Bexleyheath, Kent (Masala Inn)

Masala Inn, Bexleyheath

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Out on tour then, eh?
Indeed, right to the fringes of London for this trip. But it’s a really good restaurant and worth the trip. I’ve been here before and thought a second visit was in order.

What did you order?
The pan-fried Scallops and Chilli Ponir to start. The lightly spiced scallops were the business and perfectly cooked. The nice, chunky Ponir was certainly home-made and moreish enough and I could have done with more. The fresh chopped chillies were gobbled up.

Sounds like a good start. What came next?
The Railway Chicken. I’ve had it before and it just had to get a second tasting. The dish is served on the trains of India and with 16 million travellers using them every day it’s fair too assume the dish has been served a fair few times over the years. There is no standard recipe for a Railway Curry because there are thousands of kitchens serving the travellers across the country (although the India Railways did attempt to standardise dishes served on the railways in 2009). Similarly, you’ll find variations from restaurant to restaurant, although all of them are generally thick with chunky ingredients and rustic in style.

Is it hot?
No, Railway Chicken is medium-hot but if you want real heat then look no further than Garlic Naga Chicken. With the fiery sauce from the tiny north-eastern Indian state added to slices of the heat-giving garlic you’ll soon be looking around for a swig of Cobra. Of course, if you are silly enough to order a Chilli Nan to go with it, then you’ll need an extra swig.

Surely no one is daft enough to do that?
Ahem, er no, of course not.

 

Price check
Drinks: Cobra (pint) £5.50
Popadoms: 75p each
Starters: Scallops £5.95, Chilli Ponir £5.50
Mains: Railway Chicken £11.95, Garlic Naga Chicken £8.75
Rice: Pilau Rice £2.60
Nan: Chilli Nan £2.65

Masala Inn, 220 Broadway, Bexleyheath, DA6 7AU.
Tel: 020 8303 5245 (reservations)

Open
Monday–Thursday 5pm to 11pm
Friday– Saturday 5pm to 11.30pm

You can enjoy savings on food at the Masala Inn with the Spice Card. Get your Spice Card here…
Sunday noon to 2.30pm and 5pm to 11pm

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Liss, Hampshire (Madhuban)

Madhuban, Liss, Hampshire

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Ok, where’s this place?
It’s a village of about 6,000 people, about 20 miles north of Portsmouth.

What’s its Indian restaurant like?
It’s actually got two but Madhuban is the famous one.

Famous?
Absolutely, people travel from far and wide to eat here and the curry guru Pat Chapman raves about the place. He even named it as one of the top restaurants in the country in his Cobra Good Curry Guide.

Have you been here before?
Been here before? I came here the year it opened in 1987 and have been coming here whenever I’m in the area ever since.

Wow you must have seen some changes?
You bet. It was a 30-seater restaurant when it started and now it has 130 covers. It’s well designed, with a modern bar and waiting area and side-lit carvings of classical dancers (Bharat Natyam) and plants in the wall recesses. It was even packed on my last visit on a Wednesday night. It felt like everyone turned up at the same time which meant the service was a bit slow but it was still as friendly and warm as the first day I visited the restaurant.

And so to the food then?
The Railway Chicken and Egg Curry is a nod to the famous food found on the Indian railways. I’ve had it a few times. It’s thick with meat, vegetables and sauce, with a boiled egg in the middle. Rustic, just as it should be. The Chicken Tikka Darjeeling Masala is also highly recommended, with green tikka a great change (and very fresh tasting). According to the menu, the dish is in tribute to the garden in the Bangladeshi home of Lodue, the man behind the Madhuban. The Achari Chicken and Kashmiri Pilao (with lychees) was also devoured, as was the Madhuban Special Chicken, which  is a combination of the flavours of Bhoona, Korma and Tikka Masala.

What else is on the menu?
Maybe you should ask what isn’t on the menu! It’s one of the biggest menus I’ve every seen – and I don’t mean just the printed menu, which is a large-format eight-page masterpiece of information on dishes and spices. There are something like 150 menu options (I gave up counting after page three) and a promise to try to make anything that’s not on the menu if you ask!

The chefs must be superhuman.
They certainly do a top job with all those options. Everything on our table of eight was very good. The bill, including drinks, came to just over £160.

What’s the damage?
Drinks: Cobra (draught) £3.95 (large bottle) £4.75, white wine (large glass) £5, Lemonade (pint) £3.50, Diet Coke or Lime and soda (small) £2.50
Popadoms: 60p each and 60p each for pickles
Starter: didn’t have any
Mains: Zeera Prawn Masala £11.50, Chicken Tikka Darjeeling Masala, Achari Chicken, Railway Chicken and Egg Curry £10.95, Madhuban Special Chicken £10.50, Jungli Maas Chicken £9.95, Rogon Chicken £9.50
Sides: Sag Paneer, Bombay Aloo £3.95
Rice: Mushroom Rice, Kashmiri Pilao £3.50, Pilao Rice £2.95
Nan: Keema Nan £3.95, Peshwari Nan £2.95

Madhuban, 94 Station Road, Liss, Hampshire, GU33 7AQ.
Tel: +44 1730 893363 or +44 1730 894372.

Open
Monday to Thursday: 5.30pm–10.30pm.
Friday: 5.30pm–11.30pm.
Saturday: noon–2.30pm and 5.30pm–11.30pm.
Sunday: noon–2.30pm and 5.30pm–10.30pm.

Nu Delhi Lounge (Belfast)

Nu Delhi Lounge, Belfast

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From top left: Chicken Chilli Garlic, Punjabi Lamb Masala, Garlic Nan, Mushroom Rice.

 

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Tandoori King Prawn.

Where is this restaurant then?
It’s right in the heart of Belfast.

Isn’t that the place responsible for sinking the Titanic?
Well, not exactly, that was an iceberg, but this is where they built the ship. At the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Shouldn’t that be infamous, considering the Titanic sank on its first trip?
Yes, the city does have a strange attraction to this sinking ship; there is even a Titanic Quarter in the city, although I think that’s the tourist office at work.

Did the prices at Nu Delhi sink you?
Very good. Yes, they were maybe a notch about the average for an Indian (or Punjabi, as the venue says) but certainly not too outrageous. The bill came to just over £55 for a shared starter, two mains, rice, nan and drinks.

I like a drink. What did you have?
A mango lassi and pint of draught Asahi.

Isn’t that Japanese?
You’re right. I was a little surprised because it’s the first time I’ve come across it on draught in an Indian restaurant, but it is clean and sharp and pairs very well with spicy food.

Make sense. It would be nice to have it at the bar before the meal.
It would indeed, especially as it’s such an attractive bar, with the red and white strip lighting and hanging globes adding a touch of Bollywood glitz. The decor overall is smart and modern, with dark wood tables, lots of reeds in pots and back-lit wall panels.

I suppose I should ask about the food?
About time, that’s what we there for, after all. The prawns in the Tandoori King Prawn starter really deserve the title of king because they were plump and deliciously spiced. No extra sauce needed there. The Chicken Chilli Garlic is certainly one for the garlic lovers and on reflection the Garlic Nan was a clove too far for the table. The nan itself was top notch and some of the freshest I’ve enjoyed outside of India. I was a bit surprised that the chicken came in a reddish, creamy sauce, not something I’ve come across with this dish before, but it worked well. What I really liked was that the texture of the other main, the Punjabi Lamb Masala, was different, as the chef used chopped rather than pureed onions. Too many restaurants use a one-fits-all sauce, so all the curries end up a bit samey.

Is that a word?
Probably not, but you know what I mean. Lots of restaurants have a big, long menu but when the curries come out they look and taste the same. Certainly not the case here.

Sounds as if you like Nu Delhi then?
I do indeed. It’s smart but you don’t feel as if you are on parade and it’s a lot better than your average High Street curry house but doesn’t whack the pocket for your pleasure.

What’s the damage?
Drinks: Asahi £4.75, Mango Lassi £3.50
Starter: King Prawn Tandoori £9.95
Mains: Chicken Chilli Garlicn £12.95, Punjabi Lamb Masala £12.95
Rice: Mushroom Rice £2.70
Nan: Garlic Nan £2.60

Nu Delhi Lounge, 25 Bruce Street, Belfast. Tel: +44 28 90244 747. Info@nudelhilounge.co.uk. Open Mon to Fri, noon–2pm and 5pm–11pm, Sat to Sun 5pm–11pm.

Lightly spiced

Lee Raj, Blackpool

There are so many food options in Blackpool town centre and along the Golden Mile that when a local recommends somewhere beyond the lights it’s worth taking note.

Lee Raj is only just beyond the lights in fact, only a short walk from Starrs Gate, the last tram stop on the south shore. It’s quite disconcerting leaving the flashing lights behind after a couple of days, like you’re heading into no-man’s land, but it’s a welcome relief too, to get back to some sort of normality.

This is a neighbourhood restaurant serving locals very good food. It’s under new management  and the service is efficient and very friendly. It’s got a long and comprehensive list of choices, many of which were new to me so the waiter received more than the usual amount of queries about how dishes are cooked and their origins. It’s Bangladeshi run so there are some nice specialities from there, such as Biran Mas (£8.50) a dish of lightly spiced fish, but there is food from many regions, including Sri Lanka, which is forgotten on many menus.

Shatkora is a citrus fruit that is used in Bangladeshi cooking. If you like lime pickle you’ll like this, although it has a sharper and cleaner bite on the tongue than the pickle tray favourite.  Shathkora Torkar (chicken at £7.40) it was then. Fantastically sharp, the chef  used nice big chunks in the dish. Other times I’ve tried this dish chefs seemed a bit afraid of the fruit and its taste was hard to discern. I was delighted that this chef pushed the use of the fruit to the limit. If you order something you want to taste it, not go searching about in the sauce.

Because of the distinctive taste of shathkora I went for plain pilau rice (£2.30) to avoid a taste clash, but a couple of chapatis (£1.30 each) or a plain nan (£2.30) would work equally as well.

Lee Raj, 23 Squires gate, Blackpool, FY4 1SN. Tel: 01253 401800/406300

Scores on the tandoors

Food 9

Decor 8

Service and friendliness 9

Atmosphere 7 (Friday evening)

Value 8

Fast but certainly fresh

Manjal, London, E14

Most food reviews have an angle, something to ‘hang’ the piece on. It’s something that stands out, good or bad, a little something to make the piece. Manjal offered so many angles I don’t know where to start, so I’ll list them all… It’s a new Indian restaurant (and a good one); the menu is different and exciting (although bizarrely the two I saw were not identical); the decor is contemporary and bright (and some of the tables enjoy views across the water of Millwall Docks and the twinkling lights of canary Wharf); the service is friendly (although a bit scatty); and the food is tasty and fresh (although it was delivered a bit too fast for my liking).

So let’s dive straight into the last point. There’s an ideal time for food to be served. Somewhat unfairly on restaurants this varies from person to person but the basic rules generally apply: there should be a ‘suitable’ time from taking the order to delivering the starters so diners can enjoy a drink and a chat, then there should be a ‘suitable’ time from clearing the starters to bringing the mains so diners can have another drink, but also so they feel the food is cooked freshly and not pre-prepared (let’s ignore the fact that few places can cook every order from scratch without some sort of prep, but that’s besides the point for diners).

In this country restaurants can safely err on the side of quicker service rather than slower because we don’t linger around a dinner table like, say, many Southern Europeans. But then they don’t like curry as much as us so what do they know anyway.

But no-one likes to get food delivered so quickly he feels like he has suddenly become part of a restaurant race. So when the starters arrive before the ordered popadoms have even reached the table and the mains appear before the beer has barely washed down the last mouthful of starter, then most of us will start dreaming of those lazy Southern European dinners.

But the food was undoubtedly fresh. The Mili Juli Subzi (£4.95) has perfectly cooked vegetables that really did remind me of those picked from my grandfather’s garden. And, joy, upon joy, the meat in the Chicken Karahi (£7.95) was running with tasty juices. Not a dry lump in the house. The starters – just two of a very interesting lineup – were also excellent. Kanaval Pirattal (£4.95) is squid, South Indian style, and the thick, dark sauce will please even the most ardent chilli head. Hot indeed. Even the Broccoli Varuval (£3.95), simple enough, but also very fresh, had a kick.

pic2  pic3   •Kanaval Pirattal (spicy squid)                 •Broccoli Varuval

Manjal, 3 Turnberry Quay, Pepper Street, London, E14 9RD. Tel: 020 7538 1140. E-mail: info@manjalrestaurant.com. Open: daily, noon–11pm.

Scores on the tandoors

Food 7⃣

Decor 8⃣

Atmosphere (Thursday night) 8⃣

Service and friendliness 7⃣

Value 8⃣

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