The rise of small plate dining continues apace, with it having jumped across many a culinary divide from its, arguable, origins in the Iberian Peninsula (with tapas, pintxos and petiscos), Greece, the Middle East (with mezzes) and China (dim sum – any place that calls these “Chinese tapas” should be immediately raised to the ground in my view).
Personally I think most food cultures have a variation on the small plates theme, some are just better at it than others.
At their best small plates allow you the joys of picking (tasting lots of different morsels – rather than sticking to the traditional 1, 2 or 3 courses standard). At their worst they seem to be an excuse to charge premium prices for small portions of not very good food, the result of which is you rack up a jumbo bill for a load of mediocre rubbish.
This brings me to the Purple Poppadom, a classy Indian restaurant rather than curry house, in the Cardiff suburb of Canton.
I have always liked the Purple Poppadom – it rarely fails to please on the flavour front and to be honest that and value for money (including on the booze front), which is not the same as cheap, is all that really matters to me. I have blogged about the place before (a while back), but their introduction of a “tapas” driven menu on Wednesday nights seemed to me to warrant a further post. Struck me as a nice idea, as Indian food can be quite conducive to picking (think poppadums and chutneys, bhajis, samosas, chaats et al), bar from its use of the word “tapas”.
Being very much an Iberiophile, I do somewhat rile against the use of the term “tapa” to describe anything delivered in a small portion. The fact the stuff is served in smaller portions doesn’t make it a tapa – just ask a Greek or Chinese person.
Whilst I suspect the Purple Poppadom will have used the term “tapas” as it is an easily recognisable word, personally I think it is a tad lazy to simply label small plates/dishes of any cuisine as tapas. Naming food as such is, in my opinion, a disservice to both proper tapas and the other cuisine you apply the tapas moniker to.
Seems to me that Indian food has an honoured tradition of little dollops of lots of different stuff on a plate, with the thali, and this is a variation on that theme (with the ability to mix and match your items).
Perhap what they have on Wednesdays can be viewed as subdivisions of a thali, so each individual dish would be a singali 😀. I actually quite like the Hindi word for “morsel”, which is nivaala (“Nivaala night” has quite a nice ring to it I think). There are of course a myriad of languages in India, but this seened to me to fit the best.
Anyhow enough of me moaning on the linguistic front (especially with my singular ability to mangle the English language) and on to the small plates on offer.
The menu provides a nice mix of meat, seafood and veggie stuff. You can mix and match with any 3 for £15.95, five for £21.95, 7 for £26.95 and all 10 for £34.95.
The pricing clearly encourages “an all in” approach, with a price per dish of £3.50 if you order 10 and £5.32 if you just order 3. Quite a difference there.
With 4 of us we asked how many each they would recommend and were told 5 each would probably be about right. This led us straight to the cheapest per dish option of the full 10 dishes x 2.
Service was nicely paced, with dishes arriving in blocks of two (or occasionally one) for each couple, rather than on mass.
First up was a dish was sweet potato with a thousand island style mayo.
The spices on the fries was very pleasant with coconut, garlic and a dusting of chilli to pep things up. A nice enough dish, but the fries could have been a tad crisper.
With the fries came another fried dish in the form of ” squid porichathu”
Squid can be a tricky bugger to get right, with a very quick fry or a very long braised required to avoid rubber band syndrome. Here the squid was beautifully tender and the spiced, very light, batter adding both flavour and a textural contrast. A crisp and refreshing side salad brought some welcome acidity and the bell pepper mayo added a pleasing piquancy to the dish.
Next up was that stalwart of the curry house scene, chicken tikka. When done right this is a delightful mix of juicy tandoori baked, slightly charred, meat and spicing. When done wrong it is a dayglo horror.
Thankfully here we were in safe hands, with the chunks of tandoori’d meat having a nice char but retaining their juiciness and the yoghurt marinade doing its job on the tenderising front.
Nice subtle spicing here, with a pleasing tingle on the lips as opposed to blistering heat. Why three pieces though? Not very conducive to sharing between two, with it leading to a tussle over the last bit (well it does if you are Mrs. SF and I).
As an avowed carnivore, my meals tend to be meat based, but India cuisine excels in the cooking of veggie stuff and I was happy to see a couple of veggie dishes on the menu. The first one was a rather fine cauliflower number (achaari gobhi), with the cauliflower florets subjected to pickling spices and then the heat of the tandoor.
This process operated to bring out the natural nuttiness of the cauliflower, but allowed (with the fast cooking) for it to retain an al dente texture (I hate mushy cauliflower – baby food). A nicely spiced mint chutney brought a welcome zinginess to proceedings.
Another veggie dish followed and (surprisingly with my carnivore tendencies) this was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Lovely crunchy veg married brilliantly with the fresh coconut and a spicy (almost citrusy) dressing.
Simple but lovely, it operated as an effective palate cleanser.
Back on to the fish and meat, the cod amritisai slightly disappointed.
The batter lacked crispness and was a bit flabby. Higher temperature frying required here I think. The spicing itself was OK, but even with their riff on mushy peas and the bell pepper mayo this dish was just a bit on the bland side. The fish was nice, but I didn’t get much spicing and the consensus of opinion of all four of us was this was the weakest dish of the night.
The kitchen was, however, back on form with the next dish.
The nanza, as the name suggests, was a fusion of a naan and a pizza. Lovely toppings of tomato and onion, spiced lamb, cheese and mint chutney covered a light (and less volumous than a traditional naan ) crisp bread base. Seemed to me to be more than a nod here to the Turkish pide.
Lovely stuff this, with just the right level of spicing to enhance rather than overpower the lamb flavour. My only qualm was I could have happily eaten an awful lot more than the 4 mini slices of it (nice to see four so if sharing you get two bits each rather than fighting over the third bit, as with the case with the tikka) that we got.
We then went back on the veggies, with a rather fine aloo chaat.
This is the kind of veggie dish that could truly convert me to going meat free (well maybe for a week – ok a weekend). Lovely contrasts of flavour and texture meant I didn’t care one jot that it was meatless. Roasted, spiced, new potatoes and curried chickpeas were covered in cooling yoghurt dotted with those sweet jewels that are pomegranate seeds. Topping it off were some crispy fried kale and sev (I think).
Great dish and my second favourite of the night.
Chicken wings were next up, with these coming in a tamarind (which I love due to the sourness it bring to the party) based sauce.
Can’t say I am a huge fan of chicken wings. Fiddly buggers where the effort is often more than the end prize. Nothing wrong with the flavours here, with the tamarind imparting a nice sourness, but the skin was a bit flabby (crispy salty skin chicken is a thing of wonder, whereas flabby chicken skin is the equivalent of getting socks for Christmas – underwhelming to say the least). Crispy skin would have made this dish rather fine, but the lack of it left it a bit flat.
The final dish was a curious Indo- Chinese chilli pork number
Nice tender shoulder, with red peppers and crisp spring onions. Overall pleasant , but curiously lacking in a chilli kick (odd bearing in mind its name). I put this in the bottom half of the list of ten dishes we had (a view that was the consensus of all four of us).
I was sated at this point and passed on ordering more small plates or puds.
Mrs. SF and our friends were not done though and all went for a dessert in the form of the chocomosa (£7.50 each).
Real crowd pleaser this, which went down a treat with all those who had it.
On the booze front, as it was a school night I stuck to beer
and went for to the Bangla beer (£3.75 for 330ml). Supposedly brewed specifically to compliment spice this stuff lacked excitement, but was fine as a thirst quencher. Nice to see a Welsh beer on the list, but I am not a fan of overtly floral beers and this elderflower number didn’t really sound like my cup of tea.
Wine wise they have a short selection of red, white fizz and rosé fines (I only took a picture of the reds),
which inclused an Indian red and white from Soul Tree. Mark up are not too hideous with the Soul Tree reds retailing at just under a tenner and being on the list for just under £26.
Mrs SF wisely went for a off dry German Riesling (great pairing for spicy food) from the ever reliable Doctor Loosen (£8.50 for a 250ml glass). One of our friends went for a large glass of the Los Pastos merlot from Chile (£6.50 for 250ml – not the Chilean merlot on the list which was a Los Picos one). Entry level Dr Loosen retails at £7 a bottle so the mark up for it was a bit higher than I would have liked. Interestingly the Los Pastos we got given sells at as low as £4.49 a bottle, whereas the Los Picos merlot sells at £7 a bottle. This makes for a not hideous mark up for the Los Picos at £19.50 for a bottle, but a very high one (over 4 times) for the Los Pastos we actually got (didn’t clock it was different wine until looked at bill on getting home).
An annoyance was the 50ml measure for the £3.50 glass of Barbadillo fino (great as a pairing for this type of food). First why the mickey mouse measure (what’s the point of such a titchy pour ) and why £3.50? That equates to £52.50 per 75 cl bottle, with the self same bottle retailing at £10.79, which is some mark up. I doubt they sell any of it in those miniscule measures at that price.
Regardless of what they are called, these little plates/dishes made for a very pleasant meal (good company helps and we always have a laugh with the two who came with us). Five each was enough for me, but if you have a big appetite you may need/want more. The problem then is they only seem to come in blocks of 3,5 or 10 with the former a much more expensive per dish option. Not much of an incentive to order more as a result.
My favourite three (not unanimous amongst the 4 of us) were the:
- Green veg and coconut; and
- Aloo chaat.
Other thought the tikka or the squid deserved a top three placing.
If we had stuck to the small plate dishes, the bill would have been pleasingly small at a few pennies under £17.50 a head (where you share all 10 on offer).
As is always the way, add ons bump up the bill rather alarmingly
3 desserts and 3 large (250ml) glasses of wine and 4 bottles,of beer nearly doubled the bill. On top of that a “discretionary” 10% service charges was added to the bill.
Whilst I pretty much always tip (unless service is awful), I resent it being automatically added (with the ” go on I dare you to not pay it you stingy git ” implicit threat that comes with it). I actually think in some instance a higher tip may be deserved, but I will never tip more than the automatic sum added regardless as I just hate the assumption it makes that I won’t reward good service unless I am effectively forced to do so.
Would I go back? Yes I though the food was very good with some real stand out dishes and it is an interesting concept in terms of eating Indian food. Mrs. SF and I would probably, if ordering 10 dishes again, substitute the wings, the pork dish and the fries for more nanza, tikka and either the green veg and coconut or the aloo chaat.
I also noticed, whilst there, that they do an interesting selection of thalis on a Thursday which look rather good. Will certainly have to try these.
185a Cowbridge Road East
Tel: 029 2022 0026
Email: info@ purplepoppadum.com
Online booking available.
Tues – Sat : 12 – 2pm; 5.30pm – 11pm
Sun: 1pm – 9pm
” Tapas night” is every Wednesday evening from 17.30 onwards.