|All lined up for Biriyani Club!|
A dish of fragrant rice cooked with spiced meat, biriyani is an old favourite of mine. In our family, it has always been celebration food. We usually buy biriyani from any one of Dhaka's numerous biriyani houses, or less commonly cook it - and I've posted my mom's recipe on the blog already. It's something I often order while eating out in the UK, and a friend suggested collating my experiences for Aberdeen in one post. Something short and snappy - useful for folks who don't want to read long, in-depth reviews.
I've been doing an informal biriyani tour of the town for a while anyway, so this post has an easy, happy challenge! I've stuck to some hard and fast rules throughout the process (see the footnotes at the bottom). This will be a live post, and I will be updating and reposting it as I eat at more restaurants. Hopefully old names will drop off and new names will appear. I don't know how many venues I'll list when I'm done...but I'm aiming for the top 5 right now. I will mostly limit myself to writing about biriyani here, rather than diverging into fuller reviews. Also, a big thank you to my long-suffering friends, who have often waited patiently as I photographed everyone's food :)
|Chicken biriyani at Light of Bengal|
So far in my experience, Light of Bengal does the best biriyani in Aberdeen. The flavours here are reminiscent of biriyanis I've had in Bangladesh, but amped up with more interesting spices. I love the (half) egg, which breaks up the monotony of meat in the dish. Speaking of meat, the portions in both the lamb and chicken biriyanis were generous. The lamb was particularly delicious - the meat cooked tender, with a melt-in-your mouth quality. Biriyanis here are served with a mixed vegetable curry sauce on the side, the quality of which gives me high hopes for the rest of the cooking here. My only worry is that the biriyani itself may be a little too spicy for some. At £12.95 a pop for lamb or chicken, this isn't a cheap venue, but what they serve is definitely worth the asking price.
|Rishi's special biriyani: a mix of chicken, lamb and king prawn|
Rishi's (I refuse to refer to its full name!) is an Aberdeen stalwart. So far every dish I've tried here has been delicious, and the biriyanis have been no exception. Gently spiced but still with a little kick, Rishi's is the most balanced biriyani on this list. I'm a fan of all the iterations they serve, be it lamb, chicken or even their mixed meat and king prawn special. Portions are generous, with a reasonable meat to rice ratio - and each biryani is served with a side of curry sauce. For vegetarians, I would highly recommend either the vegetable or paneer biriyani. Prices are very reasonable, with meat biriyanis costing anything between £8 to £10. In fact, if I were put equal emphasis on both price and taste Rishi's would come out on top of this list - but I think Light of Bengal just has that slight edge in terms of taste. Having said that, I'm much more likely to go to Rishi's as it's just around the corner from my flat! Sometimes the place with the strange name and garish decor surprises you by dishing up amazing food!
|Wild Ginger special biriyani - |
a mix of lamb, chicken and king prawns on the side
This restaurant is new in town, and a surprise contender on this list. Wild Ginger has a street level entrance on Union Street, leading down to a rather swanky basement eating area. They also do a rather decent biriyani - favouring mild and earthy flavours over the more fiery iterations of the dish. Portions are very generous, including the amount of meat on the plate. The biriyani here is served with a boiled egg, a salad and vegetable curry sauce. The chicken and lamb biriyanis are priced at £10.95, and given the sides you get alongside the biriyani I would say this is very good value for money. The lamb biriyani has a slight edge on the chicken, and the other food I tried on their menu was pretty good too. We visited as a big group and were treated very well, but while service is friendly, do be aware of their upselling.
|Lamb biriyani at Ambal's, with the vegetable curry sauce peeking in|
I was sad when Ambal's closed down, as I'd had an excellent chicken biriyani here when they first opened. Thankfully they've re-opened, with an interesting menu (they serve kothu!) and very reasonable prices. More recently I've tried their lamb biriyani, which felt unfamiliar but was very well prepared - delicately spiced with tender chunks of meat. The portion was quite generous, and served with a vegetable curry sauce and raita, it was the best value biriyani in town for £8.95. Ambal's have slowly climbed their way up from number 5 to number 3 on this list, as I've begun to appreciate what they deliver more consistently compared to some of Aberdeen's pricier restaurants. This is definitely a place I'd recommend visiting, as their other food - especially their vegetarian dishes - are quite good.
|Lamb and chicken biriyani at Shri Bheema|
This was my favourite place in town, until I visited Light of Bengal and Ambal's, and realised this place doesn't deliver on value or quality. I've written about Shri Bheema before, as I am (and remain) a big fan of their traditional Indian buffet. Their chicken biriyanis are very good too - the spicing hits the right notes without being over or underwhelming. However, their lamb is merely all right, and a little spoiled by an overgenerous use of saffron. Their biriyanis aren't very well portioned - so do expect to run out of meat before rice. All come with a (forgettable) curry sauce and raita though. If picking favourites, I'd go with the chicken. They aren't cheap, though prices for the basic lamb and chicken start at a reasonable £12. However, if you're paying that much, there are better places to go!
- I always visit each restaurant hungry, to give them all a fair chance at impressing me.
- I also try more than one biriyani at each venue, so that I don't judge from a single point of data.
- Recently there's been a trend of flour-sealed pots of biriyani being served at restaurant tables. While this is a traditional cooking technique....the dish (a) doesn't need to arrive at your table sealed and (b) just because it was sealed traditionally doesn't mean it'll be any good.
- I don't judge for authenticity - with a dish that has travelled as much as biriyani, I don't even know what that would mean. You can throw together any combo of rice and protein, spice it up and call it biriyani (and indeed, many people do). My only concern is whether or not the end result tastes good
- Related to the above - contrary to what people might think, I'm not the best judge for authenticity. Biriyani from different regions tastes very different...and I'm not sure it would have too much relevance for restaurants in Aberdeen anyway.