They've (finally) got a new, bigger and better space across the road. And it's as good as ever, says Ruth Allan
After five years of promises (“we’re moving next month – honestly!”), Lily’s Indian vegetarian restaurant has finally re-opened across the road from the original venue. It opened in mid January actually; a terrible time to launch a new restaurant, by all accounts. But this is Lily’s we’re talking about - and their fan base was ready.
There’s nothing to be done about Lily’s bleakly industrial setting. Inside, however, colourful murals bring the tropics to Ashton. The deli bar has expanded to include an ice cream bar and even more brightly illuminated cabinets to show off their confectionery. But the big noise is the new 80-capacity restaurant space next door.
I’m still struggling to figure out how ‘tripti bhog’ - a fresh milk, cream and nut confection - is so good
Booths, embossed with Missoni-esque motifs, circumnavigate the room, as large tables and twosomes waltz across the heated floor. Compared to the tiny, single-room that Lily’s occupied before, the new venue feels brilliant and ambitious.
And it’s busy. Having forgotten to book, we end up waiting for a table by the door for ages as dosas, chaats, golden-hued breads and fragrant curries sail by. I try to think of Lily’s competitors to take my mind off food - but even the award-winning menus at Dishoom and Bundobust don’t come close.
Snacks like pea kachori (£3.75 for 3) and the towering ‘signature’ chaat (£5.99) are ridiculously good. The chaat has a veggie samosa concealed under frills of crispy rice, chickpeas, potatoes and sweet yoghurt. Packed with layer upon layer of fabulous texture, it brings to mind bridal gowns and pass the parcel; all the good stuff, basically.
Lily’s ‘Special Chutney Tray’ is perfectly named too. There’s fresh mint yoghurt, spiced mango jam and a bold, garlic chutney (£3.95) - plus lots of hot stuff. An oniony, lemony dabba salad (£2.50) cuts through Lily’s paneer and cassava sizzling platter (£10.50) like a wand, while weighty, rice-like dumplings in a sweet, tamarind cream (dahi wada, £4.95) are comforting and refreshing. In the same bite.
After something more wholesome? Fragrant rasam soup, served with a plain dosa (£3.99) is a counterpoint to the takeaway thrills of Indo-Chinese veg dumplings (part of the sizzing platter) and chilli tofu (£6.50 ). The golden thepla - a buttery paratha/malt loaf hybrid (£2.75) - makes me question why I don’t spend every weekend queuing for curry in Ashton.
As I said in January’s dishes of the month article, I’m still struggling to figure out how ‘tripti bhog’ (£2.25) – a fresh milk, cream and nut confection - is so good. After all, the ingredients are bhog standard (if you’ll excuse the pun). Syrup-soaked sponge, a rough take on ice cream, pistachios, and a feather-light, quasi-frozen cream layer. Perhaps it’s the silver leaf that makes the difference but, either way, it’s a mindblower. Likewise, the beetroot halwa. And you can order from the deli bar too.
Choose from rich, cashew-based sweets, shimmery kala gulab jalam dumplings, cream confections topped with gold, silver and bronze. Even if you think you don’t like sweets, you’ll be stuffing your face in minutes.
So. Lily’s appeal is simple: they’re serving great, regionally inspired Indian food in a lovely space with brilliant service. The menu is slightly bigger than before, with an additional wines and beer list. There’s something you don’t see stocked very often too, Kenya’s Tusker lager, which they serve as a nod to the East African heritage of the owner’s family.
Company director, Harish Sachdev, is probably more recognisable than the Kenyan beer. He’s the spitting image of the Hollywood star John Turturro and always seems to be around when I visit. I met him and front of house manager Parul Chauhan five years ago when I first reviewed the restaurant, and they were talking about the expansion back then. Needless to say, it was worth the wait.
85 Oldham Road, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 7DY. Tel: 0161 339 4774
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Pea kachori 9, chaat 9, dabba salad 8, sizzling platter 7, sada dosa 8, chilli tofu 8.5, tripti bhog 9.5, beetroot halwa 9
Tropical and cosy despite the large space
Pitch perfect and not too chummy