Madha

42 Albion St, Glasgow

0141 552 6000

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Lunch/Dinner: £6-£25

Food rating 10/10

I TOOK note of Madha because it claims to be authentic and undoubtedly Indian, but by the time we’ve struggled through a deserted Merchant City in the midst of an undoubtedly authentic blizzard, and I’m not exaggerating, I'm beyond caring. Had Madha decided to close up early – a perfectly reasonable option in such intemperate weather – I would have thrown an ugly tantrum on the doorstep. But hallelujah, it's open, if unsurprisingly empty.

As I order, my first thought is less the likely quality of food from a kitchen quickly stoked into life than the instant heat it could generate, and this logic takes me to the soups, a category I’d generally flick past quickly. When they arrive, my obsessive search for warmth is instantly satisfied, then promptly superseded by the realisation that these are bowls of deeply aromatic gorgeousness. There’s the Kashmiri lamb shorba, earthy with saffron, possibly thickened slightly with lentils, intoxicatingly fragrant with sweet spices – clove, cardamom maybe – underpinned with meaty stock. It’s uncompromisingly piquant, but because the flavours have been so adeptly built up and melded into one symphonic whole, the pungency isn’t intrusive. The peppery rasam, a daily staple of the south Indian table, constitutes flamboyant proof that you don’t need meat broth to make an invigorating soup with depth of flavour. Bright brick red, and with a tangle of fresh tomato, corn, and garlic slices lending texture and heft to its black peppery hotness and its sharp, sour tamarind tang, it’s an exemplar of the best southern Indian cooking. Same thing goes for the idli vada, that slightly sour, fermented batter of ground rice and urad daal lentils. They’re served two ways: fluffy and steamed, and lightly fried, slightly firmer. Their sambhar (lentil sauce) is neither watery, as it can be, nor too thick, and they come with two different fresh coconut pickles.

I later discover that Madha has four chefs, two from the north of India, two from the south, so you get the best of both worlds. Our large sea bream has been slathered in a pungent spice marinade, wrapped in banana leaves (very southern), then baked in the tandoor; a more northern cooking treatment. The hot brittle leaves impart a grassy smokiness to the fish, which flakes off its bones cleanly. Then we taste the nadan addu curry, a Keralan treatment of lamb that uses roasted fresh coconut, ginger, cardamom, finished off with the distinctive perfume of fresh curry leaves sizzled in hot oil. It’s a preparation that puts to shame those lazy curry house equivalents made with pastes from a jar. The meat is so soft, the sauce so profound, so multi-layered, so patiently built. I really got to like puttu in Sri Lanka, where this steamed, ground rice and coconut cake is served with sambhar at breakfast. I guess it’s in essence a Tamil dish – one of Madha’s chefs comes from Tamil Nadu –and it’s an unusual alternative to rice that offers floury, crumbly neutrality with sweet coconut dimensions. It goes brilliantly with the lamb curry’s rich sauce.

Actually, the rice, bread, and starchy accompaniments section of the menu here is full of interest. As well as the usual nan and roti, you’ve got all the southern Indian fermented rice/starch category, which extends beyond idlis, to include palappam (a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk), and idiappam (noodles made with rice flour and steamed). And there’s refinement in the paratha category too. Our Keralan paratha is more than fodder to mop up sauce. Rolled like a spiral, it has a surprisingly complex taste and winning texture: crunchy-crisp, yielding within. It even tastes good cold, as I discover later, having taken what we don’t finish home with me. And I wouldn’t miss Madha’s homemade fresh lemon pickle. Heavens, but this is zesty stuff, a reminder of how pallid the equivalent sold in jars really is.

We finish with a delicate homemade cardamom kulfi, then an extremely modest bill appears. We can’t believe our luck. I’d be delighted to find a restaurant this good in India, yet Madha is on our doorstep.