Praza, Hagley Road

Back in March, Praza hosted what was probably Birmingham’s most glamorous and memorable launch party of the year.

Given the number of eateries opening in the city that’s no mean feat. Wall-to-wall foodies, journalists and influential Brummies sipped cocktails at the Great Gatsby-inspired bash which was a masterclass in how to throw a party. Six months on we thought we’d pop along to the Hagley Road venue for a midweek treat to see if the restaurant lived up to the bluster of opening night. A bit of background first. Praza is the shiny new grown-up sister (although Praza actually means brother!) of Pushkar on Broad Street. I like Pushkar a lot. It’s calm, classy, stylish and the food’s top drawer. Its popularity also transcends time zones. My brother-in-law from Down Under makes a beeline for the place whenever he’s in the UK with a willing crowd of Aussie colleagues in tow. The stylish interior and delicate take on Indian food have mass appeal, as does the cocktail list. However, if you’re expecting Praza to be a clone of Pushkar think again.

DARK AND PLAYFUL

The bright, white, airy feel of Pushkar is replaced by a dark, playful and grown-up interior. Black and copper feature heavily and I suspect owner Rai put his designer hat on to give the place its sexy edge. He also modestly gave his name to one of the restaurants most popular cocktails, Singh is King! Obviously we had to give it a whirl, so we settled into the oversized black chairs in the bar to sample the pomegranate packed drink. It was gorgeous – a triumph of mixology delivered by resident cocktail wizard Robert who revealed some of his outrageous ideas for the drinks menu which sounded brilliant. What would have made our pre-dinner drinks even more enjoyable would have been something to nibble. Nothing fancy – a bowl of pistachios would have done the job. Once at our table we perused the stylish (obviously!) menu and were struck by how different it was to your average Indian restaurant. The choice was compact rather than one of those confusing, beasts of a menu that is quite often offered up. The dishes sounded intriguingly different and we wanted to try everything. As if by magic, lovely chef Bishal appeared to let us know he wanted to make small bowls of a number of the dishes for us to try. Perfect. As we tucked into poppadoms – some plain, some spicy with delicious accompaniments of pumpkin and yoghurt dip, mango chutney and a very hot bright green sauce that hit the spot, we got the giggles. The chairs were too low and we could only reach the middle of the table by popping up out of our seats which felt a bit nutty. Just in case you’re wondering, neither of us is particularly small.

MUCH COOING!

No one else seemed to be bobbing up and down like lunatics, so perhaps we had the wrong chairs. So the food, well firstly a plate of starters arrived looking stunning. Secondly, it was devoured promptly with much cooing! The fofos or Goan fish rolls were absolutely superb, as were the duck sheesh – a first for both of us along with nicely spiced beetroot and onion patties (one of a trio of Teen Tikkis). Chicken shashlick is my ‘go to’ dish when eating Indian food, but I’d never tasted one as lovely as this. In fact the only starter that didn’t float my boat was a sort of fig and green pea pattie. It was just a bit too sweet for me. We were seriously impressed so far. The wine list was fantastic and we chose a glass of local lads’ Soultree Wine’s finest rosé which was perfect. We tried three chicken dishes and three lamb along with three different types of naan bread, pilau rice and a spinach side. There were no duff dishes at all and we loved the lot, but there were a couple of stand-out ones to note. The butter chicken was a perfect curry for our palates – not crazily hot, slightly sweet, a bit creamy and super moreish. The methi palak ghost (lamb) was top of the tree for me. A spicy, salty, juicy lamb curry packed with spinach it was truly wonderful and will be the one I go back for – that and the fofos. So did it live up to the hype of opening night? Yes, I think it did. The menu had obviously been given a huge amount of thought and the food was properly accomplished. Everyone we met – attentive waiting staff, the talented chef and inventive mixologist – were full of energy and great ideas which rubs off. We raved about it to anyone who’d listen the next day… so we have to admit, Singh is King!

PRAZA 94-96 Hagley Rd, Birmingham B16 8LU. Tel: 0121 456 4500 http://praza.co.uk