Jonathan Schofield enjoys a preview and meets the charming family behind this new opening
Last week, I nipped into the Corn Exchange and sampled the new restaurant, Delhi House Cafe. I was worried, thinking this might be another generic Indian restaurant with a guessable menu. I was wrong.
Sherry Lamba is right about the distinctive nature of the food, there isn't anything like it in the city at present
Delhi House Cafe's food displays originality, flair and cracking flavours. The dessert will live long in the memory, and that's not usually what one says about Indian restaurants or indeed what I say about desserts in general. In fact, none of the dishes were anything but interesting. Some were outstanding.
The lamb pepper fry came with potato and a sort of mustard sauce and looked as elegant and refined, as it turned out to be. The excellent tandoori lamb chop had a beetroot chutney and a surprising but very good Granny Smith slaw. There was a very good green fish tikka as well - with salmon, spinach curry and mayo - plus a deconstructed chicken curry that was entertaining but fussier than the other dishes. The kitchen has a proper tandoor oven, which is rare and ensured the naan breads were exquisite.
We were given a challenge over dessert to guess the main ingredient in the green assemblage in front of us. We all got it wrong. The dessert, a halwa, was made from green chillies which was totally unexpected in that there was just a gentle sweetness and the occasional rasp of heat. The cunning way it had been put together was a joy. I washed down the food with White Rhino beers including a full IPA. A cocktail, the Chep Mat Ho, was very good too with vodka, espresso and cinnamon.
The interior is sharp as a pin with patches of vigorous colour. It's a notch up from many of the other blander interiors in the Corn Exchange. There's a terrace into the main Corn Exchange hall, a balcony terrace above that and the potential for outdoor space at the rear of the building.
The family behind the development were present at this gentle launch and were a delight. They are the Lambas from Delhi, with money from textiles. Sherry Lamba is the young man fronting the business. He confessed an overwhelming passion for Manchester United. Since you can see the National Football Museum next door this seemed apt and apparently he's going to be good and allow City and Liverpool supporters in his restaurant.
"We wanted to create the proper contemporary Delhi experience here," he said. "The city is a very lively, like Manchester, and we think we can really bring together some of the best of India. We really don't think there is any Indian food in Manchester as contemporary as ours, inspired by what we know of what is happening in our traditional home and here in our new home. Many UK diners have no idea about the recent development of Indian food and its experimentation and combination with other cuisines."
Sherry Lamba is right about the distinctive nature of the food in this new place, there isn't anything like it in the city at present. Given the difficulties in opening under the shadow of COVID-19, Delhi House Cafe has done well to get this far. It opens this week with a clever offer too. It will partake in the 'Eat Out to Help Out' government discount scheme but it will continue that scheme into Thursday, covering all the costs itself. For Indian food lovers it's another incentive to try out a very interesting new arrival.
Delhi House Cafe, Unit 10, Corn Exchange, Manchester, M4 3TR. 0161 834 3333.