Christmas is the one time of year that we always go back up North and spend time with our families and we get so excited about all of the food. I love how at Christmas the fridge is always stocked full of desserts and snacks, and there are mince pies, stollen and chocolates everywhere; Marcus’ entire house is filled with boxes of chocolate and biscuits and when I go over there the four of us spend the entirety of our time in food comas!
We have a few traditions – we usually spend Christmas Eve with my family, Christmas Day with our own families and then when my family is winding down after Christmas, I go to his for Boxing Day and the run up to New Year where the real eating begins 😉
My family aren’t hugely into eating out – they only really eat out for special occasions (I remember when we were younger we’d literally eat out four times a year – one for each of our birthdays!) so we’ve always eaten in on Christmas Eve in the past. My mum had mentioned an Indian place that they’d been to in Sheffield though so we suggested trying it for a change – we love Indian food and sometimes I just think it’s so much nicer to eat out so the focus is on chatting and enjoying the food rather than trying to time the cooking and wash up all the dirty trays and plates, especially given how much effort my parents put into cooking on Christmas Day itself.
Previously located on the corner London Road, Urban Choola have now moved to a lovely spot on Ecclesall Road. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and the decor on the inside is minimal, but they have a cute brightly coloured mural of an Indian street food scene on one of the walls, which is where the chef is said to take inspiration from in his dishes.
We got a mix of starters – I went for the paneer tikka, as I absolutely love paneer (but I wanted a prawn curry for my main!), Marcus got poppadums with a pickle tray and my sister got a chicken seekh kebab. I loved the paneer (not that it’s hard to mess it up!) – it was beautifully grilled and served simply with some peppers, onions and a green sauce. The kebab was made from minced chicken which I wasn’t expecting (probably my lack of knowledge!) but it was reasonably tasty, even if it wouldn’t be my first choice. We also got the gol guppa (crispy puri with spiced herb juice and dressing). It was my mum’s choice – I’d have gone for one of the softer bread options rather than a crispy one, especially given that we had poppadums but I was interested to see what it was. We were served a spiced chickpea mix, similar to the one served on the thali platter, which you stuffed into the crispy ‘bowls’ it was served with. I think the dish would have been much nicer with softer bread to pack the chickpea mix into – the puri were cold and crispy and they crumbled quite easily. I wouldn’t recommend it and probably wouldn’t order it again.
They have all of the usual dishes you’d expect from an Indian restaurant on the main menu – a variety of lamb, prawn, chicken and veggie curries, kebabs, biriyanis and sizzlers. They also have the usual sides – roti, naans, rice, etc and some street food specials – keema pav, pav bhaji and akuri pav (slow cooked lamb, mixed veg curry and spicy scrambled eggs respectively), all served with buttered baps. The thali platters came highly recommended by my parents though, and while I’ve seen them at a few places in London, I haven’t seen them at the majority of the Indian restaurants that we’ve been to in and around St Albans so I wanted to try one of those as it had a bit of everything!
Each thali platter came with a chickpea mix, raita, naan, pilau rice, dhal, salad and an Indian sweet, and you could select any of the curries from the main menu to go with it. I chose the prawn masala, which was absolutely delicious. They were so generous with the prawns – I got a seemingly never-ending portion, and each prawn was a big king size prawn too. It came in a rich oniony gravy which was beautifully balanced and packed full of flavour. It wasn’t too spicy for me either, and I can’t tolerate much spice – my mum got the lamb chetinard, which she said had a little bit of a kick to it. The naan was flatter than I’d hoped – I’m a complete sucker for a thick, fluffy naan, but despite being flat it was still surprisingly fluffy and chewy which was a nice surprise. They only offer two types of naan – plain and garlic, but I probably could have done with another one, as they’re a lot smaller than your standard Indian naan bread. The rice was lovely, but the portion was tiny – it was served in a little bowl the same size as all of the other sides (including the raita!). In my opinion it should have been in a bowl the size of the curry, but I do personally love a big bowl of rice with a curry and I can see why they don’t serve more as my mum and sister were stuffed! The dhal was amazing – creamy, tasty and full of black lentils and beans. The only part I didn’t really like was the sweet, but that was to be expected as I’ve yet to find an Indian dessert that I like! It was a type of sweet rice pudding, but the grains were strangely small, as if it had been part blitzed, so the texture was bizarre.
Since Marcus doesn’t like raita or salad, and he knew he wouldn’t like the Indian sweet, he went for a conventional curry with a side of rice and a garlic naan. He went for the chicken makhani – chicken tikka in a fresh tomato and crushed fenugreek sauce. The sauce was nice but surprisingly lacking in flavour (for me personally). My mum described it as like a ‘tin of tomato soup’ and I’d agree with her in the sense that although it was a nice sauce, it didn’t taste Indian-spiced in the slightest.. if you’d told me it was an Italian chicken dish I’d probably have believed you. The portion of rice he got was far more generous than the one served with the thali though and his garlic naan was good too 🙂
My dad got the lamb biriyani, which came in a simple white bowl. I tried a tiny bit of it and it was nice, but I wouldn’t say it was anything special.
One thing I was concerned about was portion size, as often when you get a lot of things, each item comes in a small portion, and that was the case with the thali platter. I loved that I got to try everything, and dhal didn’t actually seem to be available anywhere else on the menu (though I’m sure you could probably request it as a side even if it doesn’t appear there) but for me there wasn’t enough rice or naan. I think if I went back I’d still order the platter though, but I’d just get a couple of extra sides – I had wanted to try the roti too so I’d order that as an extra 🙂
They do have some typical Indian desserts, which my dad loves – Gajar Halwa, Gulab Jamun and Rasmalai for example. I’ve tried versions of all of these on the curry mile back in my University days and despite my sweet tooth, I find them too sickly and syrupy so I never usually order dessert when I go out for Indian food. We had the mini rice pudding dessert on our thali trays anyway, so we headed back for mince pies, mulled wine and chocolate – the perfect Christmas Eve dessert if you ask me 😉