The Purple Pakora, Congleton

Adam and I were driving through Congleton en route to see my mother at Macclesfield hospital.  Like Braintree down my way, Congleton is the sort of place you’d never visit unless you happen to be local, and for all the fact that I lived up that way for many years I’ve passed through the town on very many occasions but rarely if ever stopped in the centre, least of all for a meal.  There’s probably a reason for that, which may be that while there are many good pubs outside Congleton, the town centre is a dead loss.  The place is awash with takeaways, which are great for locals but not much help if you attempted to eat a Chinese in your car, but is seemingly bereft of proper sit-down restaurants.

Not quite true, as it turns out.  There was an Indian called the Purple Pakora, recognisable from some distance by its glowing purple lights; perhaps just as well that it isn’t called the Red Rogan, but it’s a good stop for a Biryani.  The purple theme is taken seriously, to the extent that by evening purple lights are everywhere within the establishment – though it seems there are three in the chain to spread the theme.  This is what the website says of the Congleton branch:

The Purple Pakora Indian Food Bar in Congleton, Cheshire is the new kid on the block but just as impressive as our other two Indian Restaurants in Poynton and Marple. As you relax within the attractive bar area before entering the quite stunning restaurant you immediately recognise that this is no ‘ordinary’ Indian restaurant experience, but something quite unique, With a private VIP circle room available and also the Purple Pakora Trademark Bubble Wall Tanks spanning the full length of the restaurant it’s truly quite an amazing experience.

It’s not just the welcoming ambience of the Indian restaurant and the stunning choice of dishes, but also the personal service that they combine with it and the incredible attention to detail. You are guaranteed a wonderful ‘Journey of Discovery’ and one that you will want to repeat.

The Purple Pakora Indian Restaurant in Congleton is now established as the best Indian Restaurant in South Cheshire, we pride ourselves on only sourcing the finest and freshest ingredients from the local areas of Cheshire, Including Macclesfield, Sandbach, Nantwich, Stoke, Crewe and Newcastle Under Lyme.

However, the wizzy decor and marketing-led approach clearly demonstrate this to be a contemporary Indian/Bangladeshi and therefore directly comparable with EastzEast and The Spicy Swan, both of which I reviewed recently.

In fact, you wouldn’t tell it was that different from the menu alone, since pretty much every restaurant claiming its origins to be the Indian subcontinent has a highlighted area of house specials at extra cost, many of which are now as commonplace as the Madras, Vindaloo, Dopiaza, Korma, Biryani and Rogan Josh of yore – all of which sound like hackneyed clichés in their own right now that supermarkets flog sauces under the same names.  Like Tikka Masala, the probability is that most “signature dishes” are restaurant inventions rather than what mother used to make, but they have forged their own place in British cuisine by virtue of being tasty and moreish.

Take one example: I chose from the specials list a dish labelled “Lamb Jaipuri” which proclaims to be “strips of lamb tikka cooked with cumin seeds and peppers with a touch of vinegar.”  That description could probably be applied to quite a few dishes on every menu, not least vindaloos, which in the Goan style are traditionally cooked with vinegar.  It reminded me that I have been to the splendid city of Jaipur, and am very certain there was no dish labelling itself “Jaipuri” there – though I’m not being critical.  It was a good dish, even if it exists nowhere else!

My lamb Jaipuri was supplemented by a chicken vindaloo for my boy, though he made a common mistake by eating a whole birdseye chilli, believing it to be some other ingredient.  This is when a cooling glass of lassi would have made sense, since water does not alleviate the symptoms; as the song says, it is like putting out fire with gasoline.  Either way, I don’t think Adam will be repeating the experience in such a hurry.  However, this reminds me that the menu includes a series of dishes labelled “Suicide” rather than the more usual “Phall“:

“Like jalfrezi but involving jalfrezi pepper seeds so it’s advisable to fill in the declaration form when ordering.”

Why would anyone choose this dish?  After all, most connoisseurs of subcontinent cuisine appreciate that depth and subtlety of spicing is desirable but a test of endurance based solely on extremes of the Scoville scale of chilli heat adds nothing to your enjoyment of the food.  Are there people out there who seriously want to give themselves a gastric ulcer, even if actual suicide is not a likely outcome?  Pandering to such tastes might earn the restaurant a few quid but you would hope they had more taste.  I doubt there was anyone on a busy Friday night ordering this dish, maybe until after pub chucking-out time.

But let’s start from the beginning.  Most restaurants of this ilk make their money on flogging drinks, side-dishes and extras, famously the popadoms on which to dip in pickles and sauces and nibble while perusing said menu.  We turned these down, though it would have formed an interesting comparison with EastzEast, where the sauce tray was a wonder to behold.  Another time maybe.

We started with a “flaming grill” of lamb chop, chicken tikka, garlic lamb tikka and sheek kebab, serving two at £9.50 on a sizzler dish replete with fried onions, as found in many such places.  It was not a bad selection, though the sheek kebab seemed a tad anaemic and maybe under-cooked, and the advertised garlic in the lamb tikka went absent without leave.  Not the best mixed tandoori starter I’ve ever eaten, and trust me I’ve eaten a fair few.

As with EastzEast, our garlic naan bread arrived on a rack, from which hunks could easily be torn.  This is clearly a gimmick in circulation among the ‘with it’ end of the market.  It offers novelty value but will soon be so commonplace that it will lose any benefit among the easily impressed consumer.  For rice however, a decided innovation: I can’t recall seeing a channa pilau rice anywhere else, though it is not complicated – pilau rice with a few added chick peas, served in lieu of a vegetable dish.

As mentioned above, the curries proved competent but not exceptional, which seems the signature note of the Purple Pakora: plenty of facade but no real substance.  In fact, not really up there with the best standards 0f contemporary Indian grub, and certainly not in the same league as EastzEast or The Spicy Swan.  Maybe in Congleton you don’t have to try too hard, but I can see that some stiff competition in town might help the kitchen from resting on its laurels.


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