I tried new Indian restaurant that replaced five-star Derby venue that shut in February

When five-star rated Indian restaurant Fusion of India closed in February, many were upset. “A great shame. There are very few genuine Indian restaurants about,” commented one person. “Sad to hear this,” said another.

They needn’t be sad any more. ZaiQaa, run by Munwar Hussain and his team of helpers including Uncle Jay, has stepped in to the venue to relight the fire in stomachs all over the city. The restaurant, on Abbey Street, is hoping to rack up similar good reviews to its predecessor, so invited me down to try it myself.

READ MORE: New Indian restaurant opens in Derby with the owner offering 25% off for all customers

I was concerned I wouldn’t be recognised after covering the story of their opening the previous week, but upon walking in and telling them I had a booking, I – and a plus one – was met with a smile and shown to our seats by the window. The atmosphere was nice, with the room airy and bright, as I imagine it was in the past.

The menu is arguably a little bit small. But that may just be an illusion, due to the fact it’s contained across several pages of a well-produced booklet.

Head chef Azad Khan and team at work in the kitchen of Zaiqaa in Abbey Street. The man at the front is tossing a naan.
Head chef Azad Khan (centre, with flaming pan) and his team at work
(Image: Derby Telegraph)

There are appetisers and seafood options, lamb and chicken dishes, sizzler grills, vegetable dishes and biryani. I opted for a Jalfrezi – later noticing that a small “local specials” section contained a bit further on in the menu is where classic favourites such as balti, bhuna, rogan josh and korma are contained.

A poppadom each was an ample starter, and they were great. Freshly baked, crunchy and with a lemony hint, it’s arguable they’re some of the best around. The pickle tray was great too and included a remarkably smooth mango chutney which went down a treat.

The Jalfrezi came quickly, was tasty and, as usual, through no fault of the chefs, was a little bit too spicy for my tastebuds. But powering past that equipped with the motivating but false belief that pain is an illusion, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The pulau rice was a good accompaniment – although there was much more of that than jalfrezi in proportion – and our triangularly-cut peshwari naan was clearly so nice that it came as a complete surprise to me when I realised I’d actually eaten my share and wasn’t owed any more.

The tikka masala that came for the person sitting opposite me was well presented and a deep orange in colour compared to the red I often see at Indian restaurants. I tried it and it was amply sweet – too sweet for me mind, but the sort of flavour that chicken tikka masala fans would be pleased with.

Staff were extremely friendly and polite, and seemingly rather awash with excitement that I was from the local paper. The service was of VIP standard, and, despite my celebrity status (I’m joking), I could see that they upheld the same standards for the other customers around us.

After our meal, we were treated to a dessert of ice cream and gulab jamun – best described for an English palate as a syrupy donut ball. It was very nice and I ate it all – the ice cream smooth and of great texture, the gulab jamun sweet and chewy.

At the end, I was even invited into the kitchen to get a photo of the staff hard at work. It was flaming hot in there – and I mean that literally.

Chicken tikka masala, egg fried rice and poppadom pickle tray at Zaiqaa restaurant on Abbey Street
We’d already spooned a bit onto the plate before taking this photo
(Image: Derby Telegraph)

I wondered just how former Dubai chef Azad Khan managed, cooking up the mains on a flaming pan while dressed head-to-toe in white overalls in a searing kitchen on a hot summer’s day. The time he spent in the Middle East probably helped.

Zaiqaa is open Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm until late. Bookings can be made online.

Get Derbyshire stories sent to your email inbox every day. Sign up to our newsletter here.

Derbyshire Live – What’s On