(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.
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