Collectors of little-known suburban restaurants will love this curry cafe, says Ruth Allan
Generally speaking, I find it best to arrive at untested curry houses with low expectations. This is particularly sensible when it comes to Urmston's new 'curry cafe' Theru Kadai, where hotch-potch furnishings (not in a chic way) and harsh lighting are the order of the day.
Prints of upbeat phrases line the walls. ‘Rise and SHINE!’ one proclaims, as rain hammers on the window of this former greasy spoon. The loo is around the back - by which I mean you have to actually walk out of the restaurant, through what appears to be a dog yard and into some kind of freezing outbuilding. And then there’s the steamed-up front window, dripping condensation onto banquet seating. But bear with me.
The restaurant has been open for five months, the brainchild of Karthik Rengaraj - Raj for short - who used to be an investment banker. He moved here from Chennai to work for RBS, before giving it all up to do “something different”, he tells me, and serve “authentic Indian food”.
That said, the menu veers towards the British curry canon including chicken madras (£6.95) and vegetable coconut korma (£4.95 – served with both rice AND naan), which is a considered move on Raj’s part. He’s hoping that Theru Kadai will become somewhere to pop in for supper instead of cooking at home – an affordable, everyday kind of place if you will. Over the course of two visits, I’d say he appears to be capturing local custom with ease.
The potato cake is so good that it throws me back to a delightful snack I ate on the streets of Jaisalmer in 1995
Mains are similar to Curry Mile fare - less oily, and certainly cheaper – but there’s plenty to enjoy if you order anything that’s not ‘curry’. TK’s Special Masala Breakfast (£7.50, served until 5pm Wed-Sun), for example, has all the hallmarks of a destination dish. Chilli cheese toast, masala beans, Indian potato cake and Indian scrambled eggs, are served on a board and big enough to share.
The beans are basically pumped up Heinz, but the lovingly spiced scrambled eggs with onion, coriander, turmeric and cumin, and the spiced Indian potato cake are a thrill. The potato cake is so good that it throws me back to a delightful snack I ate on the streets of Jaisalmer in 1995. Some achievement, considering the fact that I had forgotten that experience entirely until now.
Other creations capable of triggering precious memories include the ‘Madras’ fish cake (£2.99 – the potato cake above, with added white fish), and chilli paneer (£3.95), finished off with a densely spiced tomato puree. A dusting of shredded, ‘raw’ paneer and coriander is a nice touch, two deep-fried birds eye chillis forming an ‘x-marks-the-spot’ on top.
I love chaat as a rule – and Theru Kadai’s Paapdi chaat (£1.99) has the edge of the Bhel Puri (£2.99), if only for it’s chunky compostion. This is a less delicate proposal than you’ll find at the likes of Chaat Cart or Mughli, but the layers of potato, Bombay mix, soft chickpeas, deep-fried Ritz-style crackers and tamarind are not without depth. The only problem is, it’s so massive that it’s game over if you eat the whole thing.
We don’t try the naan wraps with veg, lentil, paneer or chicken, or the Indian omelette (£4.50). But, if the scrambled eggs are anything to go by, the omelette will be a winner.
Drinks are great too. The loose leaf tea menu includes clovey masala chai (£2.90, be sure to leave this one to brew for that proper, tan-coloured tea you get in India), masala chai latte, and cherry compote tea. ManCoCo artisan coffees are served alongside upmarket soft drinks.
There’s a craft beer and wine selection supplied by Shrewsbury’s brilliant Tanners. Tickety Brewery bottles are £4 and a remarkably verdant white Sicilian Kebrillo Fina, is £22 a bottle. It turns out that this is sold at double – rather than the standard triple - mark up on the wholesale price and a wine I’ll be sniffing out again. House bestseller is the similarly high end Lyrebird Australian shiraz (£19), from the southerly Victoria region.
Raj has plans to open something with a more regional Indian bias to the food offering soon. But for the time being he’s doing what he set out to in Urmston. This simple café is a place to enjoy everyday Indian food, at everyday prices - with enough thrills to please curry fans and collectors of little-known suburban restaurants from further afield. Just don’t expect anything fancy.
Theru Kadai, 218 Church Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 9DX. Tel: 0161 637 6478
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.
Chicken Madras 6, Veg coconut korma 6, TK’s special masala breakfast 8.5, Madras fish cake 8.5, chilli paneer 9, paapdi chaat 7, bhel puri 8, masala chai 7
Simple and hotch potch (not in a chic way)