Rocking up at what looked remarkably like a roadside 'greasy spoon' (complete with garish neon signage), it's fair to say that our group's first impression of Al's Tikka Grill was unanimously underpinned with a sense of realisation that the purpose of the penny-pinching print-out that we had purchased – with which we were entitled to dine at six quid a head - had been nothing more than a crude attempt to encourage bums on seats. I mean, although this is pretty much standard when it comes to the overall premise of these online 'daily deals', there are times when it becomes increasingly apparent why an eatery has opted to 'sell its soul' to this scheme...Yet, swallowing this shameless cynicism and trying not to judge a book by its cover - as well as resisting the urge to shoot accusing glances at the pal responsible for this particular choice of venue - we made our way into what incidentally *is* a greasy spoon, though for all intents and purposes, doubles up as an Indian restaurant by night...
Date and Time: Sunday 2nd September 2012, 7:30pm
Name of Establishment: Al's Tikka Grill*
Location: 33 Ashton Road, Bristol
Reason for visit: Beer and curry night with the boys
With earthen-effect tiles underfoot, minimal décor and a cheerful colour scheme, Al's Tikka Grill is a modest establishment which, although a little rough around the edges (yes, we're talking a trek through a dirty courtyard to a poorly lit outside toilet), is fundamentally remedied with a relaxed, almost homely ambiance; facilitated in the first instance by the the warm welcome received from Al and his team. In fact there is something almost endearing about the quirky (albeit rather random) touches about the space; the dominant presence of Shilpa Shetti for instance, whose life-sized portrait smiled down upon our table - as authentically Indian perhaps, as the subtly-pitched soundtrack that tinkled overhead.
On to the fare and given that we had spent what seemed like hours in front of the football prior to our 7:30pm reservation, we were unsurprisingly ravenous. Yet before ordering, we had to tend to the important business of dishing out the beers which, bought in as per the BYO policy, inadvertently delayed dining due to the detour to North Street that became necessary upon discovering that the nearest off-licence wasn't within walking distance – sigh! Minus this momentary set-back however, service was quick and efficient and despite the fact that we were entitled to a starter, main and a side each as part of the aforementioned voucher (cue a whole lotta' umm-ing and ahh-ing as the decision process unfolded), Al's friendly, upbeat attitude coupled with his knowledge of the menu, certainly sped up what could have otherwise proved a rather painful process! And with the table set – complete with warmed plates from Stoke on Trent (as one of its proud former inhabitants was quick to point out to five rather bemused faces) - the pickles and poppadoms made an entrance, shortly followed by our starters. For me, the onion bhajis (£2.95) which despite looking the part - generously portioned alongside a crisp-looking salad and a palate-cleansing raita – were disappointingly dry and floury in terms of their disposition. I also thought that the onion content should have been a little more evenly distributed as unpleasant chunkage made for a number of overpowering mouthfuls that, quite frankly, I could have done without! Others were rather more complimentary on the subject of what they had ordered; the Tandoori Chicken (£3.60) described by one of my dining companions as succulently textured and expertly seasoned.
When it came to the main event, the Chicken Tikka Masala (£7.25) was on fine form and, given that this is my consistent curry of choice, I consider myself something of an expert when it comes to what constitutes a good or bad effort. In this case, though characteristically creamy and full of flavour, I noted that the dish had been set a click or two above the usual level of spiciness which for me, was actually a bonus and yet could have proven problematic had I been of a weaker constitution! Others reported similar findings; the Chicken Jalfrayzi (£6.20) marrying whole green chillis with its distinctive contrast of sweet and sour and the Rezellah (£6.20) making its recipients' eyes water! The latter was reportedly a well-balanced ensemble in that its fiery attributes gave way to the intricate fragrance beneath and yet, I'm told, 'certainly not a choice for the faint hearted'! It later transpired that had we consulted the website prior to our visit, we would have known to ask the kitchen staff to tailor the pungency of each dish to suit our individual preferences – something to remember for next time perhaps....That said, dishes were predominantly well-received; proving rich, tasty and with an ample ratio of meat to sauce. Furthermore, pilau rice was served in abundance and of the sundries chosen, the peshwari naan proved the most popular - in my view not the best I've tasted, but well-executed nevertheless with that wonderful combination of sweet, earthy almond and the zing of juicy sultanas – yum! I will suggest however that there is a need to address the saltiness of the cuisine overall as judging from the raging thirst that plagued me long into the evening, the kitchen staff had fared a little sprinkle happy on this occasion!
In conclusion, the gang and I had an enjoyable evening at Al's – the boys joked about returning for a full English the following day in order to authenticate the review. Something which I'm sure would have made for interesting reading but was certainly not an experience that I'd be quick to endure; even for the good of the blog! In fact, I'm not sure (if I'm being completely honest) that I can see myself visiting again in any capacity given that I'm spoilt for choice, a lot closer to home, with a number of first-class curry houses. Subsequently, the likes of Downend's Tamarind*, the Sunday 'all-you-can-eat' extravaganza at Staple Hill's Curry Supreme and, of course, my trusty take-out; Kingswood's Curry Kings* really doesn't warrant this jaunt across town. That said, you really can't knock the faultless service, value for money and laid-back atmosphere at Al's – which the distinct lack of clientèle really didn't do any justice. Thus, although there is room for improvement, it's nothing that running a tighter ship (and smartening up one's premises) couldn't fix and I have no doubt that with Al at the helm, the need for bums on seats could become a thing of the past; perhaps even shunning the need to satisfy the breakfast rush in favour of a focus on a first-rate curry crusade!
And now for the second opinion....
A fellow diner gave Al's Tikka Grill a rating of 7/10 and in three words, described the venue as ‘unique’ and the fare, ‘flavoursome’ and ‘good-value’.