Dalkeith is on the other side of the Edinburgh by-pass from me. It’s not a place I go to on a regular basis as I don’t drive and am rather city-centred. Last week, however, I, intrepid explorer that I am, went to Dalkeith to visit Itihaas, a Bangladeshi and Indian restaurant. I’m glad that I did.
Indian dining has come a long way from the curry houses I first visited when I came to Edinburgh, and so has my palate. In Stockholm, where I grew up, there weren’t many Indian restaurants but one of the best (no longer there) was just across the road from me. There, I learned the joy of spice and started a long love-affair with naan and full-on aromatic spices. In Edinburgh, I came to appreciate pickles, raita, pakoras and the green joy that is methi. Still, it wasn’t until the first Indian restaurants that cooked for the dining crowd, as opposed to the cheerful night-out crowd, started making a serious push in Edinburgh, about 10 years ago, that my eyes were opened to Indian food properly. At its best, it is subtle, varied, interesting and deeply satisfying. A lot like my meal at Itihaas.
Itihaas sits on a corner and has huge windows but you can’t really see inside the restaurant from the outside so the welcoming space comes as a pleasant surprise. It is calm, with warm tones of red ochre, brown and wood, with red and copper highlights. Crisp white table cloths are welcoming and the tall chairs very comfortable. We sat next to the window but thanks to a discrete wood blinds meant that we didn’t feel exposed. The service was friendly from the moment we walked in the door. When we were seated and perusing the menus, we accepted a suggestion of poppadoms with alacrity.
I love poppadoms, partly because they come with pickles. I like a mixed pickle, and I enjoy onion chutney (or minted onions). Mango chutney, I mostly don’t get: too much like jam. Not at Itihaas, though. Their mango chutney had depth of flavour and wasn’t jammy clear, but murky with nigella seeds and other spices. Lovely. The mixed pickle was even better. Clever people know when to stop. I don’t. I continue picking and snacking on poppadoms until they are finished or removed and the starter lands. Mmm.
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We both had puris, which was bad planning but also interesting. I had the king prawn puri and C. the channa puri. The dish gets its name from the puffed bread that filling is served in. The filling is usually a sweet and sour, tomato-based sauce that works particularly well with chickpeas but gets a different dimension when served with king prawn. The bread was luscious: puffy, flaky, sweet with ghee and wheat. The sauce was tangy and rich, and the difference between the chickpea and the king prawn version was marked.
There were a good selection of vegetarian dishes. Some are well known favourites, some I’d never heard of. I swithered between methi gosht and garlic fish before opting for shatkora lamb. Shatkora is a Bangladeshi citrus fruit (citrus macroptera) with a thick, bitter rind. In my mind, I ordered lamb smothered in lime pickle. What I got was just as delicious but a lot more subtle than that. Shatkora isn’t a very juicy fruit but the rind has all the aromatic and bitter qualities of a lime. Pieces of the fruit – imported especially since these are not fruits you can buy in the nearest supermarket – mixed in the sauce with the lamb. It was a pleasure to hunt out the fruit, slice the pieces and have a bit with each mouthful of lamb. I really enjoyed having something Bangladeshi and discovering a rare ingredient.
C., meanwhile, had the channa masallam – because you cannot have too many chickpeas – which was a tad hotter and more sour than my dish. It was good. With our mains we had pilau rice and stuffed paratha which was a first for C. and an instant favourite. It’s a meal in itself. Both were good. We also had a tarka dahl that was lovely. I like to focus on the main dish and not dilute it with rice or bread because no matter how good they all are, there’s only so much space in my stomach and I’d rather have focus on lamb and glorious shatkora (now that I know about it). I wish I could have eaten more dahl, though. It was perfect.
I finished with gulab jaman. Ah. I love gulab jaman. Balls made from milk solids are deep fried and then left to rest in a tooth-achingly sweet syrup flavoured with rose water and cardamom. The result is glisteningly delicious. They look simple but I looked up the recipe, and they’re not, not if you make them from scratch. Gulab jaman manage to be soothing and exciting at the same time. I love them. At Itihaas they are served with ice cream (or cream, if you prefer) and dashes of rose syrup.
The restaurant was quite busy when we were there, it was a Thursday night and I can imagine that it’s a popular retreat after a busy evening late night shopping. Itihaas is a relaxing restaurant with great food and service. We’ve got friends in Humbie, not far from Dalkeith, and are hoping to see them in Itihaas soon.
Itihaas have won several rewards, were nominated for the 2012 British Curry Awards, and offer take away and catering as well as a dining experience. On Thursday evenings, they offer Indian tapas – taster sized dishes, and on Sundays a buffet.
17 – 19 Eskbank Road
Dalkeith, EH22 1HD
Telephone: 0131 663 9800