Address: George Hudson St
Average curry price: £4.50
Surely we had come to the wrong place. There must be multiple Akbar’s in York. This place oozed class. The decor was a chic society-wedding of aubergine walls, gleaming cream floor tiles, and brown leather chairs. This was no student-sustaining curry trough. Could this possibly be the great-value curry house I had been recommended? There were origami napkins, people in suits discussing money, and everything was clean. As we entered other diners glanced at us with vague disdain, before silently agreeing with their companions that we had aimed for Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat, and missed. Our usual conversation on escalating Rizla prices and the resurgence of toilet-humour would certainly not be tolerated here. Well it was.
The truth is there is a most welcome discrepancy between the quality of dinner at Akbar’s and the wallet wound it inflicts. Our waiter was brusque and businesslike; he demanded our orders, scoffing slightly when we asked to see a wine list, and looking triumphant upon its return seconds later. But I didn’t really notice the quality or speed of service, which always augurs well. Choosing is the only chore at Akbar’s. A double-decker super menu daunts the indecisive.
You start with poppadoms. They were poppadoms. More note-worthy were the dips, however, which are easily overlooked and undervalued. A sprightly mint and yogurt offering and a fiery tomato neighbour. A solid start.
Akbar’s being a Baltistani restaurant, I thought it common-sensical to order the Akbar-e-balti, with lamb and chicken. It was a seething cauldron of sauce and meat and meat, but somehow, within this flavour volcano all the elements were perfectly cooked. Mushrooms and onions maintained an honest crunch and sprightly flavour beside the chilli and coriander, and not only were both chicken and lamb pieces moist and delicious, but you could tell them apart. I became sated but not stuffed; my taste buds titillated not torched. One of my companions managed to order the only dish in the world not listed on the menu. It was called saag paneer. Memorable. A garlicky thicket of spinach concealed generous outcrops of paneer cheese which, though mild, was far from meek, infused with citric tang. Even a friend’s vindaloo, though not taking any prisoners, impressed without overpowering.
The naan merits a paragraph. Still warm and streaming with ghee, these bespoke monsters arrive suspended from metal hooks, and fly like golden flags above the clutter and cutlery of your table. Multipurpose, they are both a talking point, and can serve, if adroitly positioned, to obscure an irritating fellow diner entirely from view.
A cup of delicately smoked Kashmiri tea later, I had to part with roughly fifteen pounds. Etiquette was challenged when my acquaintances sought to reclaim a tip from the waiter, but no matter. I was full of rich, fresh, good food, and perfectly contented.