FOOD REVIEW: Passage to India, The Square, Barnham

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Passage to India still holds the title of the best Indian food I have ever eaten.

Which means I look for any opportunity to visit. Birthdays, anniversaries, or just because it is Friday – any excuse will do.

Having listened to me going on about it, my partner was looking forward to visiting too – mainly, I guess, because it meant I would be too busy eating to talk.

Tucked away in Barnham the restaurant is a real treasure. Something which is clear when you see how many people have discovered it despite it’s quite hidden location.

The ever-attentive Mr Islam was on hand to show us to our seats and introduce us to the mouth-watering menu.

And the smile on my partner’s face as he saw what was on offer showed he had seen a glimpse of what was to come.

With so much to choose from we started with a plain and spiced popadom each (60p). This came with a selection of accompaniments including a wonderfully tropical mango chutney, spicy curry sauce and cool mint sauce. In fact they were so delicious we found ourselves eating them long after the popadoms had gone.

For main course my partner finally settled on a house special, the Moglai Chicken (£6.80). Described as “deliciously mild” it certainly lived up to this claim with the almond, sultana and cream sauce.

“It’s very moreish,” was the comment from across the table in-between mouthfuls.

Meanwhile I was devouring the most amazing grilled salmon (£9.95). The combination of mustard, garlic, fresh coriander and lime flavours had intrigued me instantly and I wasn’t disappointed. The end result created a sweet crisp glaze on the beautifully cooked fish which was then replaced with a surprisingly powerful but pleasant heat.

A side dish of spinach and spices with homemade cheese known as sag ponir (£3.30) has also joined our feast – on the request of my partner. “It’s not as heavy as they normally are,” said the expert happily, “and it has more flavour too.”

Having witnessed the chefs make the naan bread in the traditional tandoori clay oven on my last visit, I insisted we shared one (£2.20). Many people will think they know naan bread – but until you have tried one here you really don’t. How they manage to be so soft yet crisp bewilders me and trying to work it out was my excuse for eating more than my fair half.

Despite protesting he was full, my partner soon sat up when the dessert menu arrived and choose the aroma venus (£2.50), a tower of cinnamon and chocolate ice cream with chocolate and raspberry sauce topped with nuts. While I opted for the orange bombe (£2.50), a ball of orange ice-cream with chocolate centre and crisp chocolate coating. Having already devoured his dessert hardly letting me get a spoon in, my partner now looked at me expectantly.

The food is simply fantastic – just thinking about the salmon dish makes my tummy rumble and the service is brilliant. But for me what really puts Passage to India head and shoulders above the rest isn’t the amazing menu, welcoming atmosphere or vibrant décor – it is the extra special touches. Like the hot hand towel and orange slices at the end of the meal. And the way every female guest gets to pick a rose for the table which they can then take home.

Every time I see my rose, it makes me smile and it makes me hungry – which reminds me I really must go back again soon.

By Laura Cartledge