You might be forgiven for thinking that Cheltenham has its fill of eateries, from two-star French cuisine all the way down to the usual chains found in every other town.The Ballroom, with its fine Asian and Fusion dining, is definitely a worthy addition.
For a start it has a spectacular setting, inside and out. Diners can choose to sit on three levels, all flooded with light with views over the elegant Georgian architecture of Montpellier behind the Rotunda. We chose to sit on the mezzanine level looking down onto the grand wine bar on the ground floor. From our table we had the full benefit of the double-height arched windows and the sunshine. The feeling of space of the restaurant harks back to 1844 when this was built as a ballroom. It also retains echoes of the 1930s when dancing in style was all the rage. Inevitably, as most beautiful buildings in Cheltenham, it was converted into a fashion shop in the 1960s.
The restaurant is run by Imran, youngest member of a long and illustrious line of restaurateurs specialising in fine Balti and Indian cuisine. Head chef Mozlu Miah, has a track record of cooking for Princess Anne, Ed Miliband and at the Houses of Parliament. He has concocted some exceptional and original dishes.
Each week he adds special dishes to the menu. As his favourite he cites the Lamb Shatkora, lamb cooked with the shatkora fruit which is part of the citrus family.
We started with marinated king prawn in a superb spice sauce, and a small selection including sheekh kebab, samosa, chicken tikka and a very delicious and light onion bhaji.
As main dish I chose a Chicken Jahlale, chicken marinated and cooked in yoghurt, cumin, coriander and tangerine, the latter giving it a totally unique fruity, slightly sweet and sour flavour. In all the years of eating Asian food, I had never encountered this taste – so mouth-watering I had to share it with my companion who had ordered the Begum Bahar, again marinated chicken, stir fried with four chilli spices, mushrooms, peppers, coriander and aubergines which cleverly tempered the hot chilli.
Mozlu Miah also adds a touch of lamb to this dish which gives it an extra flavour boost. All in all, both dishes where the best we have eaten in an Asian restaurant for a very long time. The Aloo Begun Balti, again with aubergine and herbs was cooked to perfection. (I made a note to buy some aubergines to see how I could improve my own potato dishes). Having eaten rather more than we had intended Imran brought us a pistachio and mango sorbet which was very refreshing.
Imran could not have been more charming and the service was extremely attentive and welcoming and special note was taken of my lactose intolerance when it came to advice about the various dishes.
The Ballroom could almost function as just a place for a quiet drink. The ground floor is given over to the bar with comfy leather chairs and sumptuous décor. Its extensive wine list is sourced from all corners of the world; sparkling wines, Champagne and a great choice of spirits are also on offer, as well as the ubiquitous Cobra, Kingfisher and other beers. Astrid Burchardt
The Ballroom opens from noon to 2pm and from 6pm till midnight offering a lunch and pre-theatre option priced at £14.95
The Ballroom, Bayshill Lodge, Montpellier Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1SY Tel. 01242 24176012 www.themontpellierballroom.co.uk