There’s something reassuring about seeing restaurateurs consuming their own wares. Workers need to eat and, whilst many chow down in some back room, others fuel up more conspicuously. It’s not uncommon, for example, to see the friendly staff in the Hong Kong Express at Ryde sitting down to a meal alongside their customers, and indeed as the kitchen is on show there it wouldn’t make much difference if they did eat out the back – you could see them anyway.
What’s even more reassuring is when a chef feeds their own folk in the restaurant. Such was the case when Matt and Cat dropped into Jasmine, the little family-run Indian restaurant in Regent Street, Shanklin. Your reviewers were pleased to see a cheery little lad who, once he’d finished his dinner, toddled off the to the kitchen to see his daddy. Another visiting young lady was celebrating her 10th birthday – or so the balloons and cards seemed to indicate; her trip to the Jasmine an exotic treat compared to the usual ‘happy meal’ parties for children her age.
However, this is not to say that the service was anything less than professional. Matt and Cat were greeted and seated at a spacious table, and although there followed quite a wait whilst the solitary waiter attended to his other charges, once he’d sorted them out the service became very prompt and accurate. This brief hiatus allowed Matt and Cat to study the interior which, they noted, had not entirely succumbed to the ‘curries-R-us’ model of laminate flooring and high-backed leather chairs. The patterned carpet was similar to that in the defiantly old skool Bahar – what would this mean for the food itself?
The diners were very pleased to get three hot and freshly-cooked poppadums with some really good chutneys – considerably better than usual. It’s normal to be served mango chutney that is simply a kind of brownish syrupy paste but, at Jasmine, great chunks of fruit dwelt enticingly within a very fresh and sweet sauce. Similarly, lime pickle is traditionally an ear-reddening blast of homogenised chilli and salt, leavened by the vague scent of a lime. Not so at Jasmine where a cornucopia of tastes and textures enlivened the powerful condiment; these included peas, carrots, chillies and, of course, lime. The yellow yolky stuff (what is that?) was exquisitely garlicky.
The menu offered all the regular favorites. Tandoori dishes (including tandoori king prawn, creatively described as baby lobster), biriani and khorma vied with chop pillau and a range of Persian dishes. There wasn’t much for vegetarians but the waiter assured Matt and Cat that, as all meals were freshly cooked, a meatless course could be made. Matt decided to go straight for Britain’s national meal – the celebrated chicken tikka masala.
Although he normally prefers a dryer curry, he was not disappointed with his choice. Great chunks of tasty chicken tikka were splendidly presented on an intriguing heated platter, and swathed in a sweet and spicy sauce. Although it was surprisingly red in colour, it looked good and tasted better.
Cat was pleased to see moglai chicken on the menu and, having pretended that she might consider other dishes, eventually stopped toying and plumped for the moglai. Decent-sized chunks of chicken turned up in a rich and exceptionally creamy sauce, the difference from the chicken tikka masala being a yellowish colour, a few crunchy cashews, and a slightly milder flavour. It was delightful, although extraordinarily rich – this was, the waiter elucidated, due to the combination of cream and ground nuts. Between them M & C tempered their curries with a mushroom bhaji side-dish, giving a necessary injection of texture to these two sweet, creamy meals.
As this pleasant evening drew to a close, the restaurant emptied until, as Matt and Cat sat back to ruminate, they found themselves to be the remaining patrons. As the friendly waiter cleared away the plates (obligingly offering to parcel the remains of Cat’s moglai chicken to be consumed another day), they fell into conversation. He turned out to be a local fellow and was most forthcoming. After a good chat Matt and Cat left feeling not only replete with good food, but also as though they’d been made very welcome by an attentive host. The Jasmine is a small, good and very homely restaurant which offered excellent value for money – recommended.