KoolBa holds an accolade very few others will ever attain – ‘Best Curry Restaurant in Britain’. And having eaten there now I can see exactly why they’ve walked away with that top award.
The Persian/Indian restaurant is located in the heart of the Merchant City in an area known as Candleriggs, which is easily accessed from all forms of public transport. There is limited on-street parking at the front of the building, but just a five minute walk away there is a sizeable off-street pay and display car park on Ingram Street.
On entering we were met by Nazem, an exceptionally professional and friendly manager, who really was the epitome of a Maitre d’. Shown to our table, jackets were promptly whisked away, menus delivered and daily specials explained.
The main dining area comprises a mix of booths and window tables in a setting that harks back to a different era. Stone walls, distressed tile and wood, silk roof hangings, candles and stained glass lamps all reminiscent of the Ottoman empire.
Interestingly KoolBa translates from the Persian as ‘small cottage’ and you know, this restaurant has managed to capture that ambience perfectly.
Disabled visitors are well catered for here with good ramped access. Inside the restaurant, there is room to manoeuvre a wheelchair which can be accommodated at a window table, however, given how busy the place is, I would suggest you make a reservation in advance.
And now to the food. We started with the obligatory poppadoms and a mix of dips. These include a raita, spicy onions, mango chutney and a curry veg. The poppadoms were light, crispy and a good size, with not a hint of oiliness about them – just the way they should be. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been served up an oil-dripping excuse for a poppadom. The dips were home-made, as one would expect, with the mango chutney being the best I’ve tasted – sweet, sticky and a little spice to provide a kick mmmm! The spicy onions had the right amount of kick to them, and the raita was something special. A mix of yoghurt, cucumber, red onion, tomato and olive oil – delightful.
Next up was the garlic mushroom chaat. This was served with a chapati to help mop up what was a deliciously creamy garlic sauce coating the copious amount of thinly sliced mushrooms. The sweetness of this dish threw me at first as I was expecting something more savoury, but it certainly wasn’t an unpleasant surprise. We also opted for the chickpea poori which is an unleavened deep-fried Indian bread upon which was a dollop of succulent and soft chickpeas dressed in a slightly tangy and fruity tomato-based sauce. Again these were both winners with plates wiped clean – quite literally – with the remaining poori and the chapati.
Following the starters, we were advised there would be a 10-minute delay as the BBQ wasn’t yet up to temperature for cooking my daughters choice of kebabs. No problem, as it provided us with the perfect opportunity to peruse the drinks menu and the good range of both craft and bottled beers. KoolBa says it prides itself on cooking all their dishes to order and it was nice to see the authenticity of that statement by way of the BBQ delay.
So, with the break over the mains duly arrived. As I touched on earlier, my daughter, who insisted upon telling everyone it was a daddy/daughter date night had chosen from the Persian section of the menu with a duo of kebabs (Majestic Kebab). One chicken and the second being a minced lamb, served with a dressed side salad and a bowl of Basmati rice.
The chicken kebab was flavoured with a mix of herbs which the restaurant refused to divulge the details of, even with me offering huge inducements! Daughter dearest said it was the tenderest and succulent chicken she’d ever tasted and it didn’t last long. Similarly, with the minced lamb. This was no Donner meat that you and I know as the one we attack on a Friday night out after 22 pints. It was just as tender as the chicken, nicely spiced and well matched with the mint dressing served on the side. She said these are legendary as far as kebabs go! Fine praise indeed.
My choice was a king prawn Ceylonese Korma. Now I’m going to let you into a wee secret right now – I think this must have been the dish that won them that award because it’s the best one I’ve ever tasted! Sweet, succulent and tender seafood with five of the biggest Atlantic prawns. So different from the usual supermarket imposters. The sauce was as it is supposed to be, creamy, sweet and with a hint of coconut which wasn’t overpowering, and surprisingly light, despite the cream base to this dish. Be aware the tail of the prawn shell is still on and don’t do as I did and crunch down.
My accompaniment of a mushroom rice was served in a good-sized bowl, but wasn’t so large it swamped everything. Talk about light and fluffy – if I didn’t know better I’d have said that the kitchen had a wee commis chef sitting there during service with a bicycle pump just fluffing rice. Mine simply never comes close to this. And to top all this off was a Peshwari Nan. It just seems that KoolBa can’t do anything wrong. Well puffed up, a blackened crisp to the edges and filled with a delightfully sweet coconut sugar paste filling – none of that horrible pink stuff you usually find.
The restaurant uses local suppliers where possible with all meat and fish/seafood being sourced from throughout Scotland.
The staff, all uniformed as you’d expect, were very attentive, informal and pleasant. You were treated more as a friend than a paying diner. It was a nice change.
Sattah, the owner, sort of floats about the restaurant with an overarching eye on service just making sure that nothing is left to chance, tables are regularly cleaned down, empty glasses removed and diners are given the opportunity to ask for assistance when required.
Having eaten here now I can see why it was a well-deserved win in 2015 for KoolBa and their head chef Shabo and his kitchen brigade.
For those who can manage it – desserts were a choice of ice creams, locally sourced home made New Lanark Ice Cream Company versions, chocolate fudge cake, baklava or, in the case of our visit, sticky toffee pudding. Even here they excelled. A lighter-than-air sponge cake drizzled with a buttery toffee sauce and a dollop of that homemade vanilla ice cream meant that I had to be rolled home!
For me, it simply has to be a 10/10 for an amazing dining experience.