Opening a new restaurant during the current pandemic crisis is a brave move, but obviously Bhoomi Kitchen was confident enough in its craft to soldier on regardless.

And thank God, because our meal at the new Headington curry house on Saturday night was enlightening to say the least.

I’ve long been a fan of South Indian food, preferring the subtler flavours, ingenious dishes, and novelty factor when compared to the more Brit-based curries of old.

Bhoomi Kitchen is a welcome addition to the best curry houses in Oxford

The introduction of dishes such as dosas, idlis and uttapams are a great advancement on the bog-standard chicken tikka masala of yesteryear.

Mr Greedy for one is remarkably unadventurous in a curry house. He likes his lamb madras or chicken jalfrezi so why try anything else, a sentiment rarely expressed in other restaurants. And yet Bhoomi Kitchen forced him out of his comfort zone into trying something far more exciting.

The chocolate samosas

In terms of South Indian food, Dosa Park near Oxford station has been leading the way in South Indian food for some time now – the name says it all – while Mowgli’s on the Westgate Centre’s rooftop sets more of a street food trend.

What is a hyderabad, a gulab jamun ball, a sambar, a parotta or gunpowder salad?

But Bhoomi Kitchen brings something new to Oxford’s plentiful culinary table. It’s cosy and comfy, it feels independent, (although there is another in Cheltenham), and its menu offers new and exciting dishes – a rarity in these days of extensive international cuisine, and it has a varied vegetarian and vegan offering.

The interior at Bhoomi Kitchen

The staff there are also incredibly clued up and can answer all your questions about what is essentially an entirely new food category.

WE REVELLED IN OUR IGNORANCE LIKE CHILDREN LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE

What is a hyderabad, a gulab jamun ball, a sambar, a parotta or gunpowder salad? What is the difference between a masala dosa and an aloo bonda (one is a pancake with spiced potato inside the other a fried potato ball served with a tamarind chutney) and so on. We revelled in our ignorance like kindergarten children learning a new language.

The beer was cold and the cocktails made on site – the ginger martini being a particular favourite. What to eat though was a whole different dilemma. The thali was a must but even then there were five different ones to choose from. And could we still justify a starter?

Of course. I couldn’t leave without trying said masala dosa. Luckily someone else had the idli sambar (ground rice and lentil sponge served with sambar and coconut chutney as seen below) which I could also try.

The idli sambar with the masala dosa in the background

And let’s not forget the popodums – no trite, tired pickles and chutneys here! They came with a zingingly fresh mango chutney, a rich, smoky tomato and garlic dip, and the most divine green coriander coconut and mint concoction which we all squabbled over before scraping the dish clean with a spoon. All handmade, all novel and not a sliced onion in sight.

Everyone who chose from the main menu looked a bit forlorn when the thalis were carried out almost ceremoniously

The thalis were another brilliant offering. For those who haven’t tried them, they are a great way to work your way around a South Indian restaurant’s menu, offering as they do an individual array of dishes in a circle, consisting of thoran (dry veg stir fried with mustard, white lentils and shredded coconut), sambar (fresh veg in a tamarind and lentil sauce), kadala masala (coconut milk, black chickpeas, roasted onion and coriander), masala potatoes in ginger, garlic and mustard seeds ), pulao rice, a chapati (flat bread) and a Kerala style popadam, framing a your main choice which ranged from butter chicken, Kerala lamb, kadhai paneer (Indian cheese cooked in spices) or the aubergine and peas. What a feast.

The thali

Everyone who chose from the remaining main menu looked a bit forlorn when the thalis were carried out almost ceremoniously, because the different components all work so well together – a bit of this, a bit of that, scooped up with rice, wiped up with Indian breads or tottering on a popadam. Heavenly and great value for £12.

Mr Greedy went for the house special – a beef curry and Kerala parotta (cuts of beef brisket, green chillies, peppercorn, lemon juice, ginger and garlic served with the buttery parottas), which he loved, although steep at £15.95 considering rice was an extra £3.45.

did I mention the chocolate samosas? YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT

My daughter’s butter chicken was another massive success, although she too had to order rice as an extra after it had arrived. It was however, “the best she’d every had” in fact – ‘the perfect amount of sauce, sweetness and spice’.

And who can forget the chicken hyderabad dum biryani (£10.95) – layers of fluffy rice, onions and spices baked with a pastry lid and served with a vegetable curry on the side. Delicious inside, unfortunately the pastry lid hadn’t been cooked properly and was a bit raw and stringy. One of the only mishaps of the meal, although it wasn’t taken off our bill at the end.

The chicken hyderabad dum biryani

The order of the dishes was also a bit haphazard. But as Bhoomi Kitchen has only been open a few months, had many Covid hurdles to overcome, and a full restaurant to serve before the 10pm curfew on Saturday, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Dessert came in the shape of gulab jamun, two delicious spongey dumpling balls caked in syrup, at £4.50 a throw.

gulab jamun

And did I mention the chocolate samosas? YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT. Chocolate samosas! which were much nicer than expected, filled with a dusty chocolate and cardamom and served with a dollop of ice cream.

So yes, I’ll be going back, because while Dosa Park will always have a special place in my heart, Bhoomi Kitchen is a welcome addition to the best curry houses in Oxford.

To book go to: https://www.bhoomikitchen.co.uk

Bhoomi Kitchen also features in the new Sobell House cookbook Food and Kindness. Read about it here: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/which-oxfordshire-chefs-shared-their-favourite-recipes-in-new-sobell-house-cookbook-food-and-kindness/

KATHERINE MACALISTER

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