Review: Broughton’s new Indian fusion restaurant proves spicy doesn’t have to mean hot  

Posted on - 13th April, 2024 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Broughton, Food & Drink, Opinion, Preston News, Restaurants in Preston, Reviews, What's On in Preston
The Pepper Bistro
The Pepper Bistro

This week my mother Yvonne and my father Dry Tony joined me on a visit to The Pepper Bistro in Broughton.

A sister restaurant to Fulwood’s The Ginger Bistro, its website promises to deliver a “fusion of North and South Indian fine dining”, so we had high hopes, but The Pepper Bistro nearly fell at the first hurdle due to a disabled bay in the car park that can only have been designed by someone who thinks disabled people are just myths.

We weren’t sure if we were allowed to park on the nicely paved area in front of the restaurant, as it looked like it was for al fresco dining and we were worried that the combined weight of a car, three adults, 216 years of generic familial guilt and some pretty heavy food expectations would break the tiles.

There were only a few metres of car park at the side, one of them being a designated disabled space, which we needed to use. It was tiny, tight up against the wall and perpendicular to the entrance, so any driver who uses walking aids or a wheelchair would find it challenging, if not impossible, to get in and out of their car safely, and even if they managed that feat they’d then have to parkour over some sort of metal contraptions that were standing out from the side of the restaurant like Gandalf the Grey.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the lack of a suitable parking space on a busy night for people with mobility issues can mean that they simply can’t access the building, so we were lucky to be with someone who could drop us at the front door and park elsewhere.

Upon entering the casual but smartly decorated restaurant we received a jolly welcome before being directed to a seat and given menus. Our server then backed off far enough to hear any of us say “what’s a…” or “I’d have —, but I don’t like —” and come to our rescue, but not so close that we feel obliged to invite them to pull up a chair and show us their holiday photos. It was good.

Unlike many classic Indian and Pakistani restaurants, there wasn’t a multitude of options available; no “pick your sauce then pick your protein”. Instead, each main ingredient was paired with interesting, specific flavours that would complement it.

The only exception was the biryani, in which one could choose between lamb, fish or chicken. Depending on the establishment biryani can vary wildly between being the most wonderful of all Indian dishes to being the second blandest thing on the menu. The first, of course, being the omelette that can be found on the menus of many Asian restaurants and takeaways under the heading English Dishes. I’m not sure if anyone has ever ordered one; I think when Indian restaurants started opening in the UK it was a safety net in case anyone panicked at the thought of unrestrained seasoning, and now it’s mainly there to remind us what we’re running from.

Anyway, I chickened out of the biryani at the last minute and ordered duck mappas – Gressingham duck breast cooked in coconut based curry sauce – served with rice hoppers, for £21.50.

The Pepper Bistro duck mappas
Does anyone else see Mr Crab from SpongeBob SquarePants?

I thought rice hoppers would be some kind of breadcrumbed, deep fried rice balls but it was a rectangular slice of what looked like a cross between tofu and mashed potato. Fortunately, it didn’t taste like that awful sounding combo of blandness. Instead, the flavour was of black mustard seeds, which gave the rice a bit of interest but didn’t overpower the other spices in the duck.

The spiced duck breast itself was lying on its little hopper mattress which lifted it clear of the sauce, which I always prefer as when I was younger my mother would try and sneak all manner of grey, tubey, generic 70s meat into me under a tarpaulin of gravy. Due to my deep scars of motherly betrayal I now only feel safe if I can see exactly what I’m eating.

What I saw was a duck breast that looked perfectly cooked, with a slightly pink middle. I was surprised that it was a wee bit dry, but not enough to make the dish unenjoyable. The sauce was beautiful, but a little more of it would have been welcomed as I ran out of sauce before I ran out of duck. The predominant, strong flavour of my main course came from cardamom, which pleasantly surprised me as most of my previous experience with cardamom was being mugged by an entire pod in an otherwise innocent looking forkful of naughty rice.

The warmth of the cardamom married well with the richness of the duck, in a sauce that had a hearty kick of heat that was slightly mollified by the subtle coconut, but still might be a bit too much for some. Helpfully, when we ordered, the manager told us that they can put more or less chilli into our food if we request it, so diners don’t need to search for a korma like they might at the average Indian restaurant.

I also ordered a side of chaat masala fries for £3.75, which was a good call as the hoppers and broccoli that came with the duck weren’t enough to make the dish a standalone meal. The zingy touch of spice gave them a lift and they were good enough for frozen catering fries, but next time I’d choose a different side like turmeric new potatoes, which are more likely to be freshly made and authentic.

Dry Tony ordered tiger prawn and raw mango curry, described as a subtle spiced tangy coconut curry, served with salad with spinach and coriander rice, at £18.75.

The Pepper Bistro prawn and mango curry
Prawn and mango curry: “Very nice”

A generous number of large tiger prawns populated the mild, creamy curry sauce which was sweetened by the coconut and the mango. It was of the same level of heat and sweetness as a korma, but had plenty of beautifully combined spices which enhanced the flavour of the prawns without overpowering them. The coriander in the rice that accompanied the curry complemented the other herbs and spices perfectly and, although the portion wasn’t huge, it was enough to make a meal without the need for extra sides. It even got a rare “very good” from my dad, from whom “it’s alright” is generally high praise.

Yvonne wasn’t feeling very hungry, so went for a starter of Kerala beef roast, tossed in a caramelised onion and plum tomato masala, served with honey, plantain fritters and coconut flakes, for £8.25, and a side of paratha at £2.50.

The Pepper Bistro Keralan beef roast
The Keralan beef roast with plantain fritters was a generous starter

Amongst the good amount of tender roast beef every item mentioned in the menu could be recognised and appreciated. It was another sweet and savoury dish, but replacing the richness of the coconut cream was an edge of tanginess from the onion and plum tomatoes. Coconut haters should probably be safe with this one, as long as they remember to jib the coconut flakes when ordering.

The plantain fritters added more sweetness to the combo, the batter making them sturdier without edging into clagginess. With the additional side of fresh paratha there was roughly the same amount of food as I received for my main course.

The Pepper Bistro fulfils all of its promises by combining modern decor, friendly service and excellent ingredients with imaginative, beautifully executed dishes. It has qualities that the bigger chains often lack, which is a clear desire to make every customer’s visit exceptional with a passionate team in both the front of house and the kitchen.

Difficult disabled bay aside, the only slight criticism would be the disparity in portion sizes. The duck definitely needed an extra side but the prawns didn’t. Yvonne’s starter portion of beef and a paratha was the same size as my duck but half of the price, so a bigger hopper with the duck would have made all the difference.

The Pepper Bistro is another addition to Preston’s growing list of wonderful restaurants and I’ll be returning soon, if I can get a table.

Have you ever been assaulted by a cardamom pod? Let us know in the comments.

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