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.

The Riz (Margate, Kent)

The Riz, Margate

If you love a good old British-style seaside resort and you love a good curry may I direct you to the Riz in Margate?

The smartly dressed owner directed proceedings and gave us all the information we were after when it came to what was and what wasn’t in certain dishes. It’s always good to gauge different dishes and if the owner or staff are happy to help out then they’ve found the right man for a chat.

The decor is as smart as the owner. This is a real little gem, albeit not in the smartest of streets. And it looks like the locals know it too as there was a gaggle of girls getting stuck into and a couple of families enjoying the food.

My previous experience of trying to get a curry in this street had not gone well (yawn! Is it ever coming?) but my Margate friend assured us that this was the place to try. He was right.

The Riz serves superb dishes and they are as fresh as they come. This is the place to dip into South Indian and Sri Lankan dishes. So where to start? How about Nethli Meen Varuval (£4.50), spiced anchovies which are then deep fried. A pretty lively taste of Kerala I’d say. Or Fish Cutlet (£2.50), Sri Lankan traditional fish dumplings, crumb fried and served with hot spicy sauce perhaps?

House specials are parathas, iddapams and puttus, which all use eggs. A chicken paratha, scrambled with eggs and cooked with minced parathas is £6.95. But it’s got to be fish for me so the recommendation is Monkfish Curry with Mango (£8), a Keralan dish made with mango, coconut milk and ginger.

The Riz, 49 Northdown Road, Margate. Tel: 01843 293698.

Scores on the tandoors
Food 9
Decor 8
Service and friendliness 8
Atmosphere 7 (Tuesday evening)
Value for money 8

Bengal Lounge (Wrecclesham, Surrey)

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.

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

Johney Gurkha (Aldershot, Hampshire)

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.

Johney Gurkhas 16-04-2017, 09 37 20 copy  Johney Gurkhas 16-04-2017, 09 38 32 copy

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.

Johney Gurkhas 16-04-2017, 09 39 36 copy

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

Mother India’s Café (Edinburgh and Glasgow)

Mother India’s Café, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Class. There’s no other word for Mother India’s Café. One night we were in Edinburgh eating delicious food and the next night we were in Glasgow eating delicious food. The main difference is that there is a special view from the Glasgow restaurant on to the splendid Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

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Curry with a view. From Mother India’s Café, Glasgow

Mother India’s Cafés are Scottish institutions. The Glasgow one has smartened up a bit since I first ate here a few years ago but that sense of no-frills table settings, simple presentation and superb food remains. The cafés have a real vibe, and there’s a constant buzz of energy around the tables, without it impinging on the enjoyment of the diners. Some places get it wrong with the staff taking centre stage in that awful attempt to create a “restaurant theatre”. Here, there is life, but the food is centre stage and the only theatre is on the plate.

Mother India was first given its  breath of life in the 1980s by owner Mohammed Monir, a born and bred Glasweigan of Punjabi roots, and it was reinvigorated in 1993 after the first venture had to close. But spice diners all over are thankful he bounced back.

Monir was hooked with the restaurant industry when he started working at his brother’s restaurant at weekends while still at school. A couple of failed attempts with his own venues – the first at just 18 – honed his business skills. And cooking for his parents in Pakistan honed his cooking skills and gave him an insight into how to create a winning menu. This is a man who grew up enjoying chips, deep-fried pizza and jam butties as much as his mum’s curries so it’s no wonder he doesn’t just churn out old-school favourites.

Both cafés use a tapas style menu – smaller dishes in the Spanish style so you can enjoy a nice range of tastes on the table. With prices for each dish about £4-6, this is the place to tuck in.

So in Edinburgh’s it’s a rich Methi Keema Mutter (£5.55), a super tangy Chicken Achari (£5.45), a classic and creamy Sag Paneer (£4.45), fried rice (£2.25), chapati (95p) and mixed pickle (95p), while in Glasgow it’s an on-the-bone chicken Staff Curry (£5.95), an amazing and unusual Smoked Chicken with Peas (£5.80), another Sag Paneer (£4.60), a garlic nan (£1.85), boiled rice (£1.85) and some mixed picked (95p). It all sounds pretty straightforward but these are two of the best curries I have ever had. The mix of tastes, the joy of a shared experience with a friend as you swap thoughts on the merits of each dish (the Smoked Chicken was declared king of the tables) and the constant background buzz of happy curry diners adds up to great meals.

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Simply presented, simply delicious

This tapas approach has to be the way forward for other restaurants (the above, even with a couple of Kingfishers, came to only £27.45 and £29 respectively) as curry houses battle to find their niché among today’s diners.

Mother India’s Cafe, 3-5 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT.
Tel: 0131 524 9801. Open: Sun to Thurs noon–10pm, Fri to Sat noon–10.30pm.

Mother India’s Cafe, 3-5 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT. Tel: 0131 524 9801. Open: Mon to Weds noon–2pm and 5pm to 10.30pm (last orders), Thurs noon–10.30pm (last orders), Fri to Sat noon–11pm (last orders), Sun noon–10pm (last orders).

Scores on the tandoors
Food 9.5
Service 8.5
Decor 8
Vibe 9.5 (Friday night and Saturday night)
Value 10

 

 

 

Smoked Aubergine and Fenugreek Pie or Beetroot and Egg Salad

Chilli Nights (Haslemere, Surrey)

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