Tom heads to Bristol for the spectacular spicing and vibrant heat of traditional Tamil cuisine.
Stokes Croft, Bristol. As much attitude as it is area, the home of the hedonistic Turbo Island, legendary club Lakota and The Mild Mild West, one of Banksy’s greatest murals. Freethinking, fiercely independent and occasionally, after dark, on the edgier side of bohemian, it’s also one hell of a place to eat.
And Nadu, which was due to open before Christmas last year, but scuppered by yet another lockdown, is a stellar Stokey addition. The room is large but warm, with booths, parquet floor, vast wicker-basket lampshades and a bar with corrugated-iron roof. On the walls, blown-up vintage matchbox covers, lions, lovebirds and cow heads alike, alongside grinning and glaring Tamil masks.
Which makes sense, as Nadu is all about Tamil food, found, as the restaurant points out, ‘from Colombo to Chennai,’ and very much part of owner Raja Munuswamy’s heritage. As well as that of his executive chef, the very talented Saravanan Nambirajan. And what a cuisine it is, all fragrant curries, vibrant sambals, fluffy rice-hopper pancakes, and the ever-present scent of coconut, cinnamon and chilli. A pair of lamb rolls, looking like Findus Crispy Pancakes on steroids, are magnificent, stuffed with mashed potato, and soft, gently spiced chunks of lamb, dunked into a boisterous, scarlet-hued sambal.
Soft-shell crab is astonishingly good, splayed out on a bed of string hoppers (rice flour noodles) like a taxidermist’s centrefold, the crustacean gloriously crisp, the complex curry sauce seething with dried chilli and pepper. There’s a black pork curry, all wobbling fat and slow-cooked pig, warm with cinnamon and clove. And prawn Issan Pol, lavishly rich, heavy on the coconut cream and turmeric. A vast dosa is longer than my arm, frilly edged and soft in all the right places, begging to be ripped apart and dunked into still more sambals and chutneys, both fiery and fresh. Bliss.
Because this is a kitchen that not only knows its Tamil spices and techniques, but revels in them. Flavours move effortlessly from big and bold to subtle and delicate, with not so much as a dreary nibble. Ingredients are top notch (and local where possible), while service is warmer than a Galle sunset. This is food to make the heart sing and tastebuds holler with joy, a Tamil triumph with real tiger’s bite.
About £25 a head. Nadu, 77-79 Stokes Croft, Bristol; nadubristol.com.
DRINKS: Olly’s organic and ethical picks
Wine should always taste delicious and if it does something virtuous too, so much the better. Fairtrade wines are socially responsible. Employee-owned projects such as my wine of the week are worth considering, along with wineries saving rare grape varieties. Organic wines are on the up, while canned wine packaging is said to be infinitely recyclable. And I salute projects such as Hidden Sea – dive in.
WINE OF THE WEEK: MULLINEUX GREAT HEART RED BLEND 2019 (14%), £14.99, Waitrose. This red blend is employee-owned, ethically inspired and world class. Gorgeous.
FAIRTRADE CHENIN BLANC (12%), £4.80, Co-Op. This bargain zinger supports community projects in South Africa.
CASTELLORE ORGANIC PROSECCO (11%), £7.99, Aldi. Organic bubbly that’s a magical melon-and-tangerine fruit-fest.
MASSERIA PIETROSA VERDECA 2020 (12.5%), £8.25, Morrisons. A scrumptious rare local Italian grape thriving in the hands of a cooperative winery.
HIDDEN SEA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2020 (12%), £9, Sainsbury’s. Delicious Sauvignon Blanc removing and recycling plastic from our oceans.