“ Address: 6 Kent Road, NN5 4DR Northampton, United Kingdom „
~A fast-rising newcomer~
If there's one type of cuisine available in abundance in Northampton it's Indian - or to be more precise, Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani since it's not always clear where the chef and owners have their roots and the majority of diners classify the whole lot as 'Indian' or simply 'Curry Houses'. As a result of the large number of very acceptable restaurants serving such food, there's quite a lot of competition and many such places are in the TasteCard scheme (2 for 1 or 50% off the food) or use GroupOn to promote their restaurants. We recently redeemed a GroupOn voucher at Wild Ginger, in the Duston/St Crispin suburb of Northampton.
It's particularly difficult for a new place to build a reputation when there are so many established eating venues, especially when it's not centrally located. Consequently I was really surprised to learn that Wild Ginger had only opened in August 2011 and not only had a listing on Tripadvisor's website but was rated at an impressive 12th place out of over 150 dining venues in Northampton. To be fair there's a dearth of good restaurants in the area but for a newcomer to fly up the rankings so quickly led me to be quite excited about going there. I'd bought a GroupOn voucher a few months ago and there were only a few weeks to still run on it so we booked up a Sunday evening at the beginning of April. We'd tried for Friday and Saturday without success.
~The Challenge is Finding it~
Finding the restaurant will test your determination to eat there and I'm sure that its invisibility to modern navigation systems must lose Wild Ginger a lot of customers. On Google Maps it has been put in the wrong place, with the little marker post placed on the wrong side of a closed road by what I guessed was a back entrance to a hospital. Google can be forgiven as the area has been developed in just the last few years and there's been a lot of change but somehow they manage to have 'mapped' the Stables Florist, the Daisy Mae's café and Wild Ginger to three totally different spots on Kent Road despite them ALL being in the same miniature retail park. I couldn't even find the 'St Crispin Retail Village' on the Google map. We were so determined to get there that we even used the detailed street views that are only a couple of years old and found that the 'village' didn't exist and was only a building site back in March 2009 when the Google vans drove up and down the nation's streets. In retrospect I was able to pinpoint the building that now houses Wild Ginger but at that time had its windows boarded up.
We set off with Tom Tom and the post code, only to discover that Tom didn't know the code and took us a very strange way to get there. After missing the turning we should have taken, sheer serendipity delivered us to the correct street where an old chap tending his front flower beds told us where to find the restaurant. To describe this as a back street would be an understatement and I have to wonder how many people just happen to be passing and looking for a florist, an up-market gentlemen's tailor or a good curry.
Sunday evening was clearly not a busy time for the restaurant and when we rolled up at 6.30 pm there were only a couple of cars parked outside and only one other table occupied inside. The restaurant is located in an old red-brick building which has clearly been extended on the ground floor. The central part of the building has nice old sash windows overlooking the car park whilst the two 'wings' on either side have sky lights in the ceiling instead of windows. We were shown to a table set for four with double white linen table cloths, high backed leather chairs and heavy (though rather unstable) cutlery. We were soon captivated by the colour changing lights in the ceiling light fittings and in a fretwork wall behind me. Normally I get a bit irritated by coloured lights but these were quite captivating.
Nothing about Wild Ginger screams 'Indian'. Aside from the obvious absence of flock wall paper (oh, for the days of furry Indian restaurant walls), there were no outward signs of country of origin - no statues, no maps, no paintings on the wall or anything that would have stopped the owner from waking up one morning and thinking 'Hmm, Indian? Maybe this week we'll be Italian or serve tapas or go Greek' You could change the cuisine and not need to alter a thing about the restaurant décor.
Sometimes when you have a GroupOn voucher you can feel a bit like the unwashed paupers placed in the dark spot between the toilets and the kitchen and treated with disdain. This didn't happen to us at all. The waiters were all polite, happy to explain what the 'deal' included and quietly but non-obtrusively floating around to check that everything was OK. Plates were cleared at the right time - not rushed, no left to clutter up the place - and when my glass was empty, there was no pressure to buy another drink, and indeed, the waiter happily trotted over with a glass of iced water and a concerned look, wanting to check that I hadn't choked on a chilli or got a mouthful that was too hot.
Our deal included a glass of wine each and two courses though rice or naan were not included and we ordered poppadoms and sauces whilst we chose our main meals. Two poppadoms and a good tray of smooth mango chutney, yoghurt raita and chopped onions, cost us a tiny £2 which I thought was very good value. Any fish dishes would attract a supplement of £3 per dish so we thought carefully about what to have. This supplement seemed very fair on the main courses but a bit mean on the starters, many of which were not terribly expensive. We ordered to vegetarian starters - a veg samosa and some garlic mushrooms - followed by a vegetable biryani and one of the most expensive king prawn dishes. Yes, the biryani was one of the cheaper dishes on the menu at around £7 but it meant we didn't need to order rice to go with the prawn dish.
Our white wine was quite a generous glug in a good sized glass - no your usual titchy Indian restaurant 'catering' glass at all. And the quality was good - it was no hardship to drink at all and I would have been happy with it if I'd paid rather than had it included.
Our starters arrived in about 10 minutes. The samosas were richly filled with spicy veg and wrapped in very light and very crispy thin pastry. We shared them one each and then set about dividing the mushrooms. Each dish came with a generous amount of salad to accompany it. The chutneys had been left for us to use with the samosas so we polished off a bit more of the mango. The mushrooms were quite a large mound of sliced yellow-tinged button mushrooms fried in lots of garlic and turmeric. Together these were enough to wake up my stomach without over-filling it. I'm prone to the bad habit of stuffing myself with poppadoms and starters and then not having room for the more expensive main courses, but I'd had just the right amount.
The mains arrived about 10 minutes after the starters had been cleared. The biryani was a generous mound of spicy rice, shot through with plenty of vegetables and served with a large bowl of mild vegetable curry. We divided the portion as best we could and then set about separating the king prawn curry.
Sadly the restaurant has no website so I've not been able to go back and find out the name of the curry I ordered though I recall it was a jingha-something-or-other. There were four or five king prawns SO enormous that they'd been split down the middle and twisted to create flavour-rich strips not much smaller than a fish finger (don't worry, they weren't fish fingers - I'm just looking for a size comparison). The sauce was deep, bright red in colour and looked a bit garish. I was nervous that it might taste as 'primary' as it looked but once I'd picked out the two whole fresh red chillies and put them to one side, I was surprised that it managed to combine subtlety of different flavours AND pack quite a punch to boot. It was delicious and the two dishes together gave us the perfect amount of food.
I fully expected that the restaurant would find clever ways to part us from more of our money because GroupOn vouchers do have a bad reputation for being misleading in terms of how much of a bargain they are. I was really surprised when I checked what I'd paid for the deal and realised it was only £14 for the two of us. You'd struggle to get a take away for that kind of money and the king prawn main course alone had cost more. The extra charges on our bill were just over £5 - a £3 supplement for my monster prawns and a couple of quid for the poppadoms. We left them a tenner.
~ Recommendation ~
Whilst the menu does contain some really gorgeous and expensive dishes such as the king prawn whatever-it-was-called that we chose which was something like £14.95, there were plenty of cheaper options and more familiar dishes. The menu is relatively short for an Asian restaurant but you can find the standard curry sauces you'll find elsewhere but there are plenty of strange dishes I'd not seen before and want to go back and try out. The starters were as cheap as most 'grubby tablecloth and plastic menu' places in the area and if you choose carefully there's no reason why you'd have to spend more here than at one of the regular places. However, the special dishes are well worth a try and now that we know how to find Wild Ginger, I suspect it won't be long before we return.