Food – Newton Mearns: Zyka. Zyka lives up to its origins with ‘The Taste’.

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It’s one of those places that just goes about its business of feeding people without any fuss, pomp or ceremony – but it should be shouting about its grub from every street corner in Newton Mearns – it really is that good!

Zyka, named after the Indian word for taste or flavour, a race that knew the secrets of fine spices before anyone else, sits proudly in the Greenlaw Shopping Centre, Newton Mearns just on the southern outskirts of Glasgow.

It’s easily reached by the M77 which passes within 5 minutes of the restaurant’s front door. Being in a shopping centre means there is ample parking available, including marked disabled bays within a few steps from this restaurant. Disabled access is fine with everything being on the level and large accessible doors.

From the outside, it may not look like much more than a square concrete box with some glass, but listen up dear reader, don’t let that put you off. Once you enter it’s a bit like the Tardis, it’s huge. The decor is modern, clean and fresh, comprising neutral earthy colours of an inoffensive shade, with low lighting, soft seating, dark wood accents and appropriate background music at a level which allows you to converse without having to resort to a bullhorn!

The restaurant comprises two completely separate sections, one being the Indian restaurant, the other side comprising the bar, grill and TV lounge. The place is so flexible in its dining arrangements however that patrons can eat from either menu in any area. Even outside in the fresh air on the two days of summer Newton Mearns gets!

On arrival we were shown immediately to our table, menus were presented and drinks orders taken – all in all, it was a fine professional start to the night – and it was only going to get better.

The first impression one gets is the overall friendliness of all the staff. You’re almost treated like a member of the family, and, I don’t think it was being put on deliberately just for me. We were introduced to one half of the husband and wife team who built this business up from the ground nearly five years ago, Billie Lalli. A former air hostess for a major airline flying long-haul trips was a job she loved, however now reckons that she has a level of contentment she never had previously. The second half of this perfect partnership is her husband, Indy. Such is their love for this business, they run it together on a daily basis and boy do they ensure it all goes smoothly.

It’s a very slick operation with staff knowing exactly where they should be and what they should be doing. In my meagre opinion, that level of perfection is simply down to recruitment and the proper training.

Drinks duly arrived along with the obligatory poppadoms and spicy onions – nothing offensive about this taster with crispy, dry, dinner plate size poppadoms and fresh, fruity lightly spiced onions.

Now the menu – don’t expect to wander in here and then start on a ‘War & Peace’ type menu because you’ll be disappointed. It’s a two-page menu offering an excellent selection from meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetables, including gluten-free options along with options for both vegetarians and vegans – and a promise that if you have some other food allergy or intolerance the restaurant will try to provide something that meets your needs. Now that’s service above and beyond the call, and probably explains why it was so busy at the time of our visit.

I will admit now to salivating as I read the menu and found that they offered three of my favourite ingredients, king prawns, monkfish and salmon. So imagine my delight at being offered all three as tandoori cooked starters and a side order of haddock pakora just in case we got peckish part-way through! Aye right, like that’s gonna happen…

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How could a plateful of tandoori seafood starters be wrong?

A sizzling plate duly arrived piled high with goodies, so without further ado, we tucked in. There was a lot of oohs and aahs with every mouthful of tandoori delight. Cooked to perfection, this certainly showed the mark of the kitchen brigade. All too often I’ve eaten king prawn and monkfish in restaurants and they’ve been like rubber bullets, while salmon has often been dry and tasteless. Not so at Zyka. This was a plate of very well seasoned and cooked gifts from the sea – and it was fresh. You can just tell after a while when ingredients have been left for a day or two. The prawns and monkfish were sweet, succulent and tender with just the correct level of spice which still allowed the taste of the sea to shine through. Similarly, with the salmon, it flaked perfectly, was soft, just ever so slightly charred, as tandoori cooking should be, but taken out before it had gone over in terms of cooking. The haddock pakora was as good, a light, yet spicy batter wrapped around succulent and chunky pieces of beautiful white-fleshed fish. This really did bode well for the mains!

And where this restaurant wins over many similar establishments is its ability to cater for families and groups who may have a diner who doesn’t like spicy food, like my other half, who opted to eat from the grill menu. Her starter choice of spinach parcels was delayed in arriving at the table, but who cares when you know it’s being freshly prepared and not defrosted and thrown into a microwave. Two crisp patties arrived on a plate garnished with a nice side salad and a mint dip. Packed full of Mozzarella and mushroom filling they were there one minute and gone the next, so much so I never got a sniff let alone a taste.

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And it’s popular. By 7.30pm there were 56 covers being served. One point to note is there’s no rush here. Unlike some other establishments who can’t wait to present the bill and reset the table. take your time over the food, savour it and the ambience, nobody’s looking to huckle you out the door.

So starters cleared away, it was on to the mains. Again we were given a break to look at the menu – and it gave me a chance to make some notes, well, a lot of notes actually!

In order to truly sample the kitchen skills, we were supplied with four dishes, a lamb Lazeez Gosht. Tender lamb cooked with finely chopped onions with a touch of cream sauce blended together with cashew nuts and fresh ground spices. A king prawn Ceylonese Korma, a chicken Chasni and a garlic chilli chicken. Add to that a couple of bowls of Pilau rice and a pair of Naan breads – a garlic and a Peshwari, and we were set to go.

It’s difficult to truly explain to a reader the taste sensations that these dishes provided, we had sweet, spicy, tangy and all with a fragrance from the freshly prepared spices in the sauces. The lamb was a standout dish here – soft, tender, succulent, it literally melted in the mouth, and as you chewed, not that much of that was needed, yet more flavours were released. This was a taste explosion. The king prawns, like the tandoori version, were cooked again just perfectly, and there was plenty of them. It’s great to see properly sized prawns being used here. All too often I’ve reported on ‘supermarket’ prawns being substituted in this dish. My son was getting tucked into his plateful and remarked that it was the best chicken Chasni’s he’s ever had. High praise indeed from someone who spends a fair portion of his life in take-away’s. The chilli chicken had a bowl of large nuggets of chicken breast all wrapped up in a nicely spiced sauce, just the right side of hot and not so overpowering that you can’t taste anything else. It’s one of the features of Zyka that they will cook dishes according to personal preference.

Oh, and did I mention that the Naan breads are huge, chewy, slightly charred and blackened (which I love) and absolutely moreish? No, didn’t think so.

The CO had a beer battered fish and chips from the grill menu and shouldn’t have been that surprised to see a small whale arriving along with half a stone of potatoes. However, she polished the lot off, licked her lips and proclaimed she’d be back – very soon!

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The restaurant is well integrated into its local community with Billie and Indy supporting many local causes, including the use of local suppliers for all their meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.

The only problem you might find eating here is that the portion sizes are large, so do bear that in mind. It’s never been a problem for me though…

Billie and Indy Lalli are right to be so proud of what they’ve achieved in just over four years of very hard work. Their dedication to, and love for the business shines through at every turn, and seeing the number of diners should reward them with the knowledge that they’ve gotten it right.

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