Galway has always been known for its diversity — a town of exotic sailors and Connemara tribes, this medieval city has been a melting pot for as long as it has existed. We have well established Chinese and Thai restaurants, and more recently some terrific Japanese ones. For fans of Indian food, however, Kashmir has been offering consistently delicious examples of this varied cuisine to Galway diners for some time now. Indian food is the 'Marmite' of global cuisines — it evokes a love or hate attitude that other ethnic traditions just do not get. There is often an excess of heat over flavour that has alienated many a diner. Not so at Kashmir.
This is Indian food cooked as it should be. Nearly every dish is labour-intensive with very few that can just be thrown together. Vegetables, herbs, and different combinations of intoxicating spices create the base of each of the sauces, all made from scratch on the premises, which means they are largely gluten-free as well as uniquely flavoured. The food was also noticeably less greasy than similar meals I have eaten at other Indian restaurants. I tootled along one weekday evening with a curry-loving friend. The decor is as you would expect, with comfortable dark furniture, and gilded idols keeping an eye on the room. Faint notes of incense hung in the air and the piped music is pure Bollywood.
We furnished ourselves with a couple of beers and sat in a nice window seat. As we perused the menu, the complimentary poppadoms and house chutneys arrived. Coupled with a trio of sweet mango chutney, yoghurt raita, and a very more-ish bright orange onion chutney peppered with nigella seeds, it made for a very tasty overture. Everybody loves poppadoms and even bad ones are good, but these were not bad poppadoms, far from it. Made from lentil and rice flour, they were light and terribly addictive and quickly despatched along with most of the chutneys. I would go back tomorrow just for those poppadoms alone.
We made a start with a Kashmir platter for two people to share, a colourful selection of chicken tikka, chicken malai tikka, lamb tikka, seekh kebab khas, and a particularly good tandoori chicken. All tandoori dishes were marinated in yogurt, seasoned with spice and cooked in a tandoor. Don't worry if you do not know your saag aloo from your jhalfrezi — help is at hand in the form of Cherie, the manager. She is charm personified, explaining the dining options with enthusiasm. Knowledgeable, attentive, and good-natured — every restaurant should have a Cherie.
The mains are lamb, chicken, or prawn based dishes, with a plentiful selection of vegetarian choices as well as rice, breads, and other sides. The lovely Cherie suggested we try the butter chicken, a mildly spiced dish that came as a generous bowl of charcoal grilled chicken off the bone, cooked in a creamy, buttery, terracotta coloured sauce. Chicken tak a tak, the chef's special selection dish, was our other choice. This was chicken marinated in yoghurt and seasoned with tandoori masala, cooked with mushrooms and green peppers on a sizzling iron platter — the flavours were big, bright, and loud. Covered in a very welcome carpet of coriander and lemongrass batons, I felt this was the medium-to-mild end of spicy rather than the medium-to-hot advertised.
We had a couple of side dishes, basmati rice flavoured with saffron and a garlic and coriander naan bread, both delicious, hot, and freshly made. The bread had also been cooked in the tandoori oven and had those lovely little charred bits - delicious!
Even though we were now far too full for a dessert I had a peek at the menu, only for research purposes you understand. There is a list of good quality bought-in desserts that are typical of Indian restaurants in general, but there at the top of the list were three offerings made in-house. I could not go without sampling at least one of them, so the staff kindly gave us a scoop of the mango ice cream to try, it was just beautiful and yellow as summer sunshine. They also gave us a small portion of a traditional Indian dessert, gulab jamun, deep fried milk powder dumplings in syrup, which sounded pretty unloveable. This was kind of like an Indian donut immersed in a warm sweet syrup. It was just melt-in-the-mouth squidgy perfection with a little back note of cardamom. We also had a spiced tea which tasted, well, just like milky tea — neither of us could discern any spice after the variety of aromatic food we had just enjoyed. A little heavy handedness would not have gone astray here.
This is a place that makes Indian food in the traditional way, its sauces, pastes, and masalas made from scratch and with fresh ingredients, simply because the end result tastes much better, even if you have to wait a couple of minutes longer for your meal. It also does a very popular takeaway, and a buffet style Sunday lunch served from very handsome copper burners. Starters are around the €5 to €6 mark and mains start at under €11 and go all the way up to almost €19 for an elaborate dish of chicken, lamb, and prawns grilled over charcoal.
All in all, Kashmir offers an authentic food experience and great service that is kept consistently at a high level, obvious from the number of regulars they have there. It is a place that must rely largely on repeat trade, situated where it is on Lower Fairhill Road, just over the bridge and across from the fire station. Even with that short stroll across the bridge, you would have to go a long way further to find a better Indian meal in Ireland, let alone in Galway.