Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Rice Boat - Authentic Indian Cuisine from Kerala.

Aaaaand I am back

A place I had been longing to try for quite some time now is the Rice Boat on Newnham Road.

Described by their website as "Indian food, but not as you know it". The Rice Boat is not like the usual standard of British Indian cuisine you find in Cambridge, but more of a traditional Keralan style of Indian food. 
Popular for its king fish and craft beer selection, you can see why this place is often spoken so highly of when reading any Indian cooking review or blog. Sadly for me I have never been on this side of town to give it a go, so tonight, i thought I would finally change that! 

Located right next to the Mill Pond and the beautiful Granta pub, this area can be a night out in itself. Also sitting next door is one of my favourite Indians in the area, India House, which always gets high marks every time I visit. Luckily they arent rivals as they take two very different approaches to Indian cuisine. 

The first thing I notice about the Rice Boat is how easy it is to miss. Its not very big or imposing like India House, or the Granda Pub, which both stand out so much. In fact, the Rice Boat could easily be mistaken for a small shop while walking past. 

Once you walk in you are greeted by warm atmosphere. The walls are orange/yellow and there is lots of Indian art work. The place has numerous books about Kerala and south India to help customers get a feel of the place they are about to experience through food. 

I was the first to turn up out of the four of us meeting here. The two staff looked quite busy despite there not being too many people in there at the time. Even though I made a booking for a table they had no record of me coming. Luckily they managed to find us a spare table anyway and put us at the front of the bar. 

While waiting for my friends to turn up I took a look at some of the books about Kerala and also examined the menu. The thing which first jumped out at me was the prices, the Rice Boat is by no means cheap in any sense of the word. Now I understand that some of these dishes are made from scratch, are specialist foods and are made to the highest standards, but even things like a 660ml (just over a pint) bottle of Cobra was £6.50. Something you could get from a supermarket around the corner for £2, I dont see why this had to be the same price as the food.

Once my friends arrived they all agreed that the prices were certainly above average but were impressed by the selection of cuisine on the menu. One of us in particular liked the selection of numerous craft beers and ale available. Personally I think a lot of Indian restaurants are probably better just letting you bring your own alcohol in, its cheaper and you can chose exactly what you like, however it was good to have a selection of beers to try and sample which I may not have tried otherwise. 
I was pleased to see a Czech beer on the menu called Konrad, which was one of the more cheaper beers at around £4.50 a pint. Sadly they were out, so I had to settle for an Aspal Cider. 

Once we had made our orders we decided to discuss what we had chosen. One of my friends ordered the Kerala Red Fish Curry with Onion Vada for starters. 
My other friends ordered the Kerala Chicken Curry and a the other a BIRYANI. I myself ordered a starter and went for the Fried Tiger King Prawns and then a Lamb Ularthu for mains.

As a group we ordered a good mix of everything so we got a good idea of what the Rice Boat is all about.

Our starters came out while we waited for our mains. My tiger king prawns were out of this world. They were so big, juicy and full of flavour.The mustard seeds and chili really blew me away too as they had a mild kick to them. I would go as far as to say that they were the best prawns I have ever had in my life. Easily worth the £9. 

My friends Onion Vada arrived at the same time as the prawns. Basically Kerala’s version of Onion Bhaji (but a whopping £4.50). It was a nice snack to enjoy while waiting for our food. The sauce was a nice touch and had a good kick to it. A great sharing platter. 

We ended up waiting a little while for our food, nothing which bothered any of us. The staff were quite busy when I came in to a half empty restaurant, by this point the place was full, so my sympathies were with them. 
My friends Biriyani come out with two eggs, some poppadoms and a pickle. This dish comes across as the better value of the dishes as it seems to have a more complete set...

...As you can see by my Lamb Ularth, it looks quite lonely on the plate. 

Dont let that fool you mind, this Lamb was absolutely incredible. I just wish I had gotten a little more for £11. The lamb is slow cooked until it soaks up the sauce so the taste is unbelievable when you take a bite with such intense flavour. 

My friends fish curry for me was the star of the show. Not only because it was the only dish which had a spicy kick to it (which for me is a big deal), but also the huge chunks of King Fish looked delicious. This will defiantly be what I will be ordering should I come here again! I managed to sample the sauce were tasted sublime, and the dish received two thumbs up by my friend.

The chicken curry was equally nice in terms of flavour, you could really taste the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in there. Boasted as the spiciest chicken curry on the menu the dish didnt really have much of a kick to it but the flavour was great and went down a treat. It reminded me a  mix between a traditional Indian and a Thai curry because of the coconut milk. 

We were presented with the bill in a what I would presume is a Keralan style box which came with some lolipops and anniseed sprinkles (for some reason!?). No hot towels or chocolates at this restaurant I am afraid. 

                                     My bill came to about £25, which was expected. 

I couldnt help but think that £25 is usually the standard price for two people at a lot of Indian restaurants around Cambridge. You would get more for your money too and never leave feeling like you could eat more. You pay for quality I suppose!
That being said, we experienced something which can only be found at one other place in Cambridge (that I have yet to try), and every single dish we ordered was incredible and well presented. I am so glad I made the effort to try the Rice Boat, though thanks to its awkward location (for me) and its high prices I cannot see myself coming back here for a while. Though I am left with a pleasant memory and an education on real Indian food and culture. 

This is a place which I recommend to everyone if they enjoy Indian food in any shape or form. This is the authentic South Indian food experience. Just be prepared to spend a little more, though I am confident you will not be disappointed by any of the dishes. My other only warning is towards people with a big appetite like me, you may come out feeling a little hungry later. 

4/5 - A unique selection of fantastically prepared south Indian cuisine. Just be prepared to pay for quality. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Megnah

The Maghna down Victoria Road has always been a place I haven't looked at with the most fondness over the years. The last time I visited I felt like I was sitting in a cheap conservatory eating less than average food. It also has the rotten luck of being incredibly close to Castle Street, which for me, is the best place in Cambridge for Indian cuisine

That was quite a few years ago though and the place has had a make over since. The place may look the same on the outside but has had a lot of work done on its interior, which for me was really needed.

I decided to treat my dad to a curry a few weeks back so decided to give the Meghna a bash. He lives in Bar Hill so it was a choice between some of the restaurants on the west side of Cambridge for travel purposes. I had already done a lot of the gems on Castle Street recently and I was invited to the Meghna by some of the staff on the Cambridge Curry Crew Facebook group a few weeks back. It had been a long time since I had tried the place and I had heard of its fresh new look, so why not, eh?

Upon entering we were greeted by a friendly member of staff who seated us immediately. You can see that the place has had a good lick of paint and the place had been decorated with a couple of beautiful bits of artwork and sculptures. They still have the tile floors which still makes it feel like a bit of a conservatory but its certainly a step up from how it was before.

We ordered poppadoms (as you do!) and had a look at the menu. We noticed that the menu was competitively priced, which I was expecting. I have heard a lot about the Meghnas take away special, a curry and rice for £5.95, which beats any pizza or take away delivery deal around that I have seen!

As your poppadoms came out we were presented with yoghurt, mango chutney, onion salad and I think, a tamarind sauce. Sadly the lime pickle was missing but they were more than happy to bring it out. All four sauces were presented excellently and tasted fantastic. Not a single flaw in any of them. I could have done with some extra mango chutney and lime pickle but personally I think this was more down to my own gluttony.  The poppadoms themselves were of average texture and thickness.

 I decided to go for the chicken tikka vindaloo and saag aloo. A classic dish which you simply cannot go wrong with. I usually order a saag aloo mainly because I dont get as many potatoes in my curry as I would like, no matter where I go.

My dad went for his usual Biriyani. A mild and delicious dish which he prefers because it comes with a very flavoursome rice.

The food was out in good time and very well presented. My chicken tikka vindaloo tasted incredible and had a nice kick too it, which a vindaloo should. The saag aloo was very well prepared too and tasted sublime, the only thing I would say was its texture was a little dry, though mixing this in with the masala of the vindaloo soon sorted that out. My favourite point of my curry was the quality of the meat, something I have noticed is scrimped on a lot these days, even when ordering a tikka'd dish. Extra brownie points for that!

My dad had little complaints about his biriyani too. The rice especially, as you can see from the photo was full of flavour.

I was invited by the staffto try an "Indian Lassi". A yoghurt based fruit drink which I thought I would give a go for cultural purposes. Though the drink was quite nice (though not my cup of tea), the drink was more expensive than a beer, which is expensive enough as it is now days! Probably good for certain peoples pallets, just not mine. I wouldnt order again for the simple point of cost.

We were given a free desert, which is a nice touch.  Appreciated guys! A bit of sweet after a hot curry is just what you needed.

Once we were finished we asked for the bill. It was presented in a beautiful blue dish with some chocolates and along side that was some hot towels. We were pleasantly surprised with the total bill and felt like we had a good meal for a good value.

The Meghna has really upped its game here since the last time I visited all those years ago. Its still got the rotten luck of being surrounded by some of the best Indians in Cambridge but I feel it does hold its own.

Where as some of its neighbours such as Cafe Naz and the Maharajah offer a trendy modern decoration and high quality cuisine for an above average budget and the Cocum offering traditional Indian food rather than the usual British Indian. The Meghna has found its own niche by offering a good value, good food and a good service all wrapped in to one package, which sometimes is exactly what you want. It seems to be going for that trusty old faithful Indian around the corner feel, which is does very well.
Not only that but they give you all the bells and whistles you have come to expect now days with Indian restaurants but sometimes don't always get, such as supposedly hot dish with some kick to it, a hot towel (which is becoming a rarity now days) and a even a free desert.
I dont always want to pay above the board for food or eat at a place with a novelty or philosophy, sometimes I just want a good curry for a good price and the Maghna offers just that.

If I was a local in the area I would suggest ordering my take aways from here thanks to its very good "curry and rice for £5.95".

Keep up the good work guys and thanks for reading!

4/5 - Quality, value and friendly, just dont expect it to keep up with the style and novelty of its neighbours.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lalbagh - Bourn

The Cambridge Curry Crew had the pleasure of Lalbagh in Bourn a few months back. It was the first CCC event in a while so we thought we would go with a place which has had a lot of buzz and positive praise from nearly everyone I talk too. 

Its quite a pain to find if you aren't aware of the villages in the area. Coming off the A428 was disorientating and a real pain to find in the dark. That being said, driving through the village the place is incredibly hard to miss. There is a decent amount free parking around the side. 

The restaurant is a traditional old English building on the outside which could be mistaken for a pub, though once you get inside you are greeted by a very modern restaurant. 
The first thing you notice about the modern interior is the fountain sign behind the bar. Similar to the one you see in the Curry Palace in Cottenham. Not only that but they have a damn fine selection of on tap Indian beer including Kingfisher, Cobra and Mongoose. 
Sadly though, these beers come to well over £4 each which is something I cannot forgive. 
Naughty naughty.
We were greeted by incredibly friendly staff who seated us in the corner of the room. The table was decorated with these modern lights which change colours or set to different mood lighting. They were quite a novel idea and added a certain atmosphere to the evening. 
Ta da!
The one thing I noticed about Lalbagh by looking at the menu was the sensational selection of transitional Indian cuisine rather than the more British Indian curries you often see at a lot of places. Granted, there were curries available too but there were so many things I wanted to try for the first time. I could have spent a lot of money there!

The restaurant is particularly proud of their sea bass, which, and I quote from one of the waiters there,"if you don't
 enjoy, you eat for free". Quite a statement i'd say! 
We ordered a lot of poppadoms, as you can see from the picture above. Sadly they gave us poor portions of sauces, but they were all incredibly well prepared. The mango chutney especially was divine. They only gave us two amounts of the 4 sauces between the 12 people who were there, which made the portions seem even smaller, so we ran out incredibly quickly. The poppadoms themselves were of decent quality.
As you can see, the light added a real atmosphere.
I ended up being quite boring and ordered a chicken tikka vindaloo with rice and naan. Yes yes, I know. I wasted an opportunity to try something new at a restaurant with such a fine selection. I will be coming back here soon to try their famous sea bass in the future, don't worry!
 I order the same dish  when reviewing a new restaurant so I can judge them all by the same standard, something I now have stopped doing.

The service was friendly and reasonably fast considering how busy it was and how many people they had to deal with. The curry itself was not the best I have had but by no means bad. I can respect that this is a place which specialises on Indian cuisine rather than slopping out plates full of spicy curry so I have kept that in mind.

The rice was executed perfectly and the naan had the perfect texture and taste. No faults there.
Once we were done we were all presented with a hot towel (as you would expect!), some crackers and some oranges. This was a nice and unusual change (and incredibly welcome after a vindaloo). At least I can come back and say I had at least one of my five a day!
Some of us decided to order desert. This was easily the best part of the meal, their deserts (in which I tried three) were all absolutely incredible. The taste, texture and presentation was incredibly well put together. I do not usually have desert when eating out but I am certainly be having it the next time I come back here. I couldn't recommend it enough!

Once we were finished we were presented with the bill, which was a little over what you'd expect but I couldn't help feel that I hadn't really tested Lalbagh to its full potential. I really want to come back and try some of its specialist dishes until I give it a proper rating.

Classy, modern and a very decent selection on the menu. Not to mention deserts unparalleled anywhere I have tried before. Just be prepared to pay a little extra and the place is a bugger to find! 

The Bengal Tiger at the Taj Tandoori.

Aaaaaand i'm back!

After a short hiatus I have decided to get back on the horse and carry on blogging. Life is a little more settled now and things are much more structured again. I have been to many Indians in the local Cambridge area lately and I cant wait to share it all with you.

Sadly my phone's camera is currently broken so I am struggling to take photos for the sake of the blog, though with a little help from friends and family who eat with me I have managed to scrape a few pictures for your pleasure. 

A place I have been eating at a lot lately is the Taj Tandoori on Cherry Hinton Road, Its also a place I have an incredibly soft spot for as I have been eating here for years. Sometimes I get annoyed as its a place which can be missed quite easily walking down the street and is often over looked by a lot of people I talk to because of Moza across the road at Cineworld. 

The staff brag that its the oldest Indian restaurant in Cambridge and though that may or may not be true, it certainly boasts some of the best food and service. Every time I walk in to the Taj Tandoori I am greeted with a warm and friendly smile with staff who seem to really want to be there. Nothing comes across as too much trouble and several conversations is guaranteed every time.

I was dragged in by my incredibly hungry girlfriend the other night who ordered a chicken korma and a naan. We ordered several poppadoms and a few drinks. While deciding what I wanted I noticed something on the menu I have never seen before, "The Bengal Tiger". A dish labelled as extremely hot due to the fact its cooked with the famous and incredibly dangerous Naga chili. I love a hot dish so found it incredibly hard to resist. The dish also includes slow cooked mutton which again is one of my favourite meats so it was almost like the dish was made just for me, how could I resist?

The dish came to about £8.70 which is a little more than a usual curry but this was a specialist dish. I was told by the waiter that anyone who finishes the dish gets a photo taken and posted on the Taj Tandoori Facebook group (above).

The poppadoms served were incredibly thick and served with an equally thick and incredibly delicious yogurt. The mango chutney and lime pickle were all quite nice though nothing ground breaking. The onion salad was incredibly well prepared and tasted great. 

Once we were done, our meal came out about 20 minutes after, which was very good considering how busy it was. 

My girlfriends chicken Korma tasted great, I am not usually a fan but for me it was the incredibly tender chicken which sold it for me, the chunks fell apart. 

Our naan's were fantastic, my peshwari naan especially was STUFFED full of peshwari and had a great texture and flavour, it worked so well with the spicy bitter taste of the Bengal Tiger. It was a generous size so lasted the whole meal and was just right balance for the dish I ordered. 
I used it to scoop up the mutton in the Bengal Tiger and eat it with my hands being the classy guy that I am. It worked so well and went down a treat. 
Unlike the Phal, this dish was incredibly hot yet tasted great too. Usually with the Phal you get the heat but it tastes foul, with the Vindaloo it isnt quite hot enough but tastes sublime.  I really think this dish has a great balance of both, I just wish the dish was bigger! 
I think I have found my new regular dish. The Mutton was so tender and fell apart when pulled with my fork. I recommend this dish to anyone who likes a hot spicy dish and decent quality meat.

Once we were done we were presented with the hot towels and given the bill. Again, the bill was quite respectable and we had the added bonus of a few chocolates, as you'd expect.

Though the service and food were second to none, as you'd expect from the Taj Tandoori, I will say that the decoration was lacking and quite uninspiring, especially from the outside.
This, you could say, is me just trying to find faults, and your probably right. The place is a very bland and average looking and it might bother some. Personally, I was too busy chatting away to the staff and eating the delicious food to really care. You probably wont notice either, especially on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night as once it livens up its bustling. 

If you are there for the food then the Taj Tandoori is one of the best places in Cambridge.
If you are there for the friendly service and great atmosphere the the Taj Tandoori is the place for you.
Just dont expect the glamour and style of some of the other places in town (too full and satisfied to care!).