Tipu Sultan, 43 Alcester Road, Moseley, B13 8AA. www.tipu-sultan.com
There's a theory that the more impressive a curry house looks, the less impressive the food tastes.
And vice versa.
Walking into the deliciously decorated Tipu Sultan I’m hoping to prove this wrong.
This restaurant, the latest venture for the owners of Shere Khan in Star City and the fast food chain Big John’s, has been tantalising the residents of Moseley with a “coming soon” poster for over a year.
Builders and decorators have spent months tinkering away on a total transformation of what was once the Jug of Ale pub on the corner of Alcester Road and Park Road, adding to the anticipation of hungry passers-by.
With a less-than-subtle greeting at the doorway from a pair of white stone lions and two wooden cannons, I’m worried I’m about to step into a gaudy episode of DIY SOS.
But inside, this place is a pretty sophisticated affair.
A warm wooden reception leads through to a waiting area with two deep purple double-armed chaise longues beneath a silver ceiling.
I know it sounds garish, but somehow they’ve pulled it off. It’s gorgeous, and probably one of the best looking restaurants in Birmingham.
The bar is made from carved stone, echoing the ornate cornices above.
Secluded leather booths are surrounded by stylish wooden columns and the floor graduates from classic black and white tiling to dark wood.
We are seated in the glass conservatory-style section at the front.
Seeing there are no alcoholic drinks on the menu – and thirsting for a G&T – we ask if there’s a “bring your own” policy.
Our waitress doesn’t know but hotfoots it off to consult the manager (are we really the first people to ask?), finding the answer is “no”.
O, Jug of Ale! How times have changed.
Without wishing to appear a booze-swilling, binge-drinking, Withnail-alike – at least, not on a school night – I’ll admit that in the torture stakes, being refused an aperitif comes second only to being refused a pudding.
So, I order a G&T without the G. But the waitress tells me there is no T.
My dinner date turns to the “mocktails” menu, ordering a non-alcoholic mojito for himself and a “lychee delight” for me.
My lychee would be even more delightful with a glug of vodka and at £3.65 and £3.95-a-go these only rub salt in the wound.
To start, we order one of the chef’s recommendations, the lamb chops, and a wild card, the salmon tikka.
The service, while in no way sleek, is friendly and brilliantly polite and we feel completely at home (although, in our home there is ALWAYS a snifter of booze to be had), and a boisterous buzz allows us to gossip and laugh as loudly as we like. As a carnivore who hates to waste a morsel of meat, my true test for a restaurant’s comfort level is whether I feel at ease ditching my cutlery and picking up the bones, Henry VIII-style.
I absolutely feel I can do this at Tipu Sultan. But I just don’t want to.
The lamb chops, stained red with paprika, are too chewy and somehow that distinctive, drool-enducing, fatty lamb chop flavour has been lost.
Ordering an alcohol-free pina colada to lift my spirits, I try a chef’s recommendation again for the main – the Hyderabadi handi. The meals arrive with cold plates and my chicken curry dish is bland (the tastiest bit is the roti on the side), but my dinner date’s palak gosht saves the day. What the chops lacked in flavour the gosht makes up for, with meltingly tender lamb in a full flavour spinach sauce with just enough heat to make it all hum.
We share a Kashmiri naan, which looks and smells divine and the bits that make it to our mouths are. But it dissolves into a mess of crumbs as it’s torn.
Pudding and coffee are ordered as we slurp the last of our mocktails.
There are no traditional Pakistani/Indian/Bangladeshi options - or at least, not on the menu we’re given.
The salted caramel cake is like a heart attack on a plate and, despite being professional pigs, neither of us can finish it. And the blondies would be a winner if they didn’t have that spongy feel of baked goods that have been microwaved instead of warmed in the oven.
Diners at Tipu Sultan can see straight into the central kitchen and the deceptively large restaurant is packed out.
There are large parties celebrating birthdays and there’s a fantastically jovial feel to the place.
The staff are relaxing and endearing, but their inexperience shows.
Ten minutes after ordering the mains our waitress returns to ask whether I want chicken or lamb, drinks are muddled, and at one point my dinner date resorts to using his steamed hand towel to wipe down the crumb-covered table before the puddings arrive.
Similarly, the menu is full of potential but one great dish out of six doesn’t offer good odds.
With all the time, effort and money that’s gone into this restaurant, the food and service feel like an afterthought.
The decor, ambience, location and price (£67 for two) all make me want to come back with a group of friends to take up one of those beautiful booths, but when waiting staff struggle with a table of two I’m not sure how they’d cope with a group.
Over post-dinner pints in the Prince of Wales we can’t help feeling Moseley’s newest restaurant is suffering from a case of style over substance.