Balti (which in Urdu, Hindi and Bengali means "bucket") is a term for a deep, circular iron or steel pot, also known as a karahi, used in the cooking of northern Kashmir and Pakistan. The name may or may not also be related to the province of Baltistan, but there is some debate about that. If a dish is served at the table directly in the karahi/balti then these dishes are termed "balti", at least in Birmingham. In London the term "karahi" is more common. Seemingly the first restaurant to coin the balti phrase was Adil's in Sparkbrook, which opened in 1977.
These days it is a brightly lit restaurant next to an off-licence, which I mention since the restaurant itself does not serve alcohol, but customers are welcome to bring in their own booze without charge. Popadoms were crisp and served with a range of chutneys including quite a spicy mango chutney. To start with an onion bhajee was good, avoiding flouriness in the batter and having plenty of onion flavour. It was served with a rather sad little salad without dressing, but the bhajia itself was good (12/20). This was much better than fish tikka, the tilapia being overcooked and rather dried out, served with the same poor salad (10/20).
For the main course, prawn biryani came in an iron utensil perilously resembling the trays that prison food is served in, at least in movies. The rice separated from the prawn curry by the partition of the tray. The rice was pretty good, fairly aromatic and properly cooked, but although the prawns were tender the sauce was rather oily (just about 12/20). My balti dish was garlic chilli chicken, which had small pieces of meat in rich gravy lavishly spiced with green chillies. Both this and the biryani were surprisingly spicy. Although you encounter quite fierce levels of chilli heat in Thailand, on my twenty visits to India I have actually not come across any dishes that were especially hot - the desire to sear the mouth with chilli heat seems to be a peculiarly English one. Anyway the dish was pleasant, though I am glad that I did not order any of the dishes marked as extra spicy (12/20).
On the side, aloo gobi had both cauliflower and potato that was cooked a little too long, though it was certainly acceptable (11/20). Naan bread was reasonable if a touch hard in texture (11/20). Although they offer desserts here, the kitchen does not make them. We made the mistake of trying the carrot halwa with almond kulfi, which was pretty bad. The kulfi in particular had hardly any flavour at all (8/20).
The bill came to £19 each, which is probably a pretty average cost for three courses. The waiters were friendly, if a touch distracted by the football match in the television by the entrance. Over Adil's is a harmless enough experience, and interesting from an historical perspective, since the balti term certainly caught on widely after it was introduced here. Objectively the food is merely pleasant, but modestly priced.
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