Le Raj

Le Raj  

 CONTENTS Le Raj

written by COURTNEY MAGGS-JONES

This award-winning restaurant’s twenty four year old vision of excellence and quality is promised and put to the test.

Nestled on a side road in Epsom, Surrey amongst a number of other shops, offices and restaurants, the initial impression of Le Raj is that it is quite an unassuming eatery.

The restaurant

The unassuming impression fades as the front door is opened for you as friendly staff welcome you to a lavish reception area. The reception is decorated with a number of signed celebrity ‘thank you’ photographs, as well as a London 2012 Olympic Torch given as recognition of Le Raj being the exclusive supplier of curry cuisine at the Olympic Park; all of this paraphernalia surely pointing the way to a wonderful dining experience indeed. After enjoying a Bombay Sapphire Gin & Tonic (one of my creature comforts) I am led into a dimly lit dining room which is deceptively large in comparison to the front of the restaurant. The sophisticated character continues into the dining room – custom glass and tableware throughout the room, catching little flickers of the lights – this is not pitch black a la Dans Le Noir in London, but it is apparent that every effort has been made to enhance the dining experience.

 

The menu

 

La Raj

Once perusing the menu, it is incredible how different this restaurant is in comparison to the stereotypical ‘curry house’. This is not a Tandoori or Punjabi curry house, this is haute cuisine-inspired curry, and curry-inspired haute cuisine. It is important to consider that certain staple dishes are offered and the wording simply renamed more complexly. This, I must say, is a ploy I tend to dislike, particularly given the current trend the restaurant world over, to simplify the frills of a focal dish or cuisine and simply make it better (Burger & Lobster, Meat Liquor, Sushi Samba, Garlic & Shots, hell – even STK). That being said, you can tell that this is not to merely cover up a bogstandard dish, but certainly to enhance the experience further.

 

Starters

I start by ordering tandoor grilled kebabs – but with a difference. The minced lamb is wrapped with minced chicken to create succulent, inch thick discs of layered meat. Though the meats tend to blend and not offer differentiation between the two, they have been cooked bo

th just right. There is a zingy kick to the garlic marinade, but this fusion of ingredients and cooking technique make for a mouth-watering starter.

This dish may be a little too meaty for everyone’s taste, so also ordered are king prawns drizzled with sweet chilli and yoghurt dressing. As with the kebab appetizer these come on a large, elegant sharing dish to encourage sharing and enjoying the experience. The presentation is sublime, but not at a cost of the portion size. The prawns are very fleshy and cooked perfectly – not served still dripping with scolding pan oil, but served hot enough to allow the sweet chilli and yoghurt dressings to swill and mix with the prawn flavour, which also have that slight crunchy outer to the flesh.

 

Wine

I have always had an issue in deciding on a wine with a mixed meat dish. In understanding that mixed meat dishes, particularly starters, will tend to be more subtle in flavours, a more complex wine would complement this better. I tend to favour a dry white over any other, and so I order a bottle of Sancerre. However, an idea that hit me in Le Raj (as I played with the custom-made cutlery with ‘Le Raj’ forged into each piece) was to add to the grandiose experience even further by perhaps enjoying some champagne. This coming to mind as it would go down extremely well with the sweetness of the sweet & sour sauce and the zing of the Kebab dressing. Too much? Worth trying, I would suggest.

If there can be a criticism of the menu, it is that there is no real flow or continuation of the starters into the main course; the innovation and variety of worldly flavours pails into staple curry dishes come the main course carte.

 

When broaching this subject with my waiter, it became apparent that the twenty four year old vision had been passed onto everyone else. This is not about reinventing the curry, but about redefining

standard; about setting an unrivalled benchmark. Curry dishes still need to be curry dishes, but there is no limit to the level of quality which can be injected into them. All ingredients are completely fresh, natural and locally sourced. The cooking techniques (for example cooking the spices individually in pressurised containers to allow for a greater burst of flavour) are inspired. And when looking at the menu, the majority of ‘starters’ you would get at any other curry house are available as side dishes for the main courses.

 

The innovation on the starter menu must be seen as a positive enhancement of the curry dining experience, rather than simply being a ‘work in progress’ for the rest of the menu to receive the same treatment. Perhaps the only thing which could help this is by sticking to a theme of crockery.

So many different types and styles specific to the dishes they held, though ‘novel in principle, made for a bit of a ‘Madhatter’s mismatch’. That said, each piece is more beautiful than the next.

 

Mains

My Lamb Madras and sobzi curry, a mixed vegetable curry dish, paid testament to how special a meal can become when all of the ingredients are fresh and this includes the natural colouring of dishes. The meat in the dishes is noticeably tender as a result of the innovative cooking process; lots of yoghurt has clearly been used for this, but the dish is not overly creamy or bland due to the pressurised spice process releasing an incredible amount of flavour. Not too overpowering in terms of heat, but more an explosion of different flavours.

Although a ‘staple’ dish, as I put it, the quality and care put into perfecting this dish makes it not just to my taste, not just a great madras, but actually a very good example of fine cuisine in itself.

The rice and other sundry dishes were, as expected, cooked to perfection. Such staple dishes in any curry house really do have perfection as a minimum requirement. We accompanied our main

with an Australian Pinot Noir, despite the advice from our waiter (who again was well versed and knowledgeable) suggesting actually sticking to a sweeter white such as a Chenin Blanc. Having gone with my gut on this, I have to say that this did make the final few morsels of the main course a little too rich. Perhaps my ‘epiphany’ of going down the route of having champagne with the starter may have also proven a step too far if I’d chosen this on top of the red for the main.

My review is ultimately the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential wandering you can make with this menu. Taste and preference would ultimately rule, but it is important to consider just how good the quality of the ingredients, produce and cooking process are.

The efforts and lengths Le Raj have gone to in order to redefine a fine dining curry house are exemplary, if slightly extravagant on a couple of things such as the mismatching crockery and elaborate description of dishes.

 

All in all

This is an exceptional restaurant where every detail has been considered, and should be appreciated for this. Prices are 20-25% higher per head than an average curry house, but then this dining experience is 100% better than an average curry, and so is value for money indeed.

 

Le Raj

Price

Price including drinks and wine, starters and main courses and accompanying dishes – £40 per head.

 

www.lerajrestaurant.co.uk

 

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