Prana is the Sanskrit word for “life force” so when Prana on Mill Road recently relaunched after an extensive refurbishment, it was like breathing new life into this Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant. I visited Prana three times so far and my first visit was an invitation to the relaunch. To be honest, I’m glad I was invited because Prana stopped being on my radar after passing by many times and always seeing it closed. After speaking to owner Kobir Ahmed, I now understand the issue. When Prana was first purchased it operated as a tiny Chinese and Indian takeaway while Kobir continued his job as a banker. Then it was a proper restaurant but it was limited by a very small space with seating in the basement. A decision was made to close the restaurant and extend it significantly, which took quite a long time.
It was worth the effort as the restaurant is now spacious with stunning decor. Once you pass through the front door and manoeuvre the small step (limitations of the building), there is welcoming staff on hand to show you to tables topped with crisp, white tablecloths and napkins. The place is comfortable yet elegant, but not stuffy.
Kobir has made running the restaurant his full time job and his sister Rosie is also on board. Both are passionate about the restaurant and its food. There’s a real family connection as Kobir and Rosie’s uncle is the owner of renowned Maliks in Cookham, Berkshire (with other locations in Gerrards Cross and Marlow in Buckinghamshire). Prana is based on the exclusive menu designed by Maliks 30 years ago, which has evolved and now includes some of Kobir’s family recipes. We are fortunate to have this prestigious culinary link right here in Cambridge. Many dishes have secret spices but one thing is clear: Prana do not use curry powder. The results are clean, vibrant flavours that are a delight to the taste buds.
It’s obvious Prana is not your bog-standard curry house and this is reflected in the menu. Although it is extensive and can be slightly overwhelming, staff are on hand to advise, offer suggestions and answer any questions on provenance. One of the best things about this restaurant is that they have dishes exclusive to Prana but they also have traditional favourites on the menu, such as madras, korma and vindaloo with your choice of chicken, lamb, prawn or vegetables.
I tried several dishes over my past three visits. The relaunch event was buffet style and I sampled such scrumptious items as channa masala (tender chick peas cooked in medium spices and herbs), samosa, pakora and the exclusive – and rather popular – chicken nazakat (delicately spiced chicken skewered and grilled in the tandoor).
On another occasion, I was invited to sample Prana’s new Tasting Menu, which I highly recommend if you’re looking to get a feel for some of the menu items, including dessert. The Tasting Menu is for a minimum of 2 people and, for now, it is available Monday to Wednesday only. There is a vegetarian option too.
I sampled the crisp and greaseless papadoms with their chutney selection of mixed pickle, onion salad, mango chutney and cucumber raitha, which wasn’t watery at all and made with natural yogurt, chopped onions, cucumber, fresh herbs and (sshhh… it’s a secret) a hint of that tasty mango chutney.
The Tasting Menu began with a selection of starters (Prana’s specials): chicken nazakat (mentioned earlier), pancake kebab (spicy lamb wrapped in a pancake) and aloo chat (spicy potatoes) that I should have tasted last as the spiciness overpowered the delicately flavoured king prawn suka (cooked in sweet & sour tamarind sauce).
We did not have the opportunity to try the marrechi ponir usually included in the Tasting Menu. They are fresh whole chillies stuffed with mild cheese, covered in breadcrumbs then deep fried. I must make a point of trying these stuffed chillies as apparently, they are quite popular. Those flavours are right up my alley!
The starters came with salad, which was really just some lettuce and tomato on the side of my plate. In my opinion the salad was not needed in terms of flavour, but perhaps it served a decorative purpose. There were also two different kinds of dip: sweet chilli and what I believe was date or prune. Either way, it had a nice deep flavour.
Accompaniments included naan bread, rice and courgettes. The garlic naan was buttery, fluffy, chewy and beautifully fragrant with garlic (that amazing garlic is another family secret).
The pulao rice was made with high quality rice and this was apparent in terms of taste and texture. A superior rice I will gladly have again.
The sesame courgettes were a real stand out and I’m convinced even those who don’t like courgettes will love this dish. The thinly sliced fresh courgettes had just the right amount of bite enhanced by the tomatoes, sesame seeds and spices.
The main courses in the Tasting Menu included murgh satta (chicken cooked with ginger, onions and mushrooms) and lamb halim (lamb cooked in lentils, fried ginger and garlic). Both were very delicious and full of fresh flavours.
The Tasting Menu culminated with two of Prana’s traditional homemade desserts. The firni (rice pudding), their chef’s specialty, was very sweet. It was aromatic and creamy with slices of fresh coconut and flavoured with saffron and cardamom. The cinnamon pear was a real winner for me though, so leave room for dessert! The slices of pear were gently simmered in syrup of whole cinnamon and served with fresh cream. The presentation was lovely too with a cinnamon stick, bay leaf and cardamom pod serving as a visual emphasis on the flavours.
The Tasting Menu was so memorable, Paulo and I decided to return the same week and try Prana’s other menu items. I wanted to taste for myself the difference between the traditional dishes I’ve grown accustomed to at other restaurants. I had the chicken madras and the flavours were phenomenal – a notch above your average madras with vibrant, fresh flavours that I could still appreciate despite the spicy heat.
Paulo tried one of Prana’s specialties, the stuffed squid (named “calamari” on the menu, a term that is reserved for squid rings, but I guess that’s just my Mediterranean genes making me picky). Regardless of the name, the squid were tender and tasty and not the least bit rubbery. They were stuffed with herbed minced prawns and chicken then cooked in a sauce so succulent, it was a shame to waste it. Paulo mopped it up with some naan but rice would have been just as delicious.
Prana is a wonderful addition, not only to Mill Road, but to Cambridge. With the new extended space, gorgeous decor, relaxing ambience and attentive service, it’s the perfect place to indulge in some rather special Indian/Bangladeshi food. And if you’re in the mood for a traditional dish, there’s that too. Either way, you’ll never find a container of curry powder anywhere on the premises!
This post is based on 3 visits: the invitations to the relaunch and tasting menu and one return visit. Although the food and drink were complimentary at the relaunch and tasting menu, all views are my own. My return visit was at my own cost and staff were unaware that my experience would be the basis of a written review. I did not receive compensation for my review.
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