Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why I love Indian House!

When people ask me what I think the best Indian restaurant in Cambridge is, so many places spring to mind. Indian House for me always comes up in my head but for some reason its never the place I have ever put straight at number one.

That is, until now!

Every time I visit Indian House in Newnham I am simply blown away by the quality of the food here, and the other day was no exception. The establishment is classy, beautifully located (next to the Mill Pond), and the service is always decent. The prices aren't expensive either, especially when you consider the quality you get. 

They have a ramp for disabled access too, which is more than can be said for a lot of places in the city! (Though I would like to see them get disabled toilets!)

During my last visit, everything was simply perfect. What else is there to say? Here is a quick summery of what I had and why it was so good.

 The papadums and sauces were all sublime with generous portions. Thick and incredibly sweet mango chutney, juicy and sharp lime pickle, and a very thick and flavourful yoghurt! 

The chicken korma was very thick and sweet with a great texture. Nothing to fault!

The chicken tikka vindaloo here was basically perfect. It was blinding hot, full of flavour and had the nicest chicken I have ever had in a curry. It was tender, tikka'd perfectly (are you listening Spice Box?) and was full of such flavour that it could be tasted through the smoky flavour and hot spice of the vindaloo. WOW! Thats pretty impressive for chicken!

So many places think they can get away with giving you average meat quality in a curry as they can cover it with spicy sauce, but not here. Not at India House. 

The garlic naan stood out for me. Usually you can only taste a hint of garlic in a lot of establishments but this was bursting with flavour! (Warning for anyone going on a date here!). The naan was a good size with a lovely texture and was presented excellently. 

 You get all the treats and goodies you would expect after your meal too. Aniseed sweets, chocolates, a hot towel and the sweetest thing of all, a respectable bill! 

I have kept this review short and sweet today because I have already reviewed it twice before.

Over the years it has always scored very high marks from me and I struggle to find fault with it. From today I have decided that Indian House is my official favourite Indian in Cambridgeshire (Though the Curry Queen on Mill Road still holds our No1 spot on our Cambridge Curry Crew poll!)

For the sake of reviewing, the only fault for me I can point out from dining here over the years (and by talking to other people who have been here too), is that Indian House sometimes struggled with slow service. Its something I, and numerous others have noticed, so I am not alone in thinking this. That being said, this is easily made up with their excellent customer service as when I have complained in the past I have been given a large glass of wine to shut me up! (which works well btw!)

Here are some more detailed experiences from the past few years.

Today 2015 - 9/10

18.5/20 - Pure consistent class! 

Spice Box - Caxton

During one of my many journeys down the A428 I noticed a small place called "Spice Box" next to all fast food establishments at the Caxton services, like Subway and Mc Donalds. Naturally this intrigued me as it looked like a chain restaurant or some sort of fast food equivalent for Indian food. Sadly I didn't have to the time to investigate further. 

I passed it several times again over the past year but again, had no time to actually go in. The place has been teasing me for quite some time!

I couldn't help but wonder what it was. I had never seen a fast food brand of Indian before. Could it be what I imagined? If it wasn't, what the hell is an Indian restaurant doing at a service station anyway? It seems very strange to me! 

Well, I finally I got my answers, as driving past the other day with my girlfriend I managed to find some time to pop in and see what it was all about! 

The place is advertised as "A La Cart menu 7 days a week", like most Indian restaurants I suppose. They offer delivery and take away with a phone number and website. Nothing different or out of the unusual here. 

Upon entering you notice the place is open, full of light and quite empty. Some might hate this, some might love it, some might not even care. The place looked very clean and well looked after, which was the important thing. 

In my head I had this pegged as some sort of Indian fast food/take away, so I was expecting a buffet or something but this came across as just a regular Indian establishment. It is either a very comfortable fast food restaurant or a bland restaurant. 

We were greeted and taken to a table by a very quiet but polite woman. She took our drink order and handed us some menus. I noticed beer looked reasonable in price...until I looked closer and saw that it was only for bottled beer (330ml).

No thanks! Just a coke for me!

Looking at the general menu too, we both realised that the food was about the average price you would expect from a standard Indian restaurant. There was not much choice on the menu either. 

I ordered my usual spicy slop in a bucket, the chicken tikka vindaloo.

My girlfriend had a chicken korma and rice. 

 A lot of people have been asking me why I always order the same dish. My answer is that generally I order the same dish so I can judge every place by the same standard. However, if I go back to a place (which is still quite often) I will go for something a little different like from the BBQ menu or perhaps one of the chef's specialities. If I go to a place like the Rang Mohol, which is known for its fish, then I will always try that. Since it is my first time at the Spice Box, I went for the chicken tikka vindaloo. 

 Chicken Korma
 Chicken Tikka Vindaloo

All the food came out in record time. I would say in, 5-10 minutes? It was presented in basic plates and bowls.

The food tasted ok. The vindaloo was incredibly mild, which was a shame as she asked if I liked it hot when ordering. I cut my chicken in half to see if it had been tikka'd well. I am sad to say it wasn't tikka'd at all (or very poorly). The chicken was of average quality and had no sign of being tikka'd at all. 

My girlfriends korma taste a bit better than mine, though I put this down to the very nature of korma being very sweet so it can be quite hard to mess up. It certainly wasnt anywhere near on the level of a korma at The Indian House in Newnham though. 

The rice was also good with nothing to complain about.

Once we finished we had to call the waitress over and she cleaned up and presented us with our bill. The bill came to less than usual as we didn't order much, though as I said above, the prices were average on the menu. 

We received no hot towel or chocolates.

I really cannot make my mind up about this place. From the outside it comes across as a fast food Indian establishment, yet upon entering it seems to just be a regular Indian. The food comes out very fast, the food is of below average quality and the interior decorating is very basic. If this place is trying to be a revolutionary new style of fast food Indian then I would say it is getting a lot right being fast and convenient, but sadly with one massive floor, the prices are far too high for the quality of food you are paying. If they could nail that and bring the costs down to McDonalds/Subway level, then I would HIGHLY recommend this place for what it is.

However, there were many things which made me think that it was just a floating Indian restaurant in the middle of a service station. Eating at a fully presented table with a waiter who comes to you and takes your order, and the restaurant prices. 

My girlfriend suggested that this might have once been a fast food establishment which has recently changed its business model. If anyone reading this who has been before could shed some light in to this I would really appreciate it!

Its always good to have choice and I am certainly the kinda guy who fancies a curry during long drives around the country, so to see more of these would be welcomed. I just feel like they have work to do either way.

Me: 5/10
Megan: 5/10 

Great minds think alike! 

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Curry Crew 21 - The Raja.

One of our very own Indian restaurants came out a winner at the English Curry Awards last year, winning the category of "Best take away in the East of England". Naturally this got my attention so we decided to investigate! 

Cambridge Curry Crew - Assemble! 

I set up an event on the Cambridge Curry Crew Facebook group and booked a table for 10. I wanted a group of people to come with me so I could get numerous opinions on the place and see if it was really justified in winning that award. 
The Raja is a reasonably new place set on the fine road of King Street, yet I haven't heard many people bang on about it in a way which would justify it winning an award. 

We decided to eat in, despite the Raja winning the best take away category. I have been before but being such a brief experience some time ago I decided to give it another shot to refresh my memory.

The place from the outside is small and easily missed on the busy road of King Street. One could be forgiven for walking right past it without noticing it at all. Once you are inside you realise that the place is not much bigger than it looks from the outside. That being said, they have very been smart with the space by laying things out in a certain way. They are still able to seat almost any amount of people in there if need be and they managed to fit our table of 10 very nicely, which is about as big a table as you may need. 

The table is laid out with some nice metal candle containers and some decent cutlery, it all looks very smart and classy.
On inspecting the menu you notice that it is laid out really well, making it incredibly easy for people who are inexperienced with Indian food and spice levels to understand (or for people who just like a nice easy menu). 

No accidentally ordering the wrong curry here my friends!

There is a reasonable selection of food on the menu, though nothing which will blow you away. You will not find the selection and cuisine choices of Lalbagh but you will still get most of the stuff you want from a text book Indian restaurant.

The beer on tap was Kingfisher - Though be careful as its well over £4 a pint!

They took our orders once everyone had arrived. The women taking the order was very polite and dressed in a traditional Indian sari. She was very sweet but really struggled to get basic orders right. Eventually after much discussion and repeating ourselves we got it all written down and our order was placed.

While we were waiting for our food we noticed that a lot of people were coming in and collecting take away's. You could tell they were set up this way over dining in, which is probably why it has scored so well in the English Curry Awards.  It is clearly a very popular place for take away's, which supports the claim to the award they won last year. 

We ordered some pappadums, which were brought out with an unusual side. I was gutted to see the lime pickle was replaced by a red hot sauce, and though I enjoyed it, I felt like the hot sauce wasn't complimenting the mango chutney, yoghurt or red onion salad like the lime pickle would, so though it was nice by its own merit, it didn't work as well. 
The portions were also stingy and we ran out incredibly quickly between the lot of us. In fact, they only gave us these four sides you see in the picture below between the entire group, so we had to ask for another.

The food came out in average time, though one of our orders was wrong and sadly my friends mains was nearly forgotten completely... until it came out as I was finishing mine! All the food however was well presented and tasted great. Nothing at all was of poor quality and my duck tikka vindaloo was sensational! 
 A duck tikka vindaloo - Superb!
Curry and rice.

The duck tikka vindaloo blew me away, it was bold, full of flavour, smoky, and very hot. Everyone had a good laugh at my red face and hiccups while I was eating it, but that's how it should be! There were no complaints from anyone else on the quality of their food. Full marks all around!

Once we were done we were presented with 'After 8' mints and microwaved hot towels. Just what I needed after that cruel mistress of a curry. 

Everyone left feeling satisfied with their meal.

Lamb Rogan Josh. 

There aren't many decent Indian restaurants in the centre of Cambridge these days. They are mostly on the outskirts or in the surrounding villages. Its great to have a place of respectable quality where you can step out side after a good meal and hit the pubs immediately...which naturally we took advantage of! 

From here the night gets a little hazy!

The Raja seems to get the food right, even if they made a few mistakes placing and bringing out the order. The place is clearly very popular with take away's in the city, as we saw with the countless amounts of take away bags being brought out during our stay. The place is small but is still able to cater for a decent amount of people as they are very good with organising their space.

The prices were all about average though they added a service charge on the bill, and pints were over £4, so watch out. Personally I think a service charge is something which has to be earned, not compulsory and I find it quite rude when restaurants do this. 

Over all I quite liked the place, I cannot see myself coming back here too soon as I live in Ely and there are many better places between. Though for anyone living in the city this is clearly a place which lives up to its award for "Best For Take Away" and one of the finer places in central Cambridge.  
My recommendation would be to still order take away from Royal Spice, Kismet or Cinnamon as they are still, in my opinion, the king's of take away in Cambridge but you wont go wrong from ordering from the Raja. Just be careful when ordering over the phone!


A few comments from some of the others on The Raja - 

"The Vindaloo had a good heat, a bit on the hotter side from my limited experience of vindaloos. There was a good flavour but it was a bit limited. Normally with a hotter curry you expect more flavour but this only had a middling strength of flavour. The Keema Nan was good but not great in flavour and all the Keema was gathered down in one end of the Nan. Generally good service. Apart from the Tikka Masala incident."

"Raja really nice decor from the start I was unimpressed with there service bought one tray pickles out between us and we had to ask for more. They forgot two people dishes with their meals and one person was bought out when we nearly finished eating. We had to ask several times for the bill I think they are more better as at takeaway than a restaurant."

"Upon walking into the Raja, I was impressed and thought the staff were very polite and welcoming, the restaurant itself had a good vibe to it. The food I thought was very well prepared, and had some brilliant flavours. My starter was a good portion size and arrived promptly, however my main dish along with a fellow curry crewer did seem to be missing when everybody else's had already been served".