There's a lot to say about my latest Indian Restaurant find. An innovative female chef, a menu of signature dishes from across India and gluten free credentials. Azaro is rocking the Indian dining scene and here's why.
|Chicken Chettinad thali at Azaro|
Back to the biryani for a moment, a rice dish rich with herbs and spices, vegetables and meat, and sauce on the side. Although with many regional variations, the key features of this dish are the cumin, cardamon, cinnamon and chilli flavours for me.
Originating in Persia, the name derives from the word Birian which means fried before cooking. It's a dish I first discovered at my local takeaway in Kemptown and I loved it so much, I never wanted to try anything else.
The biryani stakes were raised when foodie friends of mine learnt the secrets of a good biryani from a friend, who had grown up in Hyderabad, well known for its biryanis and I was invited over to try the results. The effort that had gone into this dish had been immense. The meal turned out to be a huge success.
That was it, until last week when I got an invite to discover an Indian restaurant based in Hove that included biryani on its menu and I just couldn't say no.
|Azaro Indian restaurant in Hove|
Arriving after 7pm we were shown to a table in the window and a petite young woman, dressed simply in black came over to meet us. It was one of the owners, who also happened to be the female chef of Azaro. Kirti wanted to introduce herself and check we had all that we needed. The Welsh One and I felt privileged.
We found out that she had come down from Bradford with her partner Az three years ago to set up this restaurant in Brighton (Hove actually). Her family are Gugrati and come from northern India and her partner's family come from the Punjabi region and a different religious background. This diversity is something that they have embraced and is reflected in the team that they have built up to help run the kitchen and front of house.
Together Kirti and Az have absorbed a rich mix of traditional Indian cooking techniques from their families along with learning from expert Indian chefs in Dubai and by travelling around India.
This depth of knowledge is translated into a culinary tour around India on each of their menus. Signature dishes from a wide range of regions are chosen, some familiar and some less well known, such as the Chicken Chettinad, a southern Indian dish from the Tamil Nadu region that we later got to try.
It was also during these travels that they came across an exceptional biryani that proved inspirational to them. It had been served in a bowl with a cloth over it that was removed at the table. This had sealed in the flavours with the steam, which could only escape once the cloth had been removed. The Azaro owners had loved this idea and Kirti devised a way to adapt this in her own unique way.
|Poppadoms and chutneys at Azaro|
Since opening their restaurant they've found that many of their non-Indian diners have travelled to India and part of Azaro's appeal is that they offer dishes that remind many of them of food that they discovered on their holidays.
Our starter of poppadoms had arrived and to accompany them were small bowls filled with more chutneys than I've ever seen amassed before. Az, the other owner of Azaro came over to chat to us as well. "With our takeaways we like to add extras for orders over £20, so we include some of our poppadoms and chutneys and people seem to love them. We've created one with tamarind, prune and beetroot that's proved really popular." This was our favourite too.
Next came our main course, a thali of the Chicken Chettinad plus sides and the Chicken Biryani that I had been looking forward to trying.
|Chicken Chettinad thali|
Our dishes arrived and the biryani came out on a wooden board in a claypot with a naan bread topping. Next to it was a large spoon for cutting into it and spooning out the biryani. As soon as the pie top was broken steam came flooding out and we both took generous portions to try it while the steam drifted away.
The chicken pieces were so moist and the rice so delicate in flavour we couldn't believe how good it tasted. Azaro's approach to cooking is full of integrity and it shows. "Our chicken is marinated and slow cooked" Kirti explained, "and that's what makes it so tender and full of flavour".
|Dhum Biryani at Azaro|
The Chicken Chettinad came in a rich orange-red sauce and was equally divine in flavour, cooked in a blend of aromatic spices with curry leaves and coconut. The plate also came with two portions of sweets, a dry bowl of cut vegetables, a mild dahl, a raita with apple juice and a mango lassi. It was a bonanza of colour and flavour all at the same time.
Their thorough approach to cooking is also evident in how they source and grind their spices. The spices matter so much to them that they are bought from a trusted wholesaler in the north, the spices are then ground on site in their spice room, all to ensure that no flavour is lost in the process.
Our welcome had been immense from all the team at Azaro and the food was divine. My standout dish has got to be their biryani and the feeling was completely shared by my Welsh One who didn't leave a rice grain behind. Brighton and Hove is lucky to have so many well-known and much praised Indian restaurants in town. To this list people should also be talking about Azaro too.
|Dhum Biryani at Azaro|
Azaro, 115 Church Road, Hove BN3 2AF
With thanks to Azaro for our complimentary meal. My opinions my own.
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