the Goan mackerel. It came on a bed of diced red onion and cucumber, with mint puree, served on a slate slab. It was delicately served, but with big, strong flavours, which takes real skill. Corinne chose Anjwaini Paneer, Indian cottage cheese cooked in spices. It was a bit like halloumi, melt-in-themouth, and my cheese loving wife was pleased. Anne Helene picked chicken kebabs in a bright yellow honey and mustard sauce. A few savouring minutes later and it was empty plates all round – despite the generous portions.

THE MAIN EVENT

For the main, I ordered a goat biryani, while my guests chose lamb lababdar and thengapal duck.We also opted for a spicy pumpkin side dish and some rice and naan. Once again, I was testing the chef, as goat is a heavy, fatty meat – a challenge to make into a subtle and complex dish. He forewent presentation and simply put everything into a clay pot, sealed with pastry, to preserve the flavours. It was tasty, fall-apart meat and came with a good sauce. The other mains were even better. Anne Helene liked her duck, which was “well cooked and tender”, and came with a tantalisingly creamy sauce made of bell peppers, coconut milk and fennel seeds. However, the star of the show was the lamb. In truth, you can’t be an Indian chef and not know how to cook lamb. This one had been cooked three ways, and was served with a sauce so smoky it’s a surprise the last government didn’t ban it in public. Corinne was saying very little about it, or indeed anything else, which made me suspicious. I stole a mouthful and felt an instant pang of jealousy. The pumpkin was also a fine accompaniment and one I’d have again – next time it will be with the lamb.

SWEET ENOUGH

Generally, I am not a fan of Indian desserts, and wouldn’t bother to order any. But Lasan wisely has some European style desserts and so we ordered a sharing platter including a chocolate mousse, ice creams, fresh fruits and gooey balls in a fruit sauce. The mousse was good and the ice cream moreish. We ate everything apart from the gooey balls, which were too heavy for me. It all got washed down with some good coffee and ended a great meal.

MORE THAN A CURRY

The main point to realise about Lasan is that it isn’t really a curry house at all. This is fine dining from a chef who has forgotten more about spices than most ever learn. Lasan isn’t competing with the Balti Triangle; it serves starters for about a tenner and mains are often £20 or more, and worth the money. This puts Lasan on the same page as Purnell’s, Turner’s and Simpson’s. Indian food has been in the UK for a few generations now, so it is truly pleasing to see it mature into a far more intricate and ambitious affair. Gordon Ramsay is right – Lasan serves great food, but don’t call it curry.

Food: 9/10 Service: 8/10 Venue: 8/10