Eating Out: Bites of India proves to curry awards judges it really is a hot ticket
Bites of India
97 Ravenhill Road
Belfast BT6 8DQ
028 9045 3456
WHILE it might seem like a strange sideline for a Belfast-born security journalist, I have been a judge on the Irish Curry Awards since they were launched four years ago.
When I started I was just a girl who liked a good curry, but in that time I have become closely acquainted with the complexities of cuisine from the Indian sub-continent in a way that makes me now appreciate there is so much more to experience than just a tikka masala.
The man behind the awards, my wee mate Ali Askir, has introduced me to the wonderful world of authentic Asian cooking and for that I am forever grateful.
Bangladeshi, Bengali, Pakistani, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Indian – and then you divide that by region (I’ve recently discovered the food from Goa in western India makes my toes curl with delight).
The same dish can taste completely different depending on the region the chef comes from, the spicing taught and passed down over generations, unique to each city, town or village. The expert use of a fiercely hot tandoori oven to make meat and fish dishes sing is not something that can be taught in a sterile catering college.
Among this year’s winners in the street food and takeaway categories was Bites of India on Belfast's Ravenhill Road, near the junction with Albertbridge Road.
The style of cooking here is south Indian. What started as a takeaway has since expanded to include sit in, with just a dozen or so tables behind the unassuming façade.
The menu does cater for all, with all the European-inspired dishes that we recognise instantly but are not and never were authentically Indian.
But what Bites of India have quickly become known for is their street food options, dishes that may not be instantly recognisable for the less well travelled among us but once tried will replace the old favourites.
This is a bring your own restaurant, which brings the cost right down to suit all budgets. I suggest bringing a few cold bottles of Cobra beer along with you as it is made to go with spicy food.
I visited on my annual judges' post-awards-season dinner: we pick one of the winning restaurants and get together for a meal and a catch-up. A sort of debrief with planning for next year.
You can ask front of house Vic to bring you a selection of his best dishes and you won’t be disappointed.
The Dosa is something I had heard of but had yet to try, a monster of a dish – a foot long rice-flour batter pancake filled with a choice of delights and then crisped under the grill.
It is not available as a take-out as the perfectionist chef knows it wouldn’t survive the journey.
You can have it filled with lentils, chicken or lamb; it’s a feast for the eyes and the belly.
For veggies I would recommend the Gobi Manchurian, a battered cauliflower dish with sweet and sour hot sauce, and the chana masala, a chickpea and onion dish.
The sambar, a lentil-based chowder cooked with dahl and tamarind broth, featuring dried red chillies, is outstanding. We had a lesser-known kadhai with chicken, a paneer chilli, rich and ever so hot.
You basically can’t go wrong with any of the chef’s specialities or just ask for advice and try something new. Mains are all priced around £10.95, all the starters are under a fiver.
This is a neighbourhood restaurant that is known and loved by the people in the area but now that word of its excellence is spreading I imagine some expansion is bound to be on the cards.
This is a part of town where investment is in short supply and so it’s no wonder the community have embraced Bites of India in the way they have. Get in now while it’s still a little unpolished gem.
I imagine some cunning investor will be trying to poach the team for a fancy city centre eatery in the very near future, but I really hope they stay true to themselves.
Go dressed in your jeans with a crowd of mates and a load of beer and you can’t go wrong. We sat drinking our BYO Cobra and eating big tasty dosas for more hours than I can now remember, a most fun and unassuming night.
Cheap in this case does not mean compromising on taste and quality, and the judging team were unanimous in concluding we’d definitely made the right choice.
:: Allison's meal was paid for by the Irish Curry Awards; menu prices range from £1.95 to £13.95.