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  Sanmini's  
  Ruth Allan finds another jewel in Ramsbottom's crown (and that’s it we’ll stop worrying the town to death now. Ed)  
 

South Indian cooking isn’t what Ramsbottom is best known for, but thanks to the arrival of Sanmini, just opposite Ramsons restaurant, it’s another great reason to hit the M66. Open for a mere six months, the restaurant has accrued a band of fans. To date they include Neil Sowerby from the Manchester Evening News, Ramsons’ owner, Chris Johnson, and if the limited availability of tables is anything to go by, many more.

Warm, gooey, spicy and comforting, it’s everything you wouldn’t expect from a dessert made from donkey food.

I first heard about the restaurant a month back sitting next to Chris Johnson (aka Bilbo Baggins’ great uncle according to Gordo) at the Northern Hospitality Awards. Our conversation turned to food and between courses and winning prizes, Chris couldn’t pile enough praise on the town’s new arrival. “The food at Sanmini is excellent,” he raved. “I particularly like their lunchtime thalis. Where else are you going to get ten, tiny dishes to try in one sitting?”

At the top of Ramsbottom’s high street, Sanmini can be found in an old gate house, dating from 1857. Solid and church-like, it’s got thick, white walls and deep-set windows. With simple lighting to boot, it’s a galaxy away from the neon brights of Rusholme.

Owned by husband and wife team, Padmini and Dev Sanhkar, the two medics (she’s a doctor, he’s an anaesthetist) converted the building into a two-floored restaurant over the course of last year. It’s got a capacity of less than 40 covers, and aims to showcase cooking from the overlooked region of Tamil Nadu. Fresh, vegetarian curries are a theme alongside bright spices, thalis and pancake-style dishes such as dosai and uttappam. So far at least, they’ve achieved what they set out to do even if there are a couple of quirks still to be ironed out.

The most obvious one is the foyer. Despite bringing to mind the Fisher’s funeral parlour in Six Feet Under, it’s not an unpleasant space. The beige and brown colour scheme, flowers and leather sofas do seem a little at odds with each other though and as we waited for our drinks, I wondered what was in store.

With booze and juice in hand, my son Arthur, his dad Mark and I made our way into the main room for dinner. The décor is better in here with the windows lending a vicarage vibe to proceedings.

Hot, crisp poppadums – appalams as they’re known here – and three home-made chutneys (£4.25) kick-started the meal. Laid out on white china, the trio included a turmeric-spiked raita and delicate bean and tomato curry. My favourite was the latter, thanks to its soft spices. Arthur couldn’t get enough of it.

“I love this,” he said, piling the lot onto his wafer. “Can I come here for my sixth birthday?” Being a family business and all that, Dev came over to talk us through the wine list. From a solid selection that includes a couple of rosés, a French merlot and an Australian shiraz, he gave his Indian red the hard sell.

“When Neil Sowerby came here, he tried the white which he thought was very bad, but we’ve not had anyone complaining about the red,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.”

I wouldn’t say I liked it, but the Chateau Indage Tiger Hill Merlot Shiraz (£14.95) wasn’t awful. A bit fuzzy and light, it was a pleasant enough companion to the rest of the meal.

Madras prawns, sautéed (£6.75) were next up. Cool to the touch, and sprinkled with fresh green chilli and ginger, the menu description made them sound better than they were in real life – something which couldn’t be said of the masala dosai (£5.95).


This South Indian staple is seldom spotted in the Manchester area. You can get it in Rusholme’s Punjab, I think, but that’s one of the few places I’m aware of that serve it. A treat for vegetarians with its winning combination of pancake and curry, the dosai is spectacular at Sanmini. Curled to some height and filled with hunks of potato, the dish arrived with extra chutney on the side.

“This is our house special,” Dev explained, “and people usually eat it with their hands, dipping the pancake into the chutney after picking up some curry.” Arthur liked the style of eating so much that it was a full week before I could persuade him to use cutlery again.

His father and I wondered if the good times would continue to the main event. We’d gone for the mutton madras (an unbelievably reasonable £10.50), a spinach and chickpea curry (£7.50), and chicken made with chettinad spices (£9.50), all of which came with flavour to spare. Aniseed, chilli, coriander leaves and nothing in too great a proportion, they were all good. Occasionally, I’ll make allowances in Indian restaurants for patches of oil or overcooking, as long as the flavour is up to scratch but none of that was required at Sanmini, and a helping of lemon rice (£5.75) on the side was tip-top too. Zingy and light, it provided refreshing contrast to the curry.

We shared the halwa (£3.50) for dessert. There are many varieties of this dish around the world. Most popular in the UK is probably the sesame seed version that you find in health food shops. In Tamil Nadu, though, it’s typically made with carrots, milk, sugar and, topped with toasty, sweet cashews. You’ll find a similar version at Altrincham’s Dilli but it’s better here. Warm, gooey, spicy and comforting, it’s everything you wouldn’t expect from a dessert made from donkey food.

Sanmini specialise in cooking with care. The food reminds me a little of Michelin-starred places I’ve been to in Spain – Es Moli Den Bou, near Arta, for example – where the chef makes perfect versions of classic Mallorcan dishes. Sanmini isn't at Michelin-star standard yet, but it’s excellent value for what you get which is simple, well-made, south Indian food.


Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Sanmini
Ramsbottom Lane
7 Carrbank Lodge
Ramsbottom,
BL09DJ
01706 821 831
sanminis.com

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

 
 

Avo says..“ Sounds liek a good place which I am definitely going to visit in the near future however that lemon rice has got to be something special for £5.75.



 
 
Pedro1874 says..“ So different from normal Indian Restaurants, the freshness of ingredients and the wonderful taste sensations made our two visits here memorable. If you like the different style of Indian food in Zouk (Punjabi), or Quillon in London (South Indian, 1 Michelin star) you will love Sanminis. In my view, the tastes in Sanminis are a notch superior.

 
 
Gordo says..“ Blimey, I want to go and eat here as well now.

 
 

Barry says..“ Rammie is surely Manchester's gastro centre....you've already raved about the Budha Lounge and have yet to visit The First Chop (Lancashire Tapas)

 
 
Anonymous says..“ What can I say about the food - excellent. The place is a must for Indian food lovers. Try the Thaali. Tiny pots of food. Flavours and tastes that dance in your mouth. It's an adventure of foods, like a child with a bag full of different coloured sweets who doesn't know what to expect. You truly will not be disappointed. My only critisim is the lack of atmosphere (although plenty warmth was provided by the owners Mini and her husband who could not do enough for you). Maybe some background music would be welcome, piano/classical. But once again I cannot stress how lovely the food was. Try it, you will not be disappointed.

 
 
philtaylorphoto says..“ It's a great addition to the Rammy Gastro Trail. Don't forget The Lounge, run by the gang from The Dining Room, and the sadly closed Geese on the same site. First Chop is great by the way. Sanmini's when it opened, with the sons on board, and mother and daughter in law in the kitchen reminded me a bit of the Kumars at No 42. However, it didn't detract from the feeling of being invited for a dinner party by some great friends, who happen to have a restaurant in their lounge. Grab a table if you can. If 'Bilbo Baggins' eats there, it must be good

 
     
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