Restaurant review: Zari, Crawley
PUBLISHED: 00:17 21 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:01 20 February 2013
Almara and Sadique Miah have spent two decades refining their potent combination of local produce and Indian haute cuisine. Jenny Mark-Bell travels to the Indian sub-continent by way of the A23
Indian restaurant Zari is part of Crawleys culinary landscape and has occupied the same position on Ifield Drive for more than 20 years. From humble beginnings, as a takeaway called Gatwick Tandoori, the restaurant has flourished under the ownership of Sadique Miah and his wife Almara, who was only 20 when the restaurant was established. After combining raising children with helping out in her husbands business, Almara trained and worked within the NHS. The family business was never far from her mind, though: If your partner is doing something all the time, you are involved too. Working in London I noticed some of the things that set Indian restaurants apart and I realised that there werent any places in the Surrey/Sussex area that shared that attention to detail.
In 2007 Almara and Sadique travelled to India to research its regional cuisines and headhunted leading chefs from each culinary dialect. The result is a menu that reflects the great diversity of the region, served in a sophisticated, welcoming space with a huge exhibition kitchen.
The spacious outdoor dining area houses a swanky tandoor barbeque: We wanted to do things that most curry houses wouldnt do, says Almara. An important part of Zaris identity is the fact that local produce is used as far as possible Almara sources venison and lamb from a local farmers co-op and fruit comes from Sussex orchards. Last year, in recognition of its commitment to environmental concerns, the restaurant was given a community award by Crawley Borough Councils Lets FACE (Focus Action for Crawleys Environment) it! campaign.
Our meal started with crisply more-ish poppadums served with apple chutney, chilli jam and a delectable mint raita. Stir-fried spiced crab on the starters menu grabbed my attention, and Carl chose flash-grilled cottage cheese, halloumi and curried apple picatta. I loved my crab: although spicy shellfish is nothing new, this was really special subtle, light and surprising with a fresh bite of unctuous avocado. The spicy cheeses were pronounced to be delicious too, which I can attest to as I managed to grab a mouthful when no-one was looking. Mention must be made, too, of extremely attentive service we enjoyed: we wanted for nothing and both owners were circulating and chatting to customers.
Not eating meat means we often go heavy on the paneer when eating Indian food, which is fine because paneer is very nice. On this occasion though we managed to order three dishes containing the curd cheese, which was certainly ample. My main course was a pleasant dish of paneer flakes tandoori grilled in cumin, turmeric and green chillies, while Carl had monkfish tail in a Kasundi mustard sauce with baby corn, red onion and red peppers. The fish was beautifully cooked, falling apart at the merest suggestion of a fork. We accessorised heaving plates with a masterfully flavoursome saag paneer (Indian cottage cheese with spinach and spices).
Alhough the presentation is refined, Zaris portions are still plenty large enough to require some belt-loosening. However, the indomitable Almara insisted we try one of the desserts prepared that day by the resident pastry chef and we eventually struck on a selection of sorbets as a compromise.
The delicately flavoured sorbets were a fine, cleansing finish to a lovely meal, and although the strawberry and coconut flavours were tasty, it was the Sussex cox apple and chilli combination that really impressed. The well thought-out marriage of flavours illustrated perfectly the Miahs flair for combining the best of local community with the diversity of modern Indian cuisine.
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