Review: Tulsi Holywood

Sitting behind a small, unassuming shop front on Holywood's High Street, is quite simply the greatest Indian meal I have ever had. Now, I realise that is quite a grand statement to open with, but I absolutely mean it.

Tulsi – also known as holy basil, their website informs me – is a small glass-fronted entrance a few doors up from the Maypole bar, but stepping foot inside we are immediately welcomed into a beautifully decorated room, laid out in inviting dark tones of brown, grey and shimmering orange light. The room is slim and long, but doesn't feel remotely crowded – undoubtedly they could've squeezed more seating in here, but it feels like they've sacrificed some seating to keep it comfortable for its diners.

Immediately greeted at the door, we're shown to a table and the nicely spaced seating is confirmed – I don't enjoy being in restaurants where you're practically touching elbows with the table next to you, but there is none of that here.
Within moments of sitting down we're presented with poppadoms and a selection of dips, marking the start of a number of revelations we experience throughout our meal.

Now, I can't lie, I love poppadoms; I believe them to be perhaps the perfect savoury snack , and Tulsi's are super fresh, nothing left languishing under heat lamps here, and once paired with the, what I can only assume, just prepared trio of dips – and I fell in love all over again. How can a simple poppadom be so good?

The yoghurt and mint was light and refreshing, the onion chutney is beautifully fresh but the mango thing (I must confess, we were told exactly what it was but I was so busy eating it that I wasn't properly paying attention) was a revelation. Delicately sweet with just a hint of heat, I kept in on our table throughout the meal and added it to almost everything I ate. It was absolutely delicious and I would buy it bottled. And this is just the pre-starter!

From here we choose chicken pakora to share for a starter and I have to say this was our only mistake... They were delicious, but with 11 options on the starter menu, we should've been braver and order something other than chicken, mainly because we both knew we'd be getting chicken as our main meal. Next time, and there will be a next time, I'm going to be all about the Bombay Chowpatty Chaat.

We should've asked for pointers, because when it came to our mains, the staff not only explained everything we were unsure of – because honestly, my main experience of Indian food has been takeaways, and this is levels above that – my partner was concerned not to see her usual favourite, the standard chicken tikka masala on the main menu (there was a chilli masala but she didn't want to go quite that hot), but when she asked they said they'd make it for her, but recommended the Murg Makhani in its place, promising it to be the better option.

That's pretty bold when you think about it; "Yes we could that, but we do this better..." but our server (shamefully I neglected to get any of their names) was able to explain every aspect of the dish and why he believed it to be right choice and frankly, you should always defer to knowledge in these situations, which we did in the end. I went with a Shahi Korma, reassuringly told that it would be the everything I wanted from a korma (yes, I am a total lightweight when it comes to spice) but with an extra little kick. Revelation numbers two and three.

This was quite simply the nicest Indian meal I have ever had, and without doubt the nicest food in general for quite some time. Beautifully presented, and utterly delicious, we both ate every bite of the extremely generous portions.

I wish I had the words to properly described what we ate, and we did do our best to discuss it at the time, so that I might have something to write here beyond 'It was really, really, really, good!', but we mostly just ate in silence. Each of us entirely consumed by the meal in front of us.

This restaurant, and it's helpful, attentive, knowledgable staff deserve a much more thorough and thoughtful review than this, but all I can really tell you is I loved every bite of the food I ate, and every bite of my partners food I stole, and have not one single complaint about any part of our evening.

Oh, there was one final revelation... Kulfi. We had already decided that following our meal we would walk the short distance to a local ice cream parlour we knew would still be open – for the rare treat of enjoying it without our screaming children – but I thought to be thorough I should at least look at the desert menu. We knew straight away we had to stay and try its traditional offerings, each being completely new to us.

The Gulab Jamun is a small fried dumpling made of thickened milk in a flavoured sugar syrup, and was a little melt-in-your-mouth treat, but the real star was the Kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream – denser and creamier than any ice cream I have ever had, the flavour and texture is entirely unique. It might look like a mint ice cream, but with cardamom and (I think) pistachio, it was so much more, and that’s not even to mention the beautiful rose flavour thick syrup it came with. It was the absolute ideal end to a frankly, and honestly, perfect meal.

I cannot recommend Tulsi more – it is an authentic and richly flavoured revelation of a restaurant, with friendly, super helpful staff. I regret all the times I walked past without venturing inside, and having now experienced it, I will never pass up the opportunity to eat here again.

Tulsi can be found at 51 High Street, Holywood. You can view their menu online at and keep up to date at @Tulsi-Holywood on Facebook.

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