Friday, 9 December 2011

Qumin's, St Clements

This week, back to curry - and back to Qumin's as well, as I've been here before. Quite a number of times, in fact, because the food it serves is consistently impressive, even to someone like me who doesn't quite know their bhuna from their balti. This time, however, I was armed with the proverbial notebook.
(all photos courtesy of The Photographer - though the poor lighting conditions weren't his fault. A warm yellowy glow is comforting, especially in December, but it doesn't make for good photography)

Qumin's is one of the restaurants that makes St Clements, a vaguely bleak road for pedestrians, with its narrow pavements and buses thundering past towards the hilly expanse of South Parks, more cheerful. It manages to feel both cosy and chic: there are some intriguing paintings - maybe 'wall installations' would be a better term - themed around the letters of the restaurant's name. The staff are generally friendly in a slightly blokeish kind of way. 

On this occasion I put my commitment to Qumin's to the test by ordering the Chot Poti Paneer (£2.95), a starter that I'd never tried and of which the description ('cubes of cottage cheese rolled in spices, then tossed in tangy sauce') didn't make me feel especially enthusiastic. Also, I assumed it would be fried or barbecued like most of the other starters. In fact, it was essentially a salad, but the ratio of vegetable (chickpeas, tomatoes and cucumber) to cheese was about 1:1, which suited me fine. The cheese had a pleasantly mild flavour but this was obscured by the tangy sauce. I don't know what was in it but it was very tasty. Normally I'm relieved to finish a salad, but not in this case.
The Photographer had the Sheek Kebab (£4.25). It was lean, well seasoned, and met with approval.
(This is meant to be an artistic angle)
For the main course I couldn't resist my favourite, the Chicken Saag (£7.25) with plain rice (£2.85). According to the menu, this dish is 'cooked to perfection with spinach, spices, chillies and garlic'', and while I don't want to start gushing, I'm inclined to agree about the perfection part. The chicken was incredibly tender and the sauce was buttery, herb-y, garlic-y and generally love-ly, delivering a delicate spicy kick to the back of the throat.
On the subject of spice, once I had finished admiring my own food I had some of The Photographer's Chicken Jalfrezi (£7.25). Normally I avoid trying what he orders for fear of spending the next five minutes gasping for water (and anyway, see my first post) but he pointed out that although he tends to choose whatever is hottest elsewhere, at Qumin's the dishes are flavoured so skilfully that he doesn't want to. The Jalfrezi was still a bit hot, but once I'd got past the initial burst of chilli I began to enjoy the fieriness and the way in which it mingled with the peppers and onions and chicken. I would definitely eat more hot(ter) curries if they were all like this.

It's hard to find anything to negative to say about our visit to Qumin's. It was a busy night and the atmosphere seemed flustered at times, but if anything the food came more quickly than expected (though, to be fair, they asked if we wanted a longer pause between courses). Oh, just as we were leaving, someone turned the sound system on, which had a bassline heavy enough for me to wonder if a particularly anti-social house party had just started next door. In the face of a dearth of things to criticise, that will have to do.

Qumin's, 86 St Clements Street, OX4 1AR
01865 247093


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