Witnessing the gradual decline and slump into obsolescence of the Pembroke docks as a kid, I remember an odd wistfulness hung over the water. What was once a hive of activity with the salty bellowing of dockworkers and the rattling of chains, eventually faded solely to the grating sound of seagulls and the occasional screech of a joyride. The vacuum of bustling trade replaced by the kind of bustle that only a Tesco Express, a B-Wise superstore and a car park big enough to fit all over Haverfordwest three times over, could provide.
Needless to say, my feelings about these places are a mixed bag.
Wapping Wharf has undergone an epistemic shift of its own; trading its commerce in ships to those of shipping containers. A series of glowing cubby holes that offer dishes from places that would’ve required an expedition to experience. So in many ways, the fifteen-minute door-to-door drive in an old Honda Civic was a reasonable simulation of this, in my opinion.
Tucked into a corner, we find Sholay; inside it’s intimate and cosy, with just two chefs producing plate after plate with what appears to be absolute ease. The rich, heady scent of spices immediately engulfs you upon entry. We’re greeted straight away by the waiter, who shows us to our seats.
Compelled by the namesake dish of sorts, we order the Sholay Chaat. Unctuous pieces of papri- a warm, spiced dough that’s crisp on the outside and moist in the centre. Mingled into fresh spinach laced with several dressings of tamarind, yoghurt and pomegranate it’s sweet, savoury, tangy and comforting. We instantly regret not ordering two.
The garlic and spinach bhaji’s soon arrived and like a child, my attention immediately switches. I’ve always had a soft spot for a crispy bhaji- as a devout lover of butter, anything deep fried in ghee is something I need to know about. The first bite reveals strands of sweet caramelised onions, bright with turmeric with a deep garlic flavour, nestled in a glistening golden brown shell.
Stacking up the plates, the Peshwari Lamb Chops come- the beautifully rendered fat blends with the sweet crust formed by the papaya marinade; all underpinned by an unmistakable char-grilled quality that still allows for a kiss of pink in the meat itself. All on a handy bone.
Because turf is nothing without surf, we get the Masalay Ki Machli- a piece of salmon lightly coated almost to a glaze, in masala. I gently press the back of my fork on one corner and there it is; the salmon submits and splays out into its flakes- the outside-in sees a steady gradient from light to dark, glistening with oils. The spice is subtle, giving rise to the taste of the salmon itself.
Next, the Dhai Baingan- two whole baby aubergines smothered in a sweet and spiced yoghurt sauce, speckled with mustard seed. Skilfully cooked, the skin encases creamy and tender flesh whilst firm enough to slice. A chapati on the side aids the mopping up operation. The Tawa Poussin is the penultimate course- the meat itself has a depth of flavour that requires very little to compliment it. The sliced fillet reclines on a decently spicy mix of finely diced peppers and onion, with a little fragrant rice on the side.
Dessert is the Malai Kulfi- a dense ice cream that’s a clever move on Sholay’s part, as it doesn’t melt easily like its traditional western counterpart, allowing for leisurely scoops that don’t succumb to the ambient heat. There’s an obvious taste akin to condensed milk that is thick, luxe and cooling providing all the soothing qualities needed to extinguish the residual chilli heat that’s still dancing on my tongue.