There’s nothing like a warm welcome as you enter a restaurant and Itihaas had it in abundance.
When director Matin Khan came over to our table to chew the fat with myself and photographic colleague Gary Hutchison, he didn’t just welcome us to his smart restaurant, which has won numerous awards, his hospitality stretched to some gentle flattery as well.
“So gents, are you going to a show?” he enquired.
“No, basketball,” we replied.
“Playing?” He looked at us slightly uneasily, obviously perplexed at the gusto with which the two ‘athletes’ before him were devouring his fayre and the speed of the switch from appetisers to pakora and garlic prawns.
“No, we’re working,” we said, explaining the significance of the title-deciding match in Portobello between Clark Eriksson Fury and the Edinburgh Kings earlier this month.
Acting on a recommendation, we had dropped into Itihaas on the way to the match and it proved a very worthwile detour.
Even I know curry is not the best pre-match meal for a basketball player – but Mr Khan insisted the quality of ingredients that goes into his dishes make them a lot healthier – and tastier – than many others.
Itihaas worked. The restaurant was named best caterer in the Bangladeshi Caterers’ Association in 2010, was a finalist in the Best Indian Restaurant of the Year competition in 2011, and has won awards - voted for by customers - on TripAdvisor.
“That’s a very important one,” Mr Khan said, encouraging us to sample our choice of beef and chicken curries before serving up his recommendation – a shatkora lamb – too.
“I use real chicken,” he explained. “That means it is a little firmer than what a lot of people are used to ... but it tastes better and is healthier. It’s not processed or filled with water. You know what you are eating.”
Whatever he does, or doesn’t do, I know what I was eating was delightful.
Garlic chilli chicken is always Gary’s curry of choice, and this one “was certainly up there,” with the soft peshwari naan bread on the side.
My beef rogan josh was less chunks, more moist flakes of beef that fell apart in my mouth. It was a lot more delicate, and complex, than my usual indian takeaway that’s shovelled in to join a bellyful of greasy pakoras.
Not this time.
We began with a fairly modest and light selection of pakoras – the chicken and salmon were stand-outs – and a plate of delicately spiced garlic prawns where each flavour – garlic, spices and prawns – was identifiable.
Care in the cooking was as evident in the food as in customer care for each couple entering the restaurant.
A few of the tables seemed to be occupied by regulars – one chatted with the waiter on the birth of his child since their last visit – a sure sign of a good restaurant.
There’s mirrors, glass and a lot of white linen, but the decor isn’t grandiose. It’s not too slick and it most certainly isn’t overtly homely like you’re dining in someone’s living room, as many ‘intimate’ restaurants try, and fail, to feign. Itihaas is class, you could say. It struck a fine balance and was crisp and clean.
“Was that worth coming into work on your day off?” Gary asked before we headed along the road to watch Fury’s momentous league title win. “Oh, Itihaas,” I replied. And it was.
17 Eskbank Road, Dalkeith
0131 663 9800