By Niall Griffiths
Fairbourne’s central hub is a few takeaways and a mini-mart and an outwardly unassuming Indian. Raj, the dashing and charismatic ex-Bollywood owner of said Indian, was told that establishing a high-quality Punjabi eatery in Fairbourne was guaranteed to fail (‘the most unthinkable part of Wales’, as he writes in one of his fascinating autobiographical scrapbooks); and that appealed to the part of him that thrives on challenge. His restaurant is now in its 14th year of service.
And the food is, truly, spectacularly good. Seriously; it’s on a par with the Michelin-starred Indians of London and the Midlands and, even, of certain places of reputation and renown in Mumbai’s Colaba district, and the fact that Raj’s equally charming wife, Noori, is the sole chef is miraculous. Spinach pakoras are little bites of addictive umami shatter; there is a dish of bread and mashed potato, rolled and spiced and deep-fried, that is every bit as good and moreish as it sounds. It is food I want to shout and sing about; food as a suitable subject for an epic poem. Veg kebabs are deeply green cobbles in which crispness surrenders to chew and the flavours just keep rolling in like the waves of Cardigan Bay outside. And those flavours; like a cocktail in which the constituent parts fuse to create a taste entirely new, you chase cumin and find fenugreek, which introduces you to tamarind, and then you just give up and succumb to the intense loveliness of it all. There is a besan-battered fish wrapped around a secret sauce that gives up mustard and ginger and maybe asafoetida and finally an unnameable operatic crescendo of glorious zing and burst. And oh, the coconut lamb; it takes true culinary intredipity to tease out coconut’s savouriness in this way. Same with the okra; I’ve never been a fan of the Slimy Lady’s finger, and indeed never yearned for more of a dish of which it was a part, but Noori chars it and dries it and spices it (with masala made on the premises) and makes of it something wondrous. Chilli heat is a seductive background whisper, always imparting things that are nice to hear.
Prawn bhuna has a roast-plum sourness that is thrilling to explore; the daal is utterly perfect in both taste and consistency, as is the woodfire smoke of aubergine. Naans are crisp from the tandoor and ghee-slathered; I’ve always thought peshwari should come with custard, but here’s Noori’s skill with the savoury-from-sweet thing again. It’s hugely impressive. It’s hugely good.
Should climate change continue at its current rate, Fairbourne may have only a decade left above the brine. Another reason, if it were needed, to get yourself to this superb restaurant as soon as you can. Raj has brought the gift of Bollywood glitz and splendour to this part of Wales and I thank the mountains for it.
Indiana Cuisine, 3 Beach Rd, Fairbourne LL38 2PZ tel: 01341 250891 www.indianacuisinewales.uk