And the world didn’t stop spinning on its axis when I called in for an unbooked Monday evening supper. A restaurant directly opposite, Himalaya Tandoori, had originally been the objective of my enquiry. But Dilraz looked more inviting and more welcoming; the room was full whereas Himalaya was empty and I was intrigued to find out why. What did the locals of Bridgnorth know about Dilraz that I didn’t. Turns out, not much.
Bridgnorth is a curious town for diners. You’d imagine that it might match the standards frequently shown in nearby Ludlow and Shrewsbury. After all, it has a reasonably affluent demograph, it’s easy for commuters to reach from the Black Country, Staffordshire and the rest of Shropshire. It’s a pretty town, much beloved by day trippers. It is, in many ways, the sort of town that should have a thriving restaurant scene. A few have tried to raise the bar, to lift standards above the normal flotsam and jetsam of burger bars, curry houses and the like.
Simon Syzmanski, the former number two to TV’s Michelin-starred Yummy Brummie, Glynn Purnell, opened a restaurant a decade ago called Nomis. It stuttered as quickly as you can say: “Simon, your money just went down the tubes.” The former Ludlow cook, Will Holland, looked to take on those premises after Simon’s failure but baulked after running into legal difficulties. And there’s been nothing to really inspire the senses every since. Decent, fair-to-middling – yes. But nothing that makes diners drive miles and miles with eager anticipation.
Mondays are only marginally better than death in the restaurant trade. Most sensible operators close for the day as locals go back to work, get over a weekend’s feasting and save their money until Friday, Saturday and Sunday comes around. Dilraz, however, was the most inviting restaurant in town with a warm dining room and shop windows that revealed a pretty full house.
When I walked in, the greeting from a youthful waiter was exceptional and the service he subsequently provided helped earn the restaurant an extra mark. Without him, it would have been utterly unremarkable. It’s strange how service can make a mediocre meal feel better than it really is.
The interior at Dilraz is decent. While too many curry houses get away with living in the 1970s or 1980s, Dilraz have spent a few quid on a sleek, modern design that’s all black and burnished copper. It’s a little bit like being inside a late night whirly gig; God knows how people feel after they’re six pints of Cobra in. They’ve made the effort, happily, which is more than some do.
I started with the obligatory poppadoms. A too-sweet mango puree provided zero cubes of mango and was mostly sugar and syrup; the mint and yoghurt was perfectly passable with peppery onions that bit back.
First up was a chicken chaat. It was reasonably good. The slick of oil that fills many plates – like a culinary Exxon Valdez – was happily absent. The flavours were mild and a little underwhelming. The roti was decent; disgustingly doughy and filling, just like it ought to be, while a few shredded strands of iceberg lettuce and pomegranate seeds were less offensive than the awful salads that most curry houses get away with. Small pieces of cucumber had been added to the chaat mix at the last minute, providing a natural coolant – the gastronomic version of Triple QX – and the dish was enjoyable.
The main was less delightful. Chicken pathia ought to have been hot and sour but the flavours were somehow muted; it was like watching TV in black and white rather than colour. The chicken had been cut into pieces of different size, so the large chunks were delightfully cooked to a pleasing tender, moistness. The thinner, smaller pieces were like the soles sold by Timpsons. Not good. Basmati rice was fine; fluffy and speckled with colour.
The desserts did nothing to sell themselves and I called it a night after two courses and snacky little poppadoms.
Dilraz had been pleasant and reasonable but ultimately underwhelming. It hadn’t done anything to persuade a return visit. The service was the most impressive element, hoiking the score up by a point, and the interiors were reasonably pretty. But other than that there wasn’t much to write home about.
Mediocrity is the hardest gig when it comes to critiquing restaurants. Stick a reviewer in a hateful, inept, unclean restaurant and words fall like raindrops in a hurricane. The faults appear bigger than the Empire State. Every little failing feels somehow amplified. At the other end of the spectrum, the best restaurants sing like a choir. Food is stuff from the Gods, cocktails taste like angel’s tears; everything is rapture.
The mid-market, however, is light drizzle on an autumn day. It’s rain in Manchester, a slow train in London, a congested drive to work. It’s the second best CD, the one you didn’t really want; it’s a dress or suit that doesn’t quite fit; it’s a tiny piece of grit in a shoe. Which is to say; there’s nothing so bad that it’s time to get worked up – the food isn’t the equal of a Fed Ex parcel that’s been infuriatingly delayed by 14 days – it’s just meh, so-so, am I bovvered. And that, my friends, is where we’re at with Dilraz. Damned by faint praise, rather than out and out criticism. Great service, nice interior, fair prices and OK food.
After paying the bill and eating the cloying, sticky After Eight, I wondered again why the place was full on a Monday evening when others were struggling for trade. And the only answer I could find was this: I really don’t know.
Sweet chilli garlic king prawns £5.50
Dilraz special starter £4.95
Mushroom janter £4.50
Paneer tikka £6.95
Tandoori king prawn tawa £11.95
Lamb balti £7.95
Aloo gobi £3.25
Sag aloo £3.25
Mushroom bhajee £3.25
63 Whitburn St, Bridgnorth WV16 4QP