We’re quite partial to a curry on a Friday night. Indeed we can often be tempted on a Saturday night as well. Having sampled the delights of all of Harborne’s curry houses regularly over the past two decades, we were naturally eager to try out the latest entrant to the market – Tiffin.
Tiffin opened in February in the old “Turners at 69” restaurant on the High Street, after Richard Turner unexpectedly announced its immediate closure. Only a minimal refurb was carried out by the new owners to this small and somewhat cosy venue, and so it very much retains the chandeliered, somewhat flashy look of its former incarnation. This isn’t exactly how you might expect your average curry house to look, and so we were intrigued to see how the overall offering would be pitched.
Various rumours swirled around about Tiffin before it opened, notably that it would be serving traditional Indian street food. Putting to one side how trendy street food would have fitted in with the rather bling restaurant interior, we were really quite excited about the possibility of having delights such as chana chaat available on our doorstep. It transpired, however, that this was not actually the case, and the menu very much reflects the traditional curry house fayre on offer in the other restaurants locally.
Naturally we booked a table on a Friday night, opting for 9pm to allow for a cheeky post-work beer beforehand. On arrival the restaurant was full, and it quickly became apparent that our table was not ready due to other guests staying longer than anticipated. The small size of the restaurant means that there is no space for a bar or other suitable waiting area (other than the serving area, which also acts as the corridor to the toilets), and so we were
asked if we would take a seat at one of the small number of tables outside. On a chilly spring night this wouldn’t have mattered so much if there was heating and better lighting for the exterior seating, but unfortunately there was neither, nor was our drinks’ order taken so we could while away the time with a beer. Worried about dehydration we went back inside to specifically ask for some.
We were seated in the restaurant around 15 minutes later. To be fair, once at our table the waiters were apologetic and offered us complimentary poppadoms and dips. Unfortunately, there is little they can do with the space available if guests already in the restaurant take longer than expected.
After a somewhat shaky start, and back in the warmth, things began to improve. The table was beautifully presented, and the glasses and tableware had a higher end feel than many other local curry houses we have visited (although the cobwebs and numerous blown light bulbs on the two chandeliers could do with being fixed, and quickly!). The menu was also
well designed and of a standard that you would expect to find in posher city-centre establishments (sad as it may seem, I do enjoy a well-presented menu!). Alongside the usual traditional favourites on offer at curry houses nationwide, there was also a decent selection of chef’s recommended specials.
The poppadoms were warm and crisp, and the dips fresh and spicy. For starters, we opted for the harra chicken kebab and shami kebab. The chicken was moist and full of flavour and really rather better than countless similar starters we have had elsewhere on the High Street. The lamb was spicy but disappointingly dry. Both came with a rather uninspiring undressed factory-prepared side salad, which somewhat let them down.
For mains, we had a korai and tawa, served with a plain naan and a boiled rice. For us, the korai was the stand-out dish – served in its own mini wok, the lamb was succulent and full of flavour, with just the right amount of onion. The tawa was a mixture of minced and diced lamb served in a sizzling dish, again warmly spiced. The rice was steaming hot and incredibly fluffy, and felt to us as if it had been freshly cooked rather than sat in a warmer for a while. The naan was the perfect combination of both lightness and crispness, with a drizzle of butter, a million miles away from the heavy doughy breads so often served. The plates were hot, and the portion sizes just right. We often find we simply cannot eat the portions served in many curry houses, but these were perfect for us. Our plates were cleared, and we were replete.
All-in-all, and putting to one side the glitch at the start of the evening, both the food and service were of a generally high standard. In fact, in our opinion better than that on offer in most of the other local curry establishments. The restaurant was bustling but not overly loud, and despite the small size did not feel cramped. Although we stuck to our traditional Indian lager (2 large Cobras please), there was a decent wine menu on offer, with the head waiter happy to chat through his recommendations for wine-food pairings. Most customers seemed to be opting for a bottle of wine, rather than beer, which would certainly suggest that they have the wine offering about right.
Tiffin is aiming to provide a more sophisticated experience than much of that on offer locally, and it succeeds in part. We have visited three times now. The team of waiters is universally friendly, and hard-working and enthusiastic manager Rolly does his absolute best to try to help customers have a great evening. We enjoyed the food, which compares favourably with the local competition, and notably each individual dish tasted fresh (and not as if made from a base catering pack of sauce/spice mix). The place is clearly already attracting regulars and we suspect its popularity will continue to grow. That being said, we couldn’t help but feel as if it aspires to be rather better than it is, and (whilst certainly good) the food and overall experience is not a patch on that on offer in either Asha’s or Lasan. The small size of the restaurant and lack of any bar/waiting area clearly creates problems. On a second visit (again having both booked and arrived on time) we were asked to wait for our table standing in the corridor to the toilet, constantly being moved to allow for waiters and food to pass. We were not the only ones this happened to. They really need to sort this particular issue out, even if it means booking tables further apart or giving a time period for each table at busy times.
Prices are a little higher than you will pay at most other curry houses in Harborne, although not hugely so. Expect to pay around £5-7 for starters, £9 for a traditional classic main and £12-15 for chef’s special main courses. The dishes are also on the spicier side, and so if you prefer your curry milder it is definitely worth requesting this when ordering.
We’ll definitely be back again, no doubt for our traditional Friday night curry.