‘To have your cake and eat it too’ is an unusual proverb to apply to an Indian restaurant but bear with me, because Zooma in Compton fits this old saying perfectly, as Manager Imran explains:
“We’ve kept the best parts of Memsahib, revised and refreshed the rest.”
Memsahib was, for the uninitiated among you, for nearly 20 years’ Imran’s previous restaurant, which was located above popular hairdressers, Royston Blythe. And it’s still there today, only now it’s called Zooma and is all shiny and new. Despite the re-branding Memsahib’s popular kitchen team remain and so too do most of its serving staff, as well as genial host and thoroughly nice guy, Imran, of course.
Since opening in mid-October existing customers (and plenty of newcomers too) have been clamouring to get a peek at what has always been an old favourite crying out for a makeover. And what a makeover it is: a night and day difference, according to the many regulars I overhear talking during my mid-week visit. For one especially cheerful chap I get chatting to at the bar the improvements are best described as this, “Imagine totally redesigning and refurbishing your home but not throwing away your family members in the process”. A little beer-addled he may have been, but I get what he means.
Having never visited before I can comment only as a thoroughly starving-hungry bloke who has just walked in out of the early evening gloom. Everything from the entrance space, up along the staircase and into the dining/bar space is designed to impress and it does impress my long-suffering girlfriend Nicola and I very much indeed. Newer-looking than a freshly-minted pound coin, clearly serious investment has been ploughed into this landmark eatery, which boasts convenient on-site parking and is situated just off Bridgnorth Road.
We’re dazzled by glitzy fixtures and fittings, all of which are finished to the highest order; a spectacular bar-space and sizeable dining area, complemented by stylish décor with standout custom artworks. I’m seated opposite (a painting of) David Bowie, which, being a fan, I take to be a good omen. Beyond the obvious changes however, Zooma has implemented a new Bar and Grill aspect to the business as well: customers are encouraged to pop in for a drink, without the formality of a sit-down meal. I notice a few doing just this and I can see why, it’s a great environment in which to relax.
Immediately Imran makes himself known to us, as he does with every other diner over the course of the evening, many of whom he greets like old friends. This continuity of care is what will ensure the success of the new venture: cosmetic appeal fades but core qualities endure, like the exceptional serving staff. Throughout the evening we meet many staff and are impressed by each of them for their limitless energy, willingness to help, substantial knowledge base and friendly manner.
This food review is so far lacking food, so let’s get on with things. I’m starving, remember…
We opt for a trio of starters to share: Vegetable Samosas – Deep fried triangular parcels of spiced vegetables, served with mint dip (£3.50), Onion Bhajis – Finely sliced onion in gram flour, battered and deep fried (£3.50) and Chicken Pakora– Strips of chicken breast coated in a spicy batter and deep fried (£4.75). After only a brief wait our plates arrive. Exquisitely presented and packing a flavoursome punch, we’re pleased with our choices. The chicken is prime and plump and the battered coating is crispy, not dry. The samosas are scoffed in an instant. And the onion bhajis, when allied to what is a supremely creamy and tantalising mint dip, are delicious. I only wish for more. “It’s only the starter” reminds Nicola. “Yes but now I’ve tasted the goodness here, if anything, I’m even more hungry”, I add, pointlessly.
Eager to get to the main event, I have a quick chat with Imran to narrow down his sizeable menu. He reassures Nicola that all dishes can be customised to suit personable taste when it comes to spiciness. After I reveal I’m a sucker for creamy curry sauces he recommends a dish that vaguely resembles Chicken Tikka Masala: but it comes with a warning. Apparently I’m not to be alarmed, but… its sauce has a bright green appearance to it. Intrigued and eager to follow Imran’s advice, I order it anyway: ‘Malabar Chicken Tikka – chicken cooked in tandoori first and then finished with mild, creamy aromatic pistachio and almond sauce’ (£13.95). Whether it will prove to be my Kryptonite remains to be seen. Nicola goes for ‘Hydrabadi Biriyani – tender chicken or lamb cooked with basmati rice, flavoured with mint and saffron, accompanied with vegetable curry sauce’ (£12.95).
By this point the restaurant is filling up (I’m reliably informed that it is fully-booked on this Thursday evening) and the noise is steadily building, contributing a pleasant background hum. Larger groups hang at the bar before being seated; quieter twosomes occupy cosy corner-spots and we enjoy a window-seat. It is again not long before our mains arrive and when they do we’re blown away. Piping hot and rich with exotic flavour, I’d be happy to eat either – or both even!
I receive a side of Pilau Rice (£3.50) and a Garlic Naan (£3.50) and hungrily tuck in to my resolutely green dish. Despite the unusual colour, there’s not a trace of apprehension when food smells and looks as good as this. The flavour combination in the sauce is sensational (you can really taste the nuts); a creamy and intoxicating blend that has me abandoning good manners and ploughing my plate with torn strips of naan bread. My chicken is tender and succulent and Nicola says only good things about her choice too. Sufficiently stuffed, we’re pleased there’s no dessert menu available to us tonight – although it will be coming soon: so too will Tapas-style bar snacks and a takeaway service, so watch this space.
Zooma is a cut-above and gives its customers the best of both worlds. Its new restaurant space is as impressive as the food it serves within it and for that reason among others, we’ll be back.
To book please call 01902 927147. The Swan Centre, Compton, Wolverhampton WV6 8AE. www.zooma-indian.co.uk