Friday, November 20, 2015

The Taj Tandoori.

I recently swung by one of my favourite Indian restaurants in Cambridge for a well overdue visit. 

I used to eat here all the time last year when I was in the area more, but now I have moved to Ely I  have struggled to find the time to come say hello. So I was really excited to come back here after so long and pay my respects. 

The Taj Tandoori is sat on Cherry Hinton Road, opposite the cinema complex and sandwiched between numerous shops and pubs, the establishment claims to be one of the oldest Indian restaurants in the city. I could be forgiven for saying that The Taj even looks a little tatty and uninspiring from the outside. This does add to its charm however as it feels like a bit of a hidden gem once you discover the food and service within the establishment.

Upon entering we were seated in the waiting area near the bar while they prepared our table. We were eventually greeted and shown to our table by Amin, one of the waiters in the restaurant. I am always very happy with the friendly, relaxed and warm service I get at The Taj Tandoori, and today was no exception. Everyone feels like a close friend here and its something a lot of places in the city could learn from (cough cough The Maharajah cough cough). 

The interior decorating is very similar to the outside of the restaurant, basic and uninspiring, but by no means horrible. The place just feels a little bare, but as you get to know the place well you will find out that its a place which focuses on substance over style so it is easily forgiven.
The artwork on the walls is nice enough and good to look at while sitting at the table though isn't going to compete with any of the stylish artwork in Zara.  

There is a great selection of food on the menu, from classic curries to chef specials, to tandoori grill to vegetarian dishes. There is also a selection of good fish cuisine on the menu and even some English food incase grandma decides to tag along. The menu is laid out well and is incredibly easy to read and understand. Everybody should be able to find someone on the menu they like. 

There is no alcohol on the menu as it is BYOB (Bring your own beer). This is quite common in London but not something I see in Cambridge much. Its a fantastic idea as it free's ourselves from the shackles of extortionate beer and wine prices and gives us much more freedom on what to drink. This also saves heavily on the final bill. There is a Sainsbury's and a Tesco across the street so even if you forget this you can still pop across the road and pick something up. This will mean however that you will not be able to enjoy your favourite Indian beers on draft. 

Amin and the gang made us feel right at home. He was chatty, friendly and made us feel right at home. We ordered some papadums while we looked at the menus and had a chat amongst ourselves. The papadums were thick and crispy, just how they should be. 
They came out with the 4 classic side sauces, mango chutney, yoghurt, lime pickle and onion salad. All served in a spinnable metal container which made sharing easy. These, in my opinion, are the best four sauces to go with papadums and they were all serves and prepared perfectly. The yoghurt was a little light but the lime pickle and mango chutney especially were spot on. The onion salad was cut thinly though in to quite large bits which made it easy to put on top of the papadums while eating.


Amin was kind enough to show us some stuff from their up and coming menu. There was some exciting stuff here which really interested me. This has only made me want to come back and investigate again once the new menu is out. The paneer especially was very good. 

Once we tried the tasters we decided to order our main meal. Since I was with my family we ended up having quite a selection of dishes compared to what I would normally order. Everything was brought out in good time and presented in attractive metal bowls on a hot plate. 

 Johns Jalfrezi - Excellently prepared and presented with a lot of exciting colours.

 Our dishes all lined up on the hot plates.

 My girlfriends lamb cutlets.

Saag Aloo main.

Everything hit the nail on the head. Johns jalfrezi was incredibly well presented, full of colour and served up with chillies on top which made the dish look quite exciting.  Despite it being a little hotter than what he is used too he still ended up eating the entire dish, which speaks volumes in itself.

My girlfriends lamb cutlets were brought out on a hot plate with onions. Something she would often struggle to eat on her own but she managed to finish off. This again, speaks for itself. I tried a little myself and was impressed with the quality of the lamb. 

The Saag Aloo was on top form also. The potatoes were full of colour and rich in flavour. They were very slightly crispy on the outside and very soft and fluffy on the inside, a perfect addition to a curry. 

The dreaded Bengal Tiger.

I went for the same dish I have every time I am at The Taj Tandoori - The Bengal Tiger. Slow cooked mutton in a masala sauce cooked with the dreaded naga chilli. The slow cooked mutton, as usual, blew me away and I highly recommend anyone who can handle their spicy food to give it a go. It was a little milder than I remember, maybe my spice tolerance is getting higher, but it didn't have the same kick as before. Either way it went down well. I ordered a mango lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink) just incase but I didn't end up needing it.

I was introduced to some of The Taj Tandooris infamous chilli chips. Another thing to be expected on their up and coming menu. I was really excited to try this after being blown away by the chilli chips at The Regency Club a few months ago. I was a little disappointed with it in all honesty as they seemed to be oven chips with some spice sprinkled on top. They came across a little lazy and dry. Maybe I was judging them by the impossible standards of The Regency Club but I couldn't help feel a little let down considering the standard The Taj Tandoori has set itself with everything else. 

Once we had finished our plates were taken away and the table was tidied. Again, there was lots of friendly chit chat and banter with the staff, something which I noticed was not exclusive to us, this was a pattern I was seeing on every table in the restaurant. The place had a really bustling and positive atmosphere throughout. I really love the warm atmosphere here, it just makes me want to keep coming back, but also makes me feel bad for not finding the time to do so!

We were given hot towels (and rightly so after eating a Bengal Tiger!) and the bill was presented with chocolates in a leather book. The bill came to a surprisingly reasonable amount thanks to the BYOB policy and the competitive prices. We were all left feeling very satisfied and content all round. 

Amin and I

Once we decided to leave we were shown out by Amin. We all left feeling full, satisfied and happy with ourselves, I look forward to coming back again soon, and this time not leaving it so long! I might have to arrange a Curry Crew event here in the future. 

There are many popular phrases which spring to mind when thinking about The Taj Tandoori. "You cant judge a book by its cover" being the best one. The place looks very uninspiring and heck, even a little run down from the outside. Entering your opinions aren't changed that much, either but you soon forget about all that when you are greeted like one of the family and dining on their fine selection of quality dishes. The meat especially is good here and I recommend anyone who enjoyed Indian food to go out their way and come down to Cherry Hinton Road, you shall not regret it. The BYOB is the icing on the cake and will cut your bill down horrendously.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Le Spice - Ely

When I first moved to Ely nearly 2 years ago I took it on myself to do a tour of the Indian restaurant scene around the city to find my favourite. The conclusion I came too was that Ely has a very mixed bag of restaurants with no dominant Indian restaurant, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. 

One of them being Le Spice, a very popular restaurant in the city, located on Fore Hill amongst numerous other restaurants and shops. The place comes highly recommended by friends, family and numerous people on The Cambridge Curry Crew. I have been a few times before and enjoyed my time here but I still haven't managed to write a review on it. 

That is, until now...

I was lucky enough to be treated with a meal by my son and my good friend Joanna, which was a delightful surprise. I suggested Le Spice mainly because of their good reputation, but also because of its well known trendy and modern style. We looked online at their website which appeared to be broken, so we had to rely on Google for opening times.

Google suggested the restaurant opened at 5pm so we turned up at around that time as we were quite hungry. Upon turning up we were disappointed to find out that the restaurant did not open at 5, but 5:30, which meant we were left outside for 20 minutes. The staff saw us standing outside in the cold and were kind enough to let us in. 

My memory did not deceive me, the place was as modern and trendy as I recalled. There was beautiful modern art work on the walls, nice wooden floors, and lots of neon lighting giving it a very warm atmosphere. The staff were kind enough to let us in 10-15 minutes early but they would only let us take drink orders until official opening time. Our particular waiter was quite cold in all honesty, I couldn't help but feel everything was a bother for him. Both Joanna and I felt we weren't very welcome here.

We ordered some drinks. Joanna had a coke, Jack had a pineapple and orange and I had a Kingfisher on tap.  

We noticed a bottle of water on the tables. I have seen this in many restaurants before (such as Chutney Joe's in Cambourne). Make sure to ask the waiter if the bottle is free as some places charge. Upon asking the waiter told us this bottle was a whopping £4, so be careful! 
I wonder how many people have been caught out by this scam in the past. Shameful. 

We ordered some papadums while we looked at their menu. We were very pleased to see the four champions of papadum sides - Mango chutney, yoghurt, lime pickle and onion salad. The onion salad was finely chopped and well prepared, it came across very fresh. The mango chutney and lime pickle were both to a good standard with a decent texture and flavour - though the lime pickle was a little mild for my liking. The yoghurt was the real star of the show here, rich, colourful and full of flavour, it had a real thickness to it which worked really well with the papadums. 

Looking at the menu we saw that there was a decent selection of traditional curry, chef specials, Le Spice specials, tandoori and the occasional fish dish. There was something for everyone here. The menu was clean and well presented. 

We took our orders. Joanna had a chicken biriyani, Jack had a curry and rice and I had a lamb vindaloo with rice. We had a main of saag aloo to share. 

Curry fun times!

While we waited we decided to chat and scoff our papadums. Jack really liked the place, unlike a lot of Indian restaurants there seemed to be a lot of space for him to walk around and play. The tables were well presented, clean and the chairs were leather backed which were very comfy. Its a very nice restaurant to be around, you can even look our the window at Fore Hill and watch the people walking past.

 Lamb vindaloo
 chicken biryani with an egg and salad.
Saag aloo and two curries. 

When the food came out it was presented excellently. Joanna's biriyani looked fantastic and came with a hard boiled egg, a curry and a side salad. My lamb vindaloo looked very exciting, rich, full of colour and presented with some herbs sprinkled on top. 

While we were eating the waiter left us to it. He didn't even come back to check if everything was alright half way through the meal. Luckily there was nothing wrong with the food. 

Joanna was not overly keen on her biriyani. She thought that it was a very dry dish, though she did woof down the lot none the less. Jack enjoyed his curry too, though did end up leaving quite a bit of his (which was unusual for him. His trip to The Basmati around the corner was one of those meals where he licked the plate clean).

A sensational and generous lamb vindaloo.

My lamb vindaloo tasted great on the other hand.  I have never had a vindaloo with so much lamb...and such high quality lamb at that. Lamb being a more expensive meat than, say, chicken, you often expect the lamb chunks to be few and far between in the curry. This was not the case here. Not only do you get a lot of lamb here but it had excellent texture and was bursting with flavour. I really couldnt recommend it enough. The vindaloo was a little mild but the impression I got from Le Spice was this was more about presentation, style and creating a delicacy, which they executed well. 

The saag aloo was done very well too, the portion was generous and more than enough to share between the three of us. The potatoes were soft, fluffy and came with a good amount of spinach. The rice was soft and was prepared really well. No faults all around!

When we had finished the waiter came back and collected our plates and glasses. They presented us with a very decent hot towel which they opened and handed to us (sadly this meant I was unable to get a photo). Once we had freshened up we were given a chocolate with the bill. Nothing overly exciting, I was expecting a place like this to offer some mints or a shot of something, but the chocolate was welcomed none the less.

As Joanna and Jack were treating me to this lovely meal I was unable to see the bill. I did not get a chance to see if a service charge was added and was unable to gauge if it was good value or not. Looking at the menu though, I would say the place was about average in price, maybe a little above average (I would love to hear from anyone who comes here regularly on whether they do add a service charge, as it comes across as the kinda place which does).


Overall, Le Spice was an enjoyable experience, but not without its faults. The restaurant and the food is all very trendy and well presented. It came across as a much more modern and high brow establishment than its rivals in the city. Joanna was not a massive fan of her biriyani but Jack and I both devoured our meal. I couldn't recommend the lamb vindaloo enough, it really was special. In my opinion, the saag aloo and rice were very well executed too. 

That being said, the staff here tonight were cold, verging on rude, this in itself is almost enough to ruin an evening. This upsets some people more than it does me but everything came across as a bother for them. I am hoping this is not the case with all the staff here as this place could get top marks otherwise. 

Its also a damn shame that we nearly got caught out with that dastardly trick by the restaurant with the bottled water. I really hate things like that and it reminds me of the way some places abroad will try and rip off tourists. 

Le Spice adds another dimension to the Ely Indian restaurant scene. This doesn't come across as your usual standard British Indian spicy slop in a bucket you get everywhere - and for that I am grateful. Its just a shame that it feels like they don't want you you here and just want to rinse you for all the money your worth and leave. 

I can see Le Spice being a good place for a date or perhaps taking out a family member, but I wouldnt recommend it for having a spicy curry with your mates before going out on the town. So it depends on what you want, though its certainly worth a visit at least once. Their lamb vindaloo was one of the best I have had in a while.

7/10-8/10 - Depending on how much you are bothered by a cold distant waiter.