With a growing confidence that we can get back to some normality, we jumped at the chance to sample the menu at the Achaar Restaurant & Grill, and a delicious, much-welcome evening out it proved to be.
At the heart of the bustling Cowley Road, Achaar is perfect for lunch, an evening meal before heading out for some drinks or a gig, or ideally suited for a work do. The name Achaar may be unfamiliar, but the newly renovated upstairs venue was previously the First Floor Restaurant, a popular buffet offering a wide menu, large capacity and quick service.
With COVID wreaking havoc on the hospitality industry, the management have been quick to evolve – moving away from buffet to an a-la-carte menu offering Bengali and southern Indian cooking, along with a smaller Thai menu as well as some burgers and lighter bites like wraps.
We were warmly welcomed by Abdul and his team (all still taking careful COVID precautions), seated surrounded by glittering fairy-lights overlooking the Cowley Road. Poppadoms and pickles with a cold Cobra lager got our tummies rumbling.
Knowing we were in for a feast, we started by sharing a Lamb Seekh kebab; delicately spiced minced lamb hand-pressed onto a skewer, served sizzling with charred onions and a fresh salad. Ahead of what was to come, it was a perfect starter – but you could also enjoy as a small meal on its own.
For mains we chose to stick to the Bangali Indian menu and were fortunate to be offered some smaller portions of the main items so as to try a wider number. Abdul recommended we try the lamb shank Biriyani, which the chef can rightly be proud of. Warming spiced lamb falling off the bone, sweet whole fruits (watch your teeth!), crunchy orange zest and onions flecked through the rice.
We also had Grandma’s Chicken – a rich sauce wrapping chicken breast served on the bone, this had great flavour, and you can see why this old favourite was brought through from the previous menu. A new one for us was the Beef Kala Bhuna – another Bengali speciality - its dark rich sauce was full of flavour and truly melt-in-the-mouth tender meat.
An unusual highlight was a vegetarian lentil dish, the Bhuna Moong Dal. It added that little extra spice without being overpowering. A fluffy garlic naan was just right to mop up those tasty, thick sauces.
The food was all excellent, and the service from knowledgeable Abdul meant it was catered to our tastes. If you like it spicy hot, then just say so, but we found the medium spicing perfect.
Some may be sad to see the old buffet go, but with Achaar’s arrival Cowley Road has a quality eatery to add to its list of attractions. Ideal for a dinner for two, but with Christmas party season coming up, it will be the perfect venue for a big group too. Party menus and deliveries are also available.
We now just have to return to try the rest of the Indian menu. But then, there is also the Thai….