WIKIPEDIA defines Street Food as a ready-to-eat food sold by a hawker or vendor in a street or other public place.
What the source of all 21st Century knowledge does not say is why a quality Indian restaurant with a nice setting and good service would aspire to such a title? Except, perhaps, that apparently 2.5 billion people eat Street Food every day. That’s quite a market.
Daaba, the latest Indian restaurant to try to break into Durham’s food chain, describes itself as Indian Street Food, Bar and Restaurant.
Given that emphasis, Sarah and I thought it only right to try something from the Daaba Street Food Starters section of the menu. Sadly, we were somewhat disappointed.
Sarah had high hopes for her Bhel Puri – puffed rice, gram flour tossed in onion with a hint of tamarind and mint sauces (£4.25). But it turned out to be what looked like a blend of Bombay Mix and Rice Krispies. Not quite what we were hoping for on our child-free, pre-Mother’s Day night out.
My Pani Puri, Indian puri, loaded up with flavoured pani, green spiced chickpeas and vegetable, mashed (£4.25), was better, but came lukewarm. Connoisseurs will tell me if I’m wrong, but surely hot or cold would have been better?
But, please, don’t let our Street Food experience let you discard Daaba, like so many street food containers, to the gutter when considering your next culinary excursion. In fact, Daaba is, as I suggested earlier, a high-quality destination with pleasant surroundings and friendly but polite service.
Although it had only been open a few weeks when my wife and I arrived on an unseasonably warm Saturday evening, this was not actually my first experience of the new eatery. I’d been there on opening night, taking photos for other pages in this fine publication.
On that occasion, as I mingled with invited guests and made my way around the tables trying not to interrupt anyone’s dinner, the comments I received (about the food, not my photography) were very positive. One gentlemen whose partner proudly introduced him as an Indian food expert, praised Daaba strongly, as did other, more casual, diners. It was more than enough to convince me to come back when I could try the food.
Zafflong, Daaba’s predecessor in sharing the Broomside Lane premises with The Traveller’s Rest pub, had previously enjoyed a good reputation locally but, so I was told, had declined over time before closing several months ago. The good people of Belmont are, no doubt, glad to see something take its place, prominent as it is on the road through the suburb.
And, overall, our experience was very good. The menu is extensive, going a little beyond the usual Indian fare, with sections on Fish Dishes and Tandoor Specialities, as well as Madrasses, Ceylons, Vindaloos, Dansaks, Pathias, Bhunas, Rogans, Dupiazas, Kormas, Malayans, Kashmiris, Massallas, Nagas, Jaypurs, Baltis, Korais, Lanka Piazas, Palaks, Biryanis and Garlic Dishes.
But Sarah and I must have been feeling adventurous, as we both chose from the Chef’s Specials. Sarah opted for the Murug Makhani, described as succulent fillets of chicken cooked in a rich almond sauce using pure ghee, slightly sweet and creamy (£9.95). Apparently murug is the Somali word for grief and in India is related to a Hindu god. Thankfully, my wife’s dish was more heavenly than grief-inducing: it was nicely prepared and the sauce was a delight of sweet flavours. It almost felt too good to be a main course.
I ordered the North Bengal Murug (£10.95), described as delicately cooked with capsicum, tomato and fresh garlic and gram masala. “An original Bangladeshi dish with a great aroma, very satisfying dish saucy crushed fresh chilli” our somewhat linguistically-challenged menu told us.
It was superb. Fleshy and thick, wonderfully spiced, at just the right level (for me) of hot, it was a real triumph. If this is what North Bengal is like, then book me a flight.
Our usual sides of one-between-two Peshwari Nan (£2.90) and Pilau Rice (£3.35) were also very good, as was Sarah’s personal must-have when eating out Indian – Sag Paneer (£4.35).
As the waiter cleared our plates, we were most satisfied. And so we accepted his offer of the dessert menu more out of interest than genuine intent. But, much to our surprise, it was reasonable fulsome – eight to ten options.
My initial choice, Caramel Fantastic, was unfortunately unavailable, so I had to fight hard to resist my inner child choosing ice cream in a plastic box shaped like Olaf the Snowman from Frozen. My Funky Pie (£3.35) was a pleasing substitute – the biscuit base, ice cream middle and pastry sides all setting up nicely the nutty topping.
Sarah’s choice of Nordica (£2.95) proved to be, as the picture on the menu suggested, Viennetta by another name. But this was no bad thing.
With our overall bill for three courses and drinks totalling £57, Daaba is not a cheap night out; but neither is it overly expensive. It offers a quality meal and a warm welcome in a relaxing atmosphere.
Daaba Restaurant, Broomside Lane, Belmont, Durham, DH1 2QT
Tel: 0191 370 9105
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 6pm to 11pm
Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Surroundings 7, Service 8, Value 8