Village gem

Bengal Lounge, Wrecclesham, Surrey

What a great find this restaurant is. Unless you live in this village or nearby, of course, in which case you’ll know all about it. https://wordpress.com/post/greenwichcurryclub.com/4931

Housed in a former pub, and retaining all the interior nooks and crannies and split levels that make (or made in this case) country pubs so appealing, the Bengal Lounge is a gem with some great food. Smart and modern, and, so the owner told me, operating for umpteen years, this is clearly a popular place among locals. It’s got a bit of that local feel to it as if everyone knows each other (as perhaps they did when it was a pub) so expect a few of those “who are they?” looks.

You can also enjoy a huge car park and one of those huge menus too (something for everyone). I must say I’m usually a little suspicious of those (huge menus not huge car parks) with the obvious thought being that can a place really cook all those dishes really well? But on that front I was wrong (at least with the dishes we tried but I’ll report back when I’ve worked through the rest of the 158 items listed on the menu).

The Chicken Dhansak (£6.95) was declared as good as the best from the Dhansak lovers, the Lamb Shashlick (£8.50) was succulent and fresh, as this kebab should be, and the Mishti Kodhu Bhaji  (sweet butternut, £3.50) a delight of a side dish. Based on the experience of the latter two dishes mentioned the Lamb Mishti Khodu (£9.95) is a must try next time.

The service was friendly, if a bit random at time (loads of waiters, so you never know who is supposed to be doing what). But, hey, we’re not locals yet so I’m sure we’ll work this little thing out.

Bengal Lounge, 1 The Street, Wrecclesham, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4PP. Tel: 01252 713222. Open: daily noon–2pm and 5.30pm–11pm (10.30pm Sundays).

Scores on the Tandoors
Food 8.5
Service 7
Decor 8.5
Vibe (early Saturday night) 7
Value 8

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Johney come…

Johney Gurkha, Aldershot

The first time I went to Johney Gurkha was many years ago after a recommendation from a Gurkha friend of mine who lives in Aldershot, home of the British army and now home to many thousands from the Nepalese community.

“Straight up Victoria Road,” he advised. “It’s not called Johney Gurkha anymore, it’s called, er, er, something else. But just ask anyone, that’s what everyone still calls it.”

So my first visit to the famous Johney Gurkha was actually to Gurkha Raj Doot. But nobody ever called it that – even the legendary curry man Pat Chapman queried the strange name change a few years back in his Good Curry Guide – so I’m delighted that the owners have seen sense and reverted the name back.

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Frankly, though, the name is about the only thing that has changed in this legendary place for years. It’s stuck in time – and all the better for it.

The restaurant is downstairs and apart from a few bits and pieces in the upstairs area as you enter – notably an imposing kukri on the wall – you could be forgiven for wondering where the welcome is. I’m sure that more than a few people have wandered out at this stage without even venturing downstairs. Not those in the know.

The decor is basic, the service functional and the portions are large and tasty. It’s always packed.

You might have to wait for a table at busy times (although the turnaround is usually pretty quick) and you might have to wait a bit for your food sometimes. But, then, that’s what Gurkha beer (from West Sussex) is for.

Now, I know Chicken Tikka Masala is popular but I have never seen three versions on the menu: a classic version (£7.25), a Kathmandu Style version (£7.95) and a Johney Gurkha version (£7.95). Well, after all this stuff about the name it had to be the latter, which tasted, well, like Chicken Tikka Masala. Sticking with the name theme we added a Gurkhali Lamb Chilli (£7.95), and the darker, thick sauce was a good addition to the table to go with the creamy masala. Sadly there was no rice with a Johney or Gurkha prefix so it was a good old pilau rice (£2.35) and an extremely large raita (£2.90) to complete the line-up.

The food was as hearty and tasty as it always is and it certainly looked like everyone around us agreed in what was clearly just another successful night downstairs in Victoria Road. Some things should never change. And certainly not the name.

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Johney Gurkha, 186 Victoria Road, Aldershot, GU11 1JZ. Tel: 01252 328773. Open: Mon to Sun 5.30pm – 11pm.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 7.5
Service 7
Decor 5
Vibe (Saturday night) 9
Value 8

Many nights

Chilli Nights, Haslemere, Surrey

They always go through the menu ritual even though they know what they want. It would be odd not to I suppose. They know what they are ordering, I know what they are ordering, Charlie the owner knows what they are ordering, but he presents the menus nonetheless.

Let’s go through the process of removing reading glasses from pockets to read the fairly extensive menu. And, let’s even ask questions about other dishes. What’s this? What’s in that? Mmm that sounds good.

That’ll be two Chicken Dhansaks (£6.25) please, they say, and the waiter collects the menus with a knowing smile. The Dhansak couple have been coming here for years and say this is the best Dhansak they have ever found. I’m not surprised, the chef at Chilli Nights must have had enough practice by now.

So it’s left to me to order something a bit more unusual to hold our table’s end up. Maybe an Ayre Sizzler (£11.95)? Maybe a Chicken Manchuria (£7.95)?

But the truth is I fancy a Dopiaza or a Rogan. You’d think no restaurant can go wrong with old school classics but many still mess it up. Not Chilli Nights. The classics still hit the spot over and over. Chicken Rogan (£6.25) wins the day. I order a Batak Tikka (£4.85) starter just so the chefs don’t think we are stuck in the 1980s, but as I demolish the last chunks of the Rogan I think to hell with it and go for a Lemon Sorbet.

Sometimes you know what you want and if you are in a restaurant that always delivers then why not? Just ask the Dhansak couple.

Chilli Nights, 64 Weyhill, Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 1HN. Tel: 01428 644 288.

Scores on the Tandoors
Food 9
Decor 8
Service and friendliness 9
Vibe 8 (Friday night)
Value 9

 

Where is Ralph?

Shezan, Oxford

In the glory days of Oxford the Cowley Road was rammed with Indian restaurants. Indian restaurant, Indian restaurant, pub, Indian restaurant, that’s how it went. Which was perfect for us.

I should explain. The glory days were the late 1980s when we were students in this fine scholarly city. Us is four friends who used to live together in those glory days who have met for a reunion. It’s 30 years on.

We meet in the New Inn, at least that’s still there. Blimey, the prices have gone up Roger. The Indians have been invaded by Mesopotamian skewers and forced from their land. And then, as if to plant a warning flag to any counter invasion the Mesopotamians have inserted huge chunks of lamb and chicken in the windows, continuously dripping fat and spice from their bulky masses.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a kebab as much as the next half-drunk person who is wildly hungry at 11.30pm. Don’t diss a kebab, it does the trick. But Turkish food, eaten with friends as you stumble along the pavement dribbling into the pita as you search for another bit of sliced meat while dodging people looking at their phones,  doesn’t do much for a shared dining experience.

Indian food does, however. It’s all sharey is Indian food. The saddest Indian casualty along the Cowley Road, says Jon, is the Jomuna. He’s right. The Jomuna was our second home in the late 1980s. We must have eaten there three times a week at least. Ralph was the wonderful manager. We once turned up with a (very small) handful of change as the pubs were shutting and asked, “what can we get for this?” He picked up the change without counting it and replied: “whatever you want boys.” He worked for Oxford council in the day and in the restaurant at night and, if my memory serves me right, was studying part-time as well. For someone who thought getting up for an afternoon lecture was commendable I was in awe of the man. That night, out of respect for Ralph and being well brought up young men we opted for a basic curry and rice despite him repeating the all-in-offer.

But what we really wanted was a Chicken Tikka Masala. This glorious dish had just been invented (although we didn’t know that at the time) and the Jomuna had it on its menu. My goodness it was wonderful. But as it was a couple of quid more than the other dishes it was most certainly only ordered on special occasions, such as birthdays or when we’d found a pound note (yes, it was that long ago) on the pavement.

The only other time we had a Chicken Tikka Masala was when Rob (you’ve met all of Us now) returned home from a weekend triumphantly waving a £50 that his grandad had given him above his head. “Beers and a Jomuna?” he asked.

We eked out a couple of games of pool at the Bricklayer’s Arms and Britannia and squeezed in a pint at the White Horse, but frankly there was nothing else on our minds other than visiting Ralph.

Chicken Tikka Masala was better in those days. And I know it is not my memory playing nostalgic tricks with me because I still make it using a recipe from Pat Chapman’s iconic book, Favourite Restaurant Curries, which was first published in 1988. It was before the phrase British Indian Restaurant (BIR) curries had taken hold, but this book was exactly that: curries how the Brits liked them. The recipe in the book is an amalgam from the Oakham Tandoori in Leicester, Dilruba in Rugby, and Koh-i-noor, in Newport. This is how Ralph’s Chicken Tikka Masala tasted and if you want to know what this and other 1980s curries were like then this is the book for you.

But Jomuna is gone so we head across Magdalen Bridge and up the High Street to the Shezan. They look somewhat surprised to see us, even though it has just passed 10.30pm. That’s another thing that has changed: Indian restaurants are much more respectable now and a lot don’t even bother with the after-pub crowd. Leave that to the Mesopotamians.

But we are just in time to order says the young waiter, who is friendly enough but wasn’t even born when they were inventing Chicken Tikka Masala. The decor is all contemporary Mogul style and the snappily dressed owner Salim has the story of the place. This superbly located restaurant has been a dining room since 1915 and he has been here since 1978, when he started out as a pot washer and general this-that-and-the-other type helper. He’s a nice guy and advises me to have Lemon rice (£3.95) with my main, which is a winning recommendation.

Tonight we are also ordering Paneer Tikka (£5.95) starters, Goan Chicken (£10.95) mains, Peshwari nans (£3.95). But, I am delighted to say, there is still one Chicken Tikka Masala (£9.95) on the table.

It’s lovely to know that not everything has changed.

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Goan Chicken Curry (very good with Lemon rice) and Paneer Tikka.

Shezan, Ist Floor, 135 High Street, Oxford, OX4 1DN. Tel: 01865 251600. Open: Mon–Thurs noon–2.30pm and 5.30pm–late. Fri–Sun noon–3pm and 5.30pm–late.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 8
Decor 8
Service and friendliness 7.5
Vibe (late Friday night) 5
Value 7.5

Not royalty but decent

Royal Tandoori, Lincoln

The Royal Tandoori is what I’d imagine curry houses looked like in the 1960s and ’70s. – the days when the food itself was still a novelty and the décor could be an afterthought. Things have moved on since then for sure, but not it seems in this specific corner of Lincoln. I say ‘specific’ because over the road a curry competitor, The Modern, is all shiny knobs and clean cut wood.

There are usually two ways you can approach things when you see a restaurant that thinks cork tablemats, plastic pepper pots and chairs with springs poking up the bums of guests are appealing. The first is that the food will be so good the décor doesn’t matter (after all a shiny table setting is no guarantee of quality food) and the second is that the food is as awful as the badly framed prints on the wall.

The Royal Tandoori is closer to the former, and although the food is not sensational by any means, it was certainly up to the task for four men who had just been to a football match.

When it came to ordering I blame the dithering. Starter or no starter? Popadoms? No I don’t fancy them. Lamb? Only if you order a chicken dish I can share. And not too hot. Side dishes? We won’t eat it all. But I want one. Dither, dither, dither. And so it came to be that, to avoid any more dithering we ordered a set meal, something I assumed belonged to the realm of Chinese food. Always seems like a good idea when you read it out loud but rarely is.

But here we go, headlong into a set meal. At least it included popadoms, which meant the pickle tax was absorbed (80p per person for the pickle tray indeed). So, and it really does sound good when you read it out loud, there are starters of Sheehk Kebab and Onion Bhaji, mains of Chicken Tikka Bhoona, Rogan Josh, Prawn Bhoona, and Chicken Korma, plus sides of Sag Aloo, Mixed Vegetable Curry, Pilau rice, Special rice and two naans. All for £42.95. Not bad indeed.

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My reticence over set meals is that the nature of appealing to a group means the dishes have to be pretty middle of the road (see above). The second is that the dishes are mini portions.

But the dishes certainly were not mini, or if they were then the other people in the restaurant were getting huge portions. Certainly no complaints there. So how about the quality? Our friend Billy Broadbent, who knows a thing or two about curry, reckons it’s decent but probably not royalty.

Royal Tandoori, 118 High Street, Lincoln, LN5 7PR. Tel: 01522 514222 or 576736. Open: daily noon–2pm and 5.50pm–midnight.

The Scores on the Tandoors
 Food 6
Décor 3
Vibe (Saturday night) 4
Service and friendliness 6
Value 7

It takes all sauce

Ribble Tandoori, Clitheroe, Lancashire
(Takeaway)

As one of only a handful of curry houses serving the market town of Clitheroe, as well as the large surrounding area of villages and farms, the Ribble Tandoori needs to be good. And as it is the nearest Indian to my friend’s cottage, requiring a good 40-minute round trip, I am delighted to report that it is, which is no surprise as it’s been operating since 1993. A post-pub curry in these parts need a certain amount of planning if you live in one of the Forest of Bowland villages, so disappointment isn’t really an option.

The sauces for both the South Indian Hot Garlic Keema (£5.45) and the Rogan Josh (£5.45) were thick and tasty, using finely chopped onions instead of the oft mulched-in-blender method for the base. This found an immediate fan, not least because I have adopted this approach in my own cooking in the last couple of years. Self-validation and all that. It does take a bit longer to soften up the onions but it draws out their sweetness better and the reward in the texture is well worth it, as anyone who has dished up a curry that makes them think of baby food will agree.

The garlic in South Indian Hot Garlic Keema was similarly noticeable and its taste prominent, as indeed it should be if you order a dish with garlic in its name. It was refreshing to see this dish on the menu, and indeed there were many others that don’t appear on too many others, including Lonka Garlic Masala, Lonka Piaja, Jai Puri, Zafranai, and Hathkora. I could have stayed for ages discussing the ways these dishes are created with the friendly guy serving and watching the chefs at work in the open kitchen, but alas it was necessary for me to go and find out the bit below for where to have a beer while you are waiting.

And the curries were indeed worth the wait. We added Lemon rice (£1,95) and a nan (£1.50).

Parking: on the Waddington Road or one of the nearby side streets.

Delivery: yes, but the menu doesn’t specify a distance or a minimum. Because it serves a rural area it will depend how far away you are ordering from.

Beer while you’re waiting: the Wagon and Horses is a two-minute walk up Pimlico Road and the Royal Oak, in Waterloo Road, is four minutes.

Ribble Tandoori Takeaway, 19 Waddington Road, Clitheroe, BB7 2HJ. Tel: 1200 443368. Open: daily 5pm-11.30pm. Sunday 4pm – 10.30pm.

The scores on the tandoors

Food 8

Waiting area: 5

Value 9

Service and friendliness 8

A fine lunch

Charcoals, Glasgow, Scotland

Lunchtime curries are always a bit of a treat and it certainly is a treat at Charcoals. This smallish curry house doesn’t look much from the outside but the food is cracking. It’s also just around the corner from The Horseshoe, one of Glasgow’s best known pubs, so you can have a nice post-curry pint if you plump for an early executive lunch.

At just £6.95 it’s particularly good value, although once you’ve added a during-curry pint (£3.60 for draught Tennent’s), some pickle (95p) and a tip it’ll be double that.

The food is exceptional and the Chicken Desi Karahi one of the best curries I’ve ever had. The first mouthful simply exploded in flavours. The sauce was sweetish, but spicy, and full of onion, peppers and juicy bits of meat. I had it with two chappatis but you can also chooose boiled rice or a naan if you prefer.

The deal also comes with a starter (you can choose from a small range) and the Chana Poori was nearly up there with the main in the flavour stakes. Super tastes all wrapped up in puffy, flaky bread.

There’s a small hatch near the door, which the chefs use to let out the heat, and as I was the table nearest this it was fascinating to watch them at work. I’d love to show you a pic of these great chefs but unfortunately I was told that taking a pic is “against the law, against company policy” by the slightly grumpy waiter. The hatch door was promptly shut and steamed up. Mmm.

Instead I will show you a pic of the fine lunch  this unassuming but quality little place dished up. If you don’t hear from me again it’s because the curry police have taken my camera and I’m hiding in the oven.

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Tasty karahi, pickles, chappati and a beer. A fine lunch…

Charcoals, 26a Renfield Street, Glasgow, Scotland, G2 1LU. Tel 0141 258 6482. Open: noon–late.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 9

Decor 6

Service and friendliness 6

Atmosphere 6 (Wednesday lunchtime)

Value 9

 

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