Malabon, curiously named after a Filipino town and meaning bamboo shoots, is a small, smart restaurant in Petersfield. It says it offers ‘the finest Bangladeshi and Indian food using the freshest and finest ingredients’.
Well, many fine words do not butter parsnips, as the saying goes. I find restaurant wording can often be over-hyped and meaningless. For instance, on a recent trip to an Indian restaurant that claimed to offer ‘the most mouthwatering dishes served with passion and wisdom’, I found mouthwatering dishes and wisdom sorely lacking.
So does Malabon live up to its high-falutin’ promise? Well, the initial signs were encouraging. There was a welcoming handshake at the entrance and I liked the warm red walls with their delicate prints, plus the artefacts and flowers.
Subtle lighting worked too, the only thing missing being heat – although a heater was strategically placed by my high-backed red chair in the beamed restaurant.
The menu is a familiar one, with chicken tikka, kebab platter and onion bhajee as starters (although chargrilled trout or salmon are also on the list).
For main course, tandoori and tikka specialities plus dhansak, balti, korma, passanda and biriyani dishes are all here for those whose Bangladeshi tastes do not like change or innovation. Prices are uber-friendly, many starters around £3, mains mostly £8.50.
My starter, lamb tikka lazeez – cubes of marinated, barbecued lamb with a lemon yoghurt sauce – came with sautéed onions, red peppers and tomatoes with a salad. By far one of the best Indian-Bangladeshi dishes I have had in recent years, it was just a tad marred by a slight chewiness but the sublime taste and genuine cooking made this a must-return-for treat.
And the main course? Would I go back for the Bangladeshi fish curry using native fish – ayre – gram flour-battered and deep fried with a tomato and onion sauce? Like a shot. And for the pilau rice too.
These perfectly-judged dishes demonstrate just what many of us who love a curry often have to put up with – poor, tasteless, lazy cooking.
But I would urge you to be quick to sample such excellent cuisine. A huge shortage of Indian-Bangladeshi chefs, because of a government clampdown on non-EU or European Economic Area chefs paid less than £28,000 a year, could point to the end of an era for your favourite curry, as many home-grown chefs are not keen on cooking this type of food. Five new training centres to develop cuisine-specific techniques may not solve the problem.
My bill came to a very reasonable £16.60, including an Indian beer. I also left a well-deserved tip for charming, courteous, well-trained, hospitable staff.
Malabon, 14 Dragon Street, Petersfield GU31 4JJ
Tel: 01730 268352.
Open: Noon-2.30pm and 6pm-11.30pm, 7 days a week
Food: Five (out of five)
Disabled access: One step up and stairs to the toilets
How to get there: Follow signs for Petersfield on the A3. Dragon Street is at right angles to the High Street. The restaurant is on the left. On-street parking.