22-24 Prospect Street, Caversham, Reading, RG4 8JG, United Kingdom

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Clays has been operating in Reading since 2018, but moved from the centre to Caversham in February 2023. It is the creation of the husband-and-wife team Sharat and Nandana Syamala (originally from Hyderabad), who lead the kitchen and the front of house. It is a large property, and despite having quite well-spaced tables the restaurant can comfortably seat a hundred diners at a time. For those coming by car, there is a back entrance to the restaurant that opens to a small car park. Although the parking is charged, on the night that we went the tariff was £1.20 for up to 14 hours, which even by my standards is long enough for dinner. 

The menu is quite different from a regular high street curry place, featuring dishes like chepala pulusu, a cod dish from Andhra Pradesh, and venison bhuna. There are also changing regional specialities from around India – Uttar Pradesh was featured when I visited, with dishes like shalgam gosht (mutton with turnips). There was a short but thoughtful wine list, with plenty of Rieslings and lighter red wines that go well with spice. The 30 bottles ranged in price from £27 to £65 with a median price of £42 and an average markup to retail of just 2.2 times, which is fair by any standards. Examples were Riesling Magnus Staffelter Hof from Mosel at £37 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £20, Domaine Garneier Chablis at £49 for a bottle that retails at £32, and Daniel Bouland Morgon Beaujolais at £44 for a bottle that will set you back £30 in a shop.

There were even a couple of dessert wines, the Innocent Bystander Moscato Sparkling (£30 v £12 retail) and Coteaux de Layon Atomes Crochus 2020 made from Chenin Blanc (£38 compared to £18 retail). Adding the vintages would be helpful, but this was otherwise a well-put-together wine list. For beer, as well as Estrella Dam lager there was a set of locally brewed beers from Siren Craft Brew in Wokingham.

The rice crackers in place of popadoms were an unusual touch, but they were fine and were quite crisp, unlike some versions. We began with cabbage bhajia, which was superb. This fried dish was quite unlike the soggy, greasy onion bhajais that we have all encountered over the years at high street Indian restaurants – these were light, crisp and full of flavour (15/20). Also very good was a trio of tandoori lamb chops (£16), cooked pink in the tandoor and having absorbed plenty of flavour from their spicy marinade (14/20). Lehsun ke jinghe (£15.50) was a trio of large prawns cooked with garlic, butter, black mustard seed paste and green chillies; the prawns were nicely cooked and their flavour was lifted nicely by the mustard seeds and gentle kick of chilli (14/20). 

Menthi kura kodi chicken (£18) was pleasant, with a dark sauce that certainly had fenugreek flavour along with the onions and spices, though I think some versions elsewhere, such as that at Delhi Social, have the edge (13/20). I also tasted a little of the venison bhuna, a dry curry that was tender and had plenty of flavour (14/20). Bhindi (£8) was fried and was pleasingly dry and crisp, served with a few peanuts and fried onions, the okra avoiding the sogginess that so often affects most versions of bhindi in the UK (15/20). Fried potatoes (£7) were cooked with black spice powder (nalla karam) and were also good (14/20). Kaju ka masala (£18) was a buttery curry originally from Lucknow, flavoured with cashew nuts, tomatoes, cream and spices (13/20). We tried a couple of breads (£4), a plain paratha, which had very good texture, and a methi roti, which was made from whole wheat flour flavoured with fenugreek leaves, and was unusual and a little denser than the paratha. The rice, both plain and pilau, was fine.

We somehow managed to try a couple of desserts after all this. Mango sorbet (£6) was genuinely good (easily 14/20), light and refreshing with excellent texture and flavour. Apricot Delight (£7) was a Hyderabad recipe of vanilla sponge cake, apricot custard and pistachio laced with saffron (and for reasons that elude me, a couple of glace cherries) and was also very enjoyable (13/20). The coffee (£2.80) was from India, from a local roaster called Anonymous Coffee in Reading, and was very enjoyable.

Service was particularly good, our waiter being a friendly and enthusiastic young man called Ethan. The bill came to £75 per person with beer to drink, but we rather overordered. If you instead ordered a more sensible amount of food then a typical bill might be around £60 per person. Overall, Clays is a very impressive family-run restaurant, the food shows a lot of care, and the chefs are clearly putting some real effort into reproducing an authentic taste of India.

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