Step outside your curry comfort zone

MAXINE GORDON finds out if York's new curry house lives up to its name

IF you call your restaurant The Cat's Pyjamas then you better serve up a knock-out meal.

That was my first thought as I crossed the threshold of this new Indian eatery in Cumberland Street – which for years was the much-loved Silvano's restaurant.

My second thought was York needs a new Indian restaurant about as much as it needs another flood! But The Cat's Pyjamas bills itself as something a bit different. It specialises in Indian street food as well craft beer, seeking to bring the colours, flavours, and vibrancy of the bazaar to Yorkshire (it has two further branches in Leeds and Headingley).

Sari shades inspire the interior which displays a range of vibrant blues, reds and golds. On the walls are plastered prints from bright-coloured fabrics interspersed with torn pieces of Bollywood posters.

Service was impressive from the start. On arrival, we were warmly told about the new business (it opened two months ago in York) and how the menu was designed so you could order a selection of small plates, or a traditional three-courser, or just a curry and rice.

Oh, and the beer was a bit different too. Sure there was a good selection of bottled and draught beers, lagers and ciders on the menu, (including the restaurant's own pilsner) but The Cat's Pyjamas also has guest beers chalked up on the blackboard by the bar.

My hubby chose half a porter, not realising until it arrived it was not what he wanted. Dark and heavy, like a Guinness, he was after something more light and refreshing. But this was not a problem and the waiter happily switched it to a half pint of Karma (£2.10), which was the better accompaniment to the spicy food. I loved my Asian Peacock cider, flavoured with mango and lime (£4.90), which was thirst-quenching and not too sweet.

There were lots of dishes I'd never heard of on the food menu, and wish we had been a bigger party so we could have ordered more!

After lots of dithering, we settled for pani puri/golgappa (£4.50), apparently one of the most famous street food dishes of India, and Amritsari fish (£4.75), a favourite from Amritsar – the land of the Golden Temple. The former was eye-catching: imagine prawn crackers shaped into an open egg shell, then filled. They tasted great: the hollow, crisp puri, giving way to a mix of tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. The fish were like goujons, subtly flavoured with ginger and paprika, and again, were winners, even if the portion was on the stingy side.

Both these selections were from the starters menu, but there is a range of tandoori snacks also on offer, including chicken tikka, lamb kebab, tandoori prawns and salmon, with prices from £4.75-£6.95.

There are just 13 mains to choose from – making a welcome change from so many restaurants where the length of the menu could rival War & Peace!

Again, you are practically forced to have something that little bit unusual. There are few of the usual suspects here, except for the rogan josh and tikka massala, so this really is an opportunity to step outside your curry comfort zone. Dishes are helpfully coded so you can spot at a glance those that are veggie, vegan, and gluten or dairy-free.

Four of the mains are vegetarian: Punjabi chole (£7.25), said to be "the most popular vegetarian dish in India" – in essence a hearty mix of pulses bathed in a thick, tangy, deeply spiced gravy; dal makhani (£7.50) – whole black lentils, butter and cream; veg malai kofta (£8.50) – deep fried paneer and vegetable dumplings in rich and creamy tomato gravy; and saag paneer (£8.75) – puréed spinach and paneer spiced with cumin, garlic and dried fenugreek leaves.

Not being veggies, we plumped for the Goan chicken cafreal (£8.95), described as "the stuff warm and sunny holidays are made of" and coconut jhinga (£9.75) a prawn curry promising the flavours of ginger, garlic, coconut, and a just a hint of cinnamon.

The chicken dish was muddy green in colour (more like and English summer than Indian one) and the meat was tender and flavoursome having been marinaded in coriander and freshly roasted spices. It was spicy without setting your mouth on fire. My husband said it was good, but he would have liked stronger flavours. The prawn curry was better: the nine crustaceans still succulent and with a bit of bite and nestling in a warm-red sauce that was hot and sour in equal measure with an earthy sweetness from the coconut. Thoroughly recommended.

We soaked it all up with bowls of perfectly-cooked steamed rice (£2.50) and shared a good tandoori roti (£2.25), which was heaver than a chapati and lighter than a naan, and reminded me more of a paratha.

We passed on desserts, but there is a trio to choose from including the obligatory kulfi.

Our bill came to £41.70 – reasonable for what was a decent meal, and almost the cat's pyjamas!

2 Cumberland Street, York YO1 9SW


Food: Good 4 stars

Ambience: Casual 3.5 stars

Service: Very good 4 stars

Value: Good 3.5 stars

Reviews are independent and paid for by The Press