With Chicken Tikka Masala having been Britain’s favourite food for around a decade and Indian cuisine being our second favourite takeaway according to stats, it’s clearly a popular choice for any household at some point during the week or month. Yet it can be hard to find a really good offering amongst the masses, I have had experiences before of dishes that were too greasy or very heavy with ghee (a class of clarified butter commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine and cuisine of the Indian subcontinent).
This is not the case at Denley’s Essence of India in Topsham. Living outside of Exeter in one of the more rural areas, takeaways and restaurants are very few and far between, but thankfully Topsham isn’t too far for us and so Denley’s has become a firm ‘local’ favourite with very tasty and non-greasy food.
Denley’s Essence of India occupies a long-established premises, originally Topsham’s dairy. At the 2011 British Curry Awards, Denley’s won the prestigious five star gold award – the best Indian restaurant in Devon.
This is a dual review; we have enjoyed the takeaway from Denley’s before and, during December, we enjoyed both dining in at the restaurant and having another takeaway so I thought I would cover both.
For dining in, we were invited to try the Christmas dinner offering but in fact, we ate off the normal main menu, with a taster of a Christmas dish that, if popular enough, may make it to the main menu.
The restaurant has a cosy, petite feel to it, but can actually seat 50 people. With a small bar area at the front, you are welcome to enjoy a drink whilst waiting for your takeaway.
For starters we enjoyed Chicken Chat (Spiced chicken served in a tangy sauce) and Prawn Puree (Spicy prawns on fried bread). I love prawn puree, it’s my favourite and this slightly spicy, tangy, yummy, saucy prawn dish sat on a soft pancake-like bread doesn’t disappoint. The Chicken Chat was a new dish for us and was very tasty and is a new favourite!
Next up was Gosht ‘e’ Kalia (chicken or lamb cooked with herbs, spices, chilli seeds & yoghurt). This dish is not for the faint-hearted! Hubby is a serious lifelong chilli head and this dish, which is hotter than a vindaloo, delivers on heat for sure, but also taste which pleases him no end. He doesn’t just a want just a burn-your-mouth dish, he still wants all the flavours too. To sweeten it up, he enjoys it with prawns instead.
I enjoyed the special lamb shank – melt-in-the-mouth lamb that fell off the bone, in a really tasty tomato based curry. It was a monster of a serving! The Christmas menu dish we got to try was Venison Harin Jury Fry (stir-fried venison with ginger roots, oyster sauce, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and nigella seeds; cooked with onions, peppers and mushroom). This dish was utterly delicious and I really hope it makes it onto the main menus. The texture of the meat was like wonderfully cooked sliced duck breast, and the oyster sauce really added a wonderful sweetness to the delicate game meat, with the crunch of the stir fry veg adding another dimension.
Service was warm and friendly, and we really enjoyed dining in, and washing it all down with a crisp Indian lager.
From a takeaway point of view, you can order online or call and there is a time slot where you can enjoy a percentage off on your order too.
For our takeaway we went for the same starters – chicken chat and prawn puree. The latter isn’t on the takeaway menu but is on the online ordering, I just ask for it if we ring them and it isn’t a problem.
For mains, the chilli head had his Gosht ‘e’ Kalia again, and I opted for a new dish – Balti Tikka Sagawala (chicken or lamb barbecued in a Tandoori clay oven, then cooked with fresh spinach and Balti ingredients, topped with garlic). This was a very flavoursome curry that wasn’t too ‘dry’ or condensed. I would definitely have it again.
I have previously enjoyed the Goan Fish Curry ( fillet of haddock marinated in a blend of Goan roasted spices, cooked in a sauce with a hint of coconut milk and tarmarind). This dish was literally fish and the creamy coconut-ty sauce with a sweetness to it and it is a dish I will try again soon.
What we have been pleased with is that the quality of Denley’s offering is brilliant, whether takeaway or dining in and tastes fresh, full of flavour, whilst not being loaded with ghee. It’s certainly an Indian venue to try if you haven’t already. I think the lesson is that Indian food is not just for Christmas!
There isn’t any parking solely for the restaurant, but there are spaces opposite that are free after 6pm, or if you park up the high street, it is only a few minutes walk down. It is also only a 5 minute walk from Topsham station too, if you wish to hop on the train and head in.
Denley’s Essence of India
62 High Street, Topsham, Exeter, Devon, EX3 0DY
*We were hosted at the restaurant in exchange for a review if we enjoyed the experience, and this does not affect our opinion. The takeaway was not hosted and was purchased as part of our normal eating out and paid for by us.