Tuesday 26 January 2016
Birmingham born Aktar Islam is one of the leading figures of modern Indian cuisine in the UK. Since opening his flagship restaurant Lasan in 2002 aged just 22, the self-taught chef has acquired numerous accolades, and a national profile from appearances on TV shows such as Gordon Ramsay’s F Word (where Lasan won the show’s Best Local Restaurant competition) and Great British Menu.
Islam got something of a head start in the industry with a grandfather and father who both owned and ran restaurants. By the age of 13, he was already working in the family business after learning the fundamentals of authentic Indian food at his mother’s side from an early age.
Birmingham’s restaurant scene is especially well known for two things: curry and fine dining. Usually, you’d have to go to the world famous Balti Triangle south of the city to find the former and the centre to find the latter. But you’ll find both tucked away down a side street in the historic Jewellery Quarter in the form of the sleek and modern Lasan. Just as the minimalist interior is a million miles from the flock wallpaper cliché of the British curry house, so the food shatters preconceptions of what Indian food can be. Dishes such as the signature Elaichi beef are beautifully presented, use the finest British produce and are lighter and healthier than you could dare hope for.
Perhaps because he hasn’t been indoctrinated by working for other chefs, Islam takes a questioning approach to cooking, honouring his cultural heritage and India’s regional cuisines but always finding new ways to apply traditional techniques to create a more refined result. So he might lightly roast venison rather than stewing it and serve it with a spice infused gravy that allows the flavour of the meat to sing out.
With accolades such as the British Curry Awards three years in a row safely under his belt, Islam has built the Lasan Group (with business partner Jabbar Khan) into a diverse portfolio of Birmingham restaurants that now includes Raja Monkey, an ‘Indian street food cafe’ serving familiar dishes like dosa, thali and biryani, Fiesta del Asado with its range of Argentinian-style steaks and the newly opened Nosh and Quaff specialising in American food. It seems there’s nothing this talented autodidact can’t turn his hand to and you can only wonder what he’ll do next.
Aktar Islam's Obsession 16 Menu:
TO WHET THE APPETITE - PANI PUREE - WHEAT PUFF, CHEVDA, SHOT OF TAMARIND
AMUSE - LAMB BROTH, LOLLIPOP, TARTARE
Pinot Grigio, Specogna, Veneto, Italy, 2012
CHUKKANDAR - LUCKNOWI CURD TIKKI, TEXTURES OF BEETROOT, QUINOA
KEKADA - SOFT SHELL CRAB, CARAWAY BATTER, TOMATO CHUTNEY, DRESSED CRAB, APPLE, MANGO
Viognier Les Vignes d’à Côté, Yves Cuilleron, Rhône Valley, France, 2014
BENGALI BROTH - HALIBUT, CREVETTE, SCALLOP, OCTOPUS, POTATO, GREENS, TOMATO AND INDIAN OLIVE BROTH
Alvarinho Soalheiro, Primeiras Vinhas, Antonio Esteves Ferreira, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 2013
DALCHA - BRAISED CHEEK PAKORA, MARINATED FILLET, LENTILS, KOHLRABI, BONE MARROW NIHARI SAUCE, YORKIE NAANS
Gran Reserva, Prado Enea, Bodegas Muga, Rioja, Spain, 2005
PRE DESSERT - ICED YOGHURT & CARDAMOM PARFAIT, MARINATED FRUITS
DESSERT - WARM CHOCOLATE FONDANT SPICED WITH CUMIN, WHITE CHOCOLATE SORBET, PASSION FRUIT CREMEAX