A mate of mine once told me that he saw Welsh international and Real Madrid footballer Gareth Bale dining out at a restaurant in Wolverhampton. He said this in 2011 when both Bale and Wolves were playing in the Premier League so, even though my friend always delivers performances full of brio and is prone to the occasional bit of pub-based mendacity, I took the remark in good faith until he went on to say that he was eating a curry at the time. Surely a high profile star visiting a curry house in the city centre after defeating the local team (Wolves lost 0-2) would have created uproar, rioting even, the kind of which would have made the local press. Therefore I dismissed the remark, but always remembered the name of the restaurant, The Bilash.
The story resonates because tonight it is the turn of my long-suffering girlfriend Nicola and I to feast upon the delights of the award-winning, Michelin-rated Indian restaurant. And it is time for me to learn yet again never to trust a stereotype, because it’s a sad fact that there is a ‘truth’ regarding Indian restaurants in Britain that says they are full of nothing but fizzy lager and frightening quantities of ghee. Meat of questionable origin is deep-fried and batch-cooked in fluorescent colour, before being served by obsequious staff either pre or post-football match. Look around in a typical curry house and you’re supposed to see the great unwashed. Therefore: no celebrities like Gareth Bale.
Now historically there may be a scintilla of truth to this but I’ve always felt that the merits of Indian cuisine in general fell victim to this derision. Just because there are purveyors of sub-standard swill out there doesn’t mean all food of this ilk should be tarnished with a down market reputation. After all, a burger and chips at one establishment can be leagues apart from that served up in another.
One visit to The Bilash tells me that this place is a cut above. Established in 1982 by innovative, Michelin-awarded chef Sitab Khan, this family-run business is renowned for producing modern and inventive Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine. With an accent on the finer things, The Bilash has distinguished itself countless times over and boasts legions of loyal locals and even visiting VIPs as patrons. Watch former Tory Chancellor George Osborne cooking in its kitchen on YouTube. Read about it online as the venue where West Midlands MPs Tom Watson and Sion Simon met to discuss the plan to oust Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2006. And know that it’s de rigueur for celebrities performing at the nearby Civic Hall or Grand Theatre to pop in post-performance for a taste of the Far East. These, I can assure you, are not tall tales. This place has been at the top for decades: the list of accolades which have been bestowed upon it steadily over the years is unending.
And this brings me to another bone of contention: because of the high-profile clientele that The Bilash’s cooking attracts, people naturally assume that it must be ruinously expensive. Its address may be 2, Cheapside, Wolverhampton, but that’s the only thing cheap about it, they snipe. This just isn’t true; in fact to run with the football analogy, it delivers Premier League food at Championship prices.