By Andy Munro.
The recent unprovoked attack on balti by award-winning restaurant Lasan’s head chef Aktar Islam gave me an attack of gross indigestion as well as indignation but I’ve now recovered in order to set the record straight.
First of all, Lasan is a great restaurant doing mainly ‘authentic’ south Asian cuisine with an innovative twist. And therein lies the key, because for ‘innovation’ read ‘invention’, the very thing that Aktar criticises. Yes, balti is a Brummie invention but isn’t that the same with all styles of food at some stage? The fact that when I spoke to Aktar a few months ago he didn’t even know what balti was, to me, speaks volumes. To remind him, it is a simple but effective style of preparing food and perhaps it could be said to be the Brummie equivalent of tasty, inexpensive (compared to Lasan’s platinum prices) street food – the latter concept being one that Lasan have proudly featured at various times.
Now turning to Aktar’s view of the Balti Triangle as being a sort of alcoholic’s paradise. It may have escaped his notice that this mainly Muslim area boasts mostly unlicensed restaurants and whilst usually allowing customers to drink alcohol on their premises, ask their customers to drink sensibly – which is usually always the case, anyway, given that most customers are families or couples. Probably a somewhat less inebriated profile than one or two of the braying City Gent (Daily Mail readers?) types that I’ve seen pass through the portals of Lasan at various times.
Aktar also criticises the ‘same old, same old’ baltihouse décor. Now I don’t know whether he still orders prawn cocktail, chicken in the basket and black forest gateau if he occasionally ‘goes for an English’ but the generic ‘Indian’ flock wallpaper style is definitely a bit seventies and as rare in the Balti triangle as the proverbial rocking horse droppings.
Finally it is an irony that Lasan’s (well deserved) fame for its food was brought to the fore by a Scotsman, Gordon Ramsey, whose favourite ‘Indian’ dish is chicken tikka masala, invented in the fair city of Glasgow!
Aktar…keep your head down and cook because that’s what you’re best at and do us all a favour and leave the Brummie balti alone to be enjoyed unpretentiously and in peace.
Andy Munro runs the balti-birmingham.co.uk website.