Dinner At Praan Indian Restaurant In Belper
It’s always nice to be invited to try a new venue, especially when it’s one that we’ve been meaning to visit, so we were thrilled to be asked along to Praan in Belper. Praan doesn’t have its own car park, but there are plenty of spots around the town, so we only had a short, 5 minute walk back to the venue. From the pavement Praan is very unassuming, just a discreet sign with subtle lighting, and it’s on a corner so make sure you don’t just stroll past!
Once you go through the door you reach a spacious area that is THE perfect place to take a photo with your buddies; there’s a single seat (always one in the group that wants to perch their derriere!) and a massive, plain wall behind which provides a superb photographic background. An exceptionally wide set of stairs then takes you down to the reception, where we scanned the NHS track-n-Trace QR code mounted on the wall and used the automatic hand sanitiser before walking in to a lovely, warm greeting by one of the Praan team.
Praan is a beautifully spacious restaurant that has sleek, modern decor: think pale tile-effect flooring, pale textural- and subtly glittering- walls, recessed ceiling lights and fab wall-mounted lights that cast swirls of blue light behind the tables. Talking of tables, these are wonderfully spaced apart but to give added privacy and covid security there are screens between them too. Pristine, heavy white cloths are laid with gleaming silver cutlery for an uncluttered, classic dining look. To add some extra pizazz there are a couple of dark ‘walls’ of wooden slats, whose tone is picked up by the high-back dark free-standing dining chairs. There is also a striking grey and burgundy velveteen banquette seat that extends down the length of one wall, and this is where we were seated. Not only was the banquette very comfortable, it was beautiful to behold with its alternating, chequered look.
I ordered a large glass of Malbec and His Nibs had a pint of Kingfisher (on draught); Praan have a superb range of wines (with a good selection available by the bottle or glass), beers and spirits available - and soft drinks for those driving or abstaining – so there is something for everyone. We had been invited to Praan by a gentleman called Abdul and he came to have a chat with us, during the course of which I learned that they had taken over the business in 2017, refurbished the venue and re-opened as Praan in February 2018. The aim is to source produce as locally as possible (obviously with seafood this is a bit of a stretch in this land-locked county!) and the team use fresh, British poultry and their Lamb is from Derbyshire itself.
We kicked off our meal with Poppadoms and Pickles; it’s pretty much the law isn’t it?! There’s something joyous about a beautifully crisp Poppadom as it crunches when broken and The Man and I couldn’t help but smile at each other when we heard the sound. My happiness expanded even more when I spied the Lime Pickle – I love how it makes me scrunch my face up when I taste its sour spiciness on my tongue! The Man is rather partial to Onion Salad, so he was a happy chap as he spied that, too. We guzzled so much of this that we had a second bowl of it brought out to us by one of the Praan team who had noticed the empty dish and offered to refresh it! Actually, I should mention here that this attention to the customers wasn’t a one-off incident; throughout our time at Praan we noticed that all the staff were walking discreetly around and topping things up and offering their help with drinks etc. I used the yoghurt dip to ‘wet’ the Onion Salad and the Mango Chutney to add a sweet note to the Lime Pickle – I know, I have some queer habits!
Praan, unusually, have two starter sections on their menu: one for traditional offerings and one for their specialties. After looking through both sections, we both opted for a specialty morsel; I had the Stuffed Pepper (with Vegetables, but there were also spiced meat or chicken options too) and His Nibs had Lime and Chilli Scallops, priced at £4.95 and £6.95 respectively. All the dishes are cooked fresh to order, but we didn’t have to wait long until two platters of exquisitely presented food were being gently placed before us.
A large Green Pepper was amply stuffed with an assortment of vegetables and then the top was perched at a jaunty angle for presentation purposes; a trio of sauces were swirled on one edge of the white platter and provided not only flashes of colour, but extra flavour too. The outer skin of the pepper had been lightly charred, and the darker, blistered patches contrasted well against the natural verdancy of the vegetable. Within the softened confines of the pepper lay Potato and Sweet Potato chunks, pieces of Baby Sweetcorn, whole beans and sliced Onion; without exception, all had been cooked to retain some texture, so there was still some resistance against my bite. The spices used to cook the vegetables were flavoursome but not fiery, and I thought this was a marvellous starter.
The Man Bird was tucking into the soft, fragrant flesh of the perfectly cooked Scallops very happily, marvelling in their delights. Each Scallop round was topped with a slice of Red Chilli and a wheel of fresh Lime contrasted nicely against them and imparted its citrus kick superbly. The Chilli and Lime both added just the right amount of taste here; enough to compliment the sweet seafood, but not so much that they overpowered their marine partner.
A dish of fresh, crisp mixed Salad and a bowl of Yoghurt dip came with the starters as well, so there was plenty of texture and taste on the table as we began our culinary journey at Praan. So far, so good.
With our clean starter platters taken away, we sat back and chatted whilst our main courses were being cooked by Chef. His Nibs had gone for one of Praan’s signature dishes, the Palak Special (with Lamb rather than Chicken) priced at £11.95; I fancied the sound of the Tandoori King Prawn Shatkora in the house specials section of the menu (£12.95), thanks to its description: “slightly hot, but sour, dish with a unique Bangladeshi lime called the Shatkora”. Clearly my body was craving citrus as I’d gone nuts for the lime pickle, and to go with the curries we decided to have the Lime and Mustard fried rice (£3.70), having never seen that on a menu before, and a Garlic and Coriander Naan bread (£2.95).
Presentation was again superb, especially The Man Birds curry; it came in a black cast skillet that let the colour of the dish ‘pop’ against it. The aroma was wafting on tendrils of steam and it fair made my nostrils twitch so, whilst He was getting the camera ready, I snaffled a spoonful! And man, was it good!!. Texturally it had everything you could want thanks to containing both finely minced and chunky pieces of Lamb that was ridiculously flavoursome and tender. The Spinach within the Palak special had wilted nicely and provided flecks of colour as well as a gentle sweetness in the mouth, but it was the thick, medium dry sauce that really set the palate alight with its complexity. Thanks to the Chef and his team at Praan grinding the majority of their own spices fresh in the kitchen as required, the flavours are absolutely at their peak and you just can’t mistake that bounce in your mouth.
I was a happy lass because there were plenty of butterflied King Prawns to clearly be seen in my Shatkora dish and they were magnificently sweet and perfumed as I bit into their flesh. Spice lovers will adore this curry as it most certainly has a kick to it! What I particularly loved was that despite its heat there was no tingle on my lips or tongue to have to extinguish, so the bright citrus of the Shatkora lime and the mesmerising layers of spices could fully be appreciated. I think this is my new favourite Indian dish!. Saying that though, next time we visit Praan in Belper I will determine to try another dish because there is such a wide variety, and several caught my eye on this occasion.
The rice came in a separate dish and you could see different colours over the grains where some had been fried deeper than others and the scattering of fresh herbs added more visual appeal. Judicious frying had released the aroma of the Mustard seeds without burning them and making them bitter, which is something that’s easy to do (trust me, I’ve done it before!). Again the citrus theme was represented well with the lime definitely discernible. This certainly isn’t a run-of-the-mill rice side dish and we were both more than a little pleased that we’d chosen it.
Naan bread is just Naan bread, right? Not at Praan, no. This is possibly the softest one we’ve ever had. It was ridiculously soft; softer and lighter than a cloud, and perhaps the best we’ve had texture-wise. There wasn’t any greasiness on the top of the bread (which had thoughtfully been cut into quarters) so the gentle garlic taste shone through, as did the cleansing notes of the fresh Coriander that was liberally scattered over its surface.
Several members came to check that we were enjoying our meal and asking if we needed further refreshments and, as one of them cleared away all the emptied bowls and plates and another brought over hot towels for our hands, we took the opportunity to say how superb the food had been.
For dessert there was a wonderful assortment on offer; as well as crowd pleasers such as Tarta Fantastica and Chocolate Fondant, there was His Nibs’ fave, Gulab Jamun (£4.95,he had it flamed with Orange Liqueur) and I chose Rasmalai (£3.95), something I’ve not had before. As you might now have guessed, the desserts were presented beautifully, on platters and in bowls designed to maximise their visual impact.
My dessert was a trio of sweet, Mozzarella-textured (but with Halloumi’s “squeak”) rounds of dairy-based deliciousness. The texture was one of utter bliss: soft and comforting in the mouth, nicely moist, and flavoured delicately with Cardamom (a spice that I particularly love).Fresh Strawberry slices really came to life against the blank canvas of the milk curds, and my palate allowed itself to lap up the pleasure. I was happily surprised by how light on the tummy it was, something that I was very grateful for as my belly was full to burst! This is something that I shall have to round off every Indian I have, wherever I see it; I like it even more than Gulab Jamun or Pistachio Kulfi!
His Nibs was munching the golden toned, milk-based ovals of Gulab Jamun with much glee, revelling in the sweetness of the syrup and the hint of Orange that danced on his palate. As with my dessert, The Man commented on the fact that Praan’s version of this classic Indian sweet is lighter on the tummy than many others he’s had over the years.
Even the black coffees were extra at Praan; a white pot contained the beverage rather than it already being in the cups and it was a strong, rich roast bean that lingered on the tongue fabulously after such a flavour-laden meal. It was so good, I could’ve had another cup – and it’s usually The Man who’s a coffee aficionado!
Hot Wings whole-heartedly given to the Praan team. Belper dwellers, you’ve got a real gem here, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it’s the best Indian restaurant in your area! Thank you to Abdul for the kind invitation to come along and try your food, we loved it from start to finish.
To book a table, go to their website (praanrestaurant.com) and book online. Opening hours are Sunday-Thursday 5.30-10.30pm and Friday-Saturday 5.30-11.30pm. If you prefer to eat at home there is a very generous 15% discount available if you collect the food yourself or Praam offer a delivery service too.