An aspect that makes where I live so good is diversity. Whether it is in heritage or business. Add to that diversity in business a flair for authenticity, then stepping out in Pembrey & Burry Port is a real adventure.
At the western extreme of Pembrey, at the end of a stretch of road known locally as “Pembrey Flats”, you’ll know when you’ve reached civilisation as you spy the once popular Felinfoel Brewery Tavern, “The Butchers Arms”. I used to frequent the establishment as child with my parents in the summer months. Sitting outside with a half pint of weak shandy, a packet of crisps and the promise of rissole and chips for supper; providing I was ‘a good boy’. How I felt grown up sipping the sweet brewed “mans drink”. These were the mid 1970s and a time when thanks to “Top Deck” weak lager, bitter and cider shandys were sold next to Coke and Pepsi.
Fast forward half a century and “The Butchers Arms” is no more. The building remains and is now home to “Naz Rasoi” – an authentic Indian Restaurant. Entering the premises firstly you’ll be met by the really spectacular decor and waiting area in front of the former tavern bar. A cross between upper executive class lounge and a drawing room in a Maharaja’s palace – yes it really is beautiful and comfy.
As you approach the maitre’d podium you will be greeted by Mrs Wasimah Shaikh, one half of the senior team at “Naz Rasoi”. Wasimah is formidable exuding enthusiasm and welcoming personality; ensuring that front of house and diner experience are the best that can be. This lady makes the place sparkle. A colourful character partially by nature, as she quips “call me Red” – a reference to her tight tied back hair so needed in food preparation and service. Her natural glowing auburn hair tops the abundance of energy and attention to detail she has in abundance. Again – yes she is that good, and so are her children who work the tables too. As much as the waiting staff are both approachable, knowledgeable and possess wonderful personality, you are also left to savour the wares whence they arrive, having had ample time to peruse the menu several times. I decided and changed by mind several times over. Reading the descriptions firstly, what is the dish, then which meat, fish, or vegetable variation to chose. Its hard, thirsty work. Walking in the I made a mental note to go for a super bottle of “Cobra”. Having checked out the wine list I was torn between the products of the former owners, yes they stock “Felinfoel”. Stout or Double Dragon, ale, or … yes of course, IPA, Indian Pale Ale. I found my new favourite ale, in the place where I started out, Felinfoel, 3 minute walk from the Brewery is where I grew up.
Discussing with my wife what we should order wasn’t much of a help. She had her mind set upon chicken and tikka. I suggested garlic rice and the obligatory Onion Bhaji. Still I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I do enjoy a Tandoori mixed grill and every sauce had this meat combination. Having asked Claire for the second time was she sure I decided upon joining her in a Handi sauce. Chicken Tikka Handi for her, and the Tandoori Special Handi for me.
I love how simply Asian chefs refer to the most intricate and complex recipes. Handi like Tandoori is a mix of balanced spices blended by experts bordering upon alchemy. Handi is a wide cooking dish as in cookware. The Handi sauce is a full flavoured nutty creamy sauce which is mild in heat but way more complex taste over the more stereotypical ‘mild’ dish, the korma.
When Wasimah came to take our order we discovered more of how the dish is made. If front of house is her stage then the kitchen is where Mr Shaikh performs his artistry, and he is a culinary “old master”. Authenticity and attention to detail were values carried through from kitchen to table admirably. Deciding upon chapati for Claire and I am always tempted by a keema naan if made well, “Red” suggested her favourite a roti. As a diner who is ready to try something new and take advice, I quickly changed my bread choice apologising profusely for my seeming indecision. “Red” retorted with her insistence upon us sampling the roti courtesy of her.
After a short time our server arrived and presented us with a veritable feast. The Handi sauces proved a perfect choice in which lean meaty juicy chunks of chicken where cooked to perfection. Our Bhajis were more-ishly moist and not stodgy as they can be. Later we discovered this Mr Shaikh’s doing. As for the roti – indeed it was an excellent accompaniment. My keema naan was perfectly prepared with a hint of fennel seed in the lamb. Claire commented how “spot on” her chapati was. Our garlic rice was just an eye opening experience as the first time I had the dish.
All in all we left feeling filled and appreciated as customers having enjoyed something quite remarkable. The saying is certainly true when you meet other food lovers – “do you eat to live or live to eat?” The latter being the case for those who strive for perfection and consistency.
We are blessed to have such culinary exponents here. Whether its a sandwich, pizza, nachos, or good old fish and chips, we have the best of the best here; and are spoilt for choice. Until the next time when the menu differing begins all over again.