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If it's good enough for Jay-Z... America's big rapper has given his seal of approval but what did our man MARTIN WELLS think about Haveli's' Indian tapas'?

Byline: MARTIN WELLS

Haveli,157 City Road, Roath, Cardiff CF243BQ.

Telephone:0292048 2882

SCOURGE of the Glastonbury faithful or saviour of modernmusic?

Whatever your viewof American rapper Jay-Z (that's Jay-Zee, not Jay-Zed for the uninitiated), you can't fault his taste in Indian food.

After his recent sell-out show at the Cardiff International Arena, the man who braved the wrath of the lentil brigade at the UK's premier rock festival, wanted nothing less than a buffet from newly-opened Cardiff restaurant Haveli for his after-show feast.

It was quite a coup for the chic little eaterie, part of a growing number of Indians in the capital prepared to offer something a little different and escape the confines of the flock wallpaper, the raga music and the tikka masala.

On this score, it works wonderfully.

The hoardings outside its City Road premises (formerly the City Gate) promise "Indian tapas" for goodness' sake and, paradoxically, the "real Indian experience". Does this amount to a contradiction in terms?

Well, it has the front-of-house ambience of one of those chic little bars that are springing up all along this up-and-coming part of Cardiff.

Its comfy, sink-into-me chairs are a million miles from the stiff benches normally provided while you wait to be called to your table and there's a laid back feel that's almost soporific.

This relaxed feel extends to the little garden area at the rear, featuring low-level tables and chairs. Is this a first for a Cardiff Indian? Perhaps, but this will surely inspire others.

Atmosphere, ambience and chic little touches are all very well but will Haveli - the Indian name for the grand residences of the Raj - disappear like so many before it if it can't deliver where it really counts - the food.

Thankfully, while he may have misjudged his audience at Glastonbury, Jay-Z was right on the mark with Haveli.

For "tapas" read "nibbles". The restaurant has taken the idea of Spanish snacks and adapted it for an Indian cuisine, with the effect that you can sample any number of exotic main course dishes instead of plumping for something safe and dependable, like chicken tikka masala.

It's so devilishly clever it's surprising no-one has thought of it before.

Perhaps they have... but not in an Indian we're familiar with.

Perversely, we opted not for the "tapas" but for a starter and main course.

The Channa Chat, a dish of chick peas stir-fried with chat massala spices and lemon juice was quite exquisite - gentle and refreshing while the Fish Baza - cod fillets marinated in herbs - had perfect texture and an unusual but exotic taste. Both good choices.

The Hyderabad Biriani was a shaped confection of saffron rice and tender lamb - filling but too much on the mild side, albeit delightfully presented. The Chicken Shashleek, in contrast, was a riot of colour and taste although still not as hot as my wife was expecting. In retrospect, going for the tapas (four for pounds 4.95) would have been a better option and would certainly have broadened our horizons.

Overall, the impression was of a welcome addition to the restaurant scene that has introduced interesting innovations and variations on a theme.

Whatever its approach, it's doing something right.

In addition to Jay-Z, the broader Asian community has taken the newcomer to its heart and on the night we visited Haveli played host to a spectacular Indian hen party, the bride-to-be and her entourage as colourful and ebullient as the food they were tucking into.

And while Jay-Z may not be back in the foreseeable future, we certainly will.

CAPTION(S):

Echo man Martin Wells, and American rapper Jay-Z - both fans of Haveli's food
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 16, 2008
Words:608
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