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India Lounge

12 Suffolk Parade crack

The India Lounge is situated in what I like to think of as one of Cheltenham’s trendiest streets, Suffolk Parade. There are other fine shops and restaurants in this 200 yard thoroughfare that leads up from Montpellier Terrace.

The Lounge itself is chic with the sophisticated clean lines that are now the norm for fashionable Indian restaurants. The high ceilings, the period features of corbels and covings add to the grandeur, as does the splendid view towards Suffolk Square. For summer dining there is a delightful courtyard with a fountain.

When we arrived the restaurant was already buzzing. Ali, the proprietor at the India Lounge seems born to his work with a keen interest in people and most of all great food. Despite being very busy to ensure the smooth running of everything he found time to talk to us. Flavours and combining spices into a variety of sauces are his passion. He learned about food at his mother’s knee. `I still miss her cooking,’ he said with a woeful smile.

Ali got together with five members from his family to create a group of restaurants, a cooperation which works to the advantage of all concerned. The group’s six restaurants across Cheltenham have certainly raised the standard when it comes to Asian cuisine. The times when downing the hottest of hot vindaloos as an act of masculine bravery have thankfully passed.

Dipping the wafer thin, crispiest spiced papadams into a selection of mango chutney, Raita and pickles we consulted the extensive menu. Just reading the list of ingredients that Ali’s chef uses to create the dishes made our mouths water. When trying a new restaurant we tend to order dishes we have eaten elsewhere to be able to compare. Our starters of Chicken Tikka, vegetable Samosas and Jhinga Til Tinka - mace and cardamom spiced king prawns in a crust of sesame seeds - were very light and full of flavour. My main dish of Chicken Banjara with green peppers and mushrooms had just the right balance of spices to let the flavour and texture of each ingredient come through. On Ali’s advice Michael took the chef’s speciality, the intriguingly named Pathila Raj - chicken strips with herbs and spices, coriander, fresh mint, garlic, yoghurt and butter. To my enquiring nose the sauce smelled quite chilli-ish but on the tongue it was rich and tangy but not too hot. As vegetable side dishes I had a Sag Aloo, - spinach and potato - which had a real kick in it. Michael’s Dall Roshun - lentils sizzled with garlic - was beautifully creamy. Our dishes were finished with a generous scattering of fresh herbs which made a real difference. A very refreshing dessert of mango ice cream put an end to a perfect meal.

All the dishes we had were prepared with a light touch but with an excellent balance between the spices and flavours. It is the sign of a chef with a fine palate. The majority of main dishes were under
£10, which we thought was very good given the quality as well as the very generous portions served. The menu also included special seafoods as well as vegetarian dishes. As you would expect, the restaurant is fully licensed, so a full range of drinks is available for an aperitif before you move to your table. Most people used to drink beer with Indian food, but it seems, as this type of cuisine has moved with the trends diners like to drink wines as well.

The usual selection of beers is available - Cobra, Kingfisher, Tiger, Singha etc.. The comprehensive wine list includes a nice looking Petit Chablis from Justin Nocevin, an attractive New Zealand Sandy Ridge white Sauvignon and South American Chardonnays. The reds come from equally distant and exotic shores but the Chateau la Claymore from Lussac St. Emilion at £23.50 caught my eye. Also on the list are Rosés, Champagne, Sherries, Brandy and spirits, as well as soft drinks for the kids.

The service at the India Lounge is outstanding, very attentive but discreet. The restaurant is decorated with modern artworks and elegant flower arrangements, right down to the immaculate, clean and polished ladies’ powder room, which, for me, is a must in a quality eating establishment.

On leaving, we talked with Ali about where to get good fresh fish and vegetables, always one of my big problems here. When I mentioned the lack of good food shops in the town centre Ali told us that he and his colleagues had just opened an Asian cash and carry in the Lower High Street, East and West Foods. I for one will be rushing down there for my fresh coriander, mint and spices.