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Jalsa Tandoori restaurant, Conwy.

TASTE TEST HOT and spicy or mild and creamy, I love Indian food, which is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, so when I heard that an exciting new Asian eaterie had recently opened in Conwy, naturally I was eager to try it out.

Specialising in authentic, affordable and delicious dishes from Bangladesh and neighbouring Bengal, Jalsa Tandoori Restaurant and Takeaway opened last August and in just a few short months has taken the medieval walled town by storm.

Located close to the top end of Castle Street within a stone's throw of the mighty castle built in the late l3th century by King Edward 1, the new independently owned eating place is packing in the customers every night of the week.

Local B&B owners are even recommending it to their guests and some people claim it's the best Indian restaurant in the area. Well goodness gracious me!

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the saying goes, as my husband Hugh and I set out with great expectations to put this rising star to the test.

Parking is difficult at all times in Castle Street, but for once luck was with us and we found a vacant spot almost opposite the restaurant. Arriving exactly on time, we stepped straight from the chilly street into an oasis of warmth and tantalising aromas.

Small, bright and spotlessly clean, with smart contemporary decor, comfortable tables and chairs and a gleaming kitchen that can be seen from the restaurant, Jalsa is managed with charm and efficiency by manager Syed and his team, who are very friendly and knowledgeable about the exotic bill of fare.

Although it was a weeknight the restaurant was very busy, already almost full with couples and families with children. I had pre-booked, advisable at all times as seating is limited to 10 -12 tables, and we were greeted warmly by Syed who quickly led us to our table.

Jalsa is not licensed, so customers are invited to bring their own alcoholic drinks - and the good news is that there is no corkage charge .An off licence is nearby if you forget.

I do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, so earlier in the day I bought a small bottle of Australian chardonnay from a local supermarket and Hugh treated himself to a can of Fosters lager, topped up with house lemonade The menu is pretty impressive, with some very interesting dishes not often found locally. There is a great choice of house specials, classic dishes, grilled tikka and tandoori dishes, traditional curries of various strength including fiery madras and vindaloo, plus vegetarian options and several types of naan bread. What more could you ask for? A tempting array of 21 starters are available, all served with salad and mint sauce. These range in price from PS3.50 for an onion bhaji or veg and meat samosa to PS7.50 for a Jalsa sizzler mix for 2, which is almost a complete meal in itself.

I couldn't help overhearing one of the diners on the next table praising his starter - chicken liver tikka ie chicken liver pan fried in olive oil flavoured with onion, roasted herbs and spices, which he said tasted absolutely delicious.

A must for next time, I thought, as I had already ordered a poppadum and pickle tray. Minutes later this arrived, fresh and crispy from the oven, with generous amounts of sweet chilli chutney, mango chutney, fiery lime pickle and mixed onion salad.

Hugh was equally pleased with his choice - a beautifully presented dish of mushrooms cooked in garlic and coriander with a fresh green salad.

"Lovely flavour, light and refreshing and the garlic is not overpowering," he said happily.

We both decided to choose mains from the premier selection, which offered a choice of 12 unusual sounding dishes, most of which I hadn't heard of before, including Shahi Mirchi Masala, Lahori Tarka, Chicken Saffron, Rezala and Gosht Pata. All were conveniently priced at PS8.95.

On Syed's recommendation I opted for Mughal chicken.

An historic and not too spicy dish that was said to be a favourite of the Mughal emperors, it consisted of off the bone tandoori chicken cooked in a tangy sauce containing a hint of cream, with minced lamb and a medium masala.

Piping hot with an intense decadent flavour, this royal confection ticked all the right boxes and I shall certainly order it again.

My other half said he would try something different and thoroughly enjoyed his choice of kofta khana, a rich dish consisting of minced lamb balls, deep fried with mixed peppers, potatoes and coriander with a little cream. This came in a bhuna sauce made with onion, tomatoes and spices.

We shared a portion of pilau rice and gave our respective meals full marks for flavour, presentation and size.

Realising there was a gap in the market for a genuine Bangladeshi restaurant in the area, Jalsa was opened last August by a Bangladeshi family who moved to North Wales a few years ago from the curry capital of Bradford.

It was an instant hit and now has a strong local following, boosted by visitors to the town. Already ranked number l Indian in a 25 mile radius of Conwy, the restaurant serves predominantly Bangladesh food with the addition of popular Indian and Pakistani dishes.

These are created enthusiastically by head chef Mujib, who prides himself on the authenticity, originality and high quality of his dishes, which are a combination of time honoured and modern.

Traditional spices are freshly ground in house and soon it is hoped to introduce exciting new dishes using local seafood.

Jalsa is an ancient Arabic word with many interpretations - it can mean enjoyment, going out with friends or a social get together.

Manager Syed prefers to think of it as a gathering for food and enjoyment - a pretty good definition, I think, of this little gem of a restaurant which is a welcome addition to Conwy and one that I feel sure is here to stay.

JULIE RICHARDS-WILLIAMS THE FACTS THE BILL Poppadum and pickles: PS3.65 Garlic mushrooms: PS3.50 Kofta Khana: PS8.95 Mughal chicken: PS8.95 Pilau rice: PS2.50 Total: PS27.55 THE FACTS Service: Fast, friendly and helpful. Disabled access: Good and toilet facilities Parking: Possible on opposite side of road. Public pay car park around corner.

Overall: Lively and informal atmosphere; Prices very reasonable; Bring your own drinks; Pre-booking advisable.

Opening hours: 5-10pm seven days a week.

Jalsa Tandoori Restaurant and Takeaway, 31 Castle Street, Conwy, LL32 8AY. Tel: 01492 573999
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 3, 2018
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