Monday 8 October 2007

T & J Mahal - Elm Grove, Southsea

So called in ironic recognition of the 101 Great British curry houses named after India’s most iconic monument, the PLACE is situated conspicuously at the juncture where Elm Grove becomes Kings Road. Judging by fresh smiling faces posing with various culinary creations on the takeaway menu and a couple of slick asian youths at the bar a young team keep this trendy joint going. SERVICE is pretty good, not in the least bit haphazard. Given an ice bucket for wine and poppas (including a chutney tray with green chilli pickle) without asking. PRICES sit a little above average, mains range from £4.95 – crica £13, but how else could they afford the high backed chairs with ruby red cushion and sexy curves or the immaculate round tables?

Mikey and I settled in anticipating good FOOD and got it. Shallow fried lamb strips snugly coated in light puffy paprika fresh batter rewarded my decision to choose from an array of miscellaneous starters. Having eaten a vegan/alcoholics lunch (delete as appropriate) of raw carrot and stoned dates out of an ice cream tub, Lamb Methi Sag seemed a safe bet to fill me up. It was lovely. Soft sweet meat seasoned with aromatic salt, iron rich spinach and fenugreek providing a gently pervasive bitterness. Shared sides of Bombay Aloo and Chana Massala with tart spring onion were enjoyed, not forgetting gorgeous golden pilau, plentiful, moist, flavoured with toasted cumin seeds.

On the way home I was accosted by a jock outside a bar mistaking my Manchester United shirt – change strip 2000/01 – for a Scottish Rugby jersey. He proceeded to sing the praises of Cusiter & co. I protested despite the scary auburn hair I was an England fan and left him confused when on turning to go he saw ‘Keane, Number 16’ on my back. He’s probably at home right now (in his state he’ll need the day off work) checking for a Keane in the Scotland team and making sure it is fifteen-a-side. I’m at home thinking T & J’s is worth another visit.

...At home again thinking the same thing after a second trip but for a different reason. T & J’s executive curry impressed me initially but last nights meal that was no more than decent. I’m going back Saturday in part to reach a conclusion on the restaurant. Nonetheless my companions, Simon and Emma were enthusiastic – apropos of nothing they’re also the first people I’ve dined out with who’ve visited a place more times. Many more times in fact. They both enjoy proper food, it’s in Simon’s family. He once worked in KFC, his brothers are chefs in a hotel soon to be reviewed by the AA.

A good starter of Achari Chingri, plump tiger prawns smothered in a deep red brown tamarind sauce was sweet yet tart and sour. However, Garlic Chilli Chicken, average compared to some (Chilli Night’s). Chopped garlic and green chillies afloat in plenty of gravy with a buttery aftertaste but little to excite tastebuds. Ditto an Aubergine bhajee, mushy with a rather oily flavour. Pleased by a good portion of pale yellow pilau rice served in a gorgeous steel handi, by the complimentary indian sweets at the end - Peda (?) made from flour, condensed milk, sugar, ground pistachios ?? As well as service, coherent and genial.

...As it was on my third conclusive jaunt yet T & J’s food drew another blank. I’m not one to land low blows but 2 fists of dry chicken tikka with a paltry sandwich filling of spinach to begin was poor at over five pounds. Meanwhile a moist Gosht Dupiaza looked promising but had no obvious flavour save soft onions and stewed mutton. No hint of cumin or fenugreek, sometimes ‘medium curry’ is synonymous with blandness. Saag Paneer presented a similar conundrum, all salted butter. Even if I hadn’t suffered bad gust of cider induced wind, gassed so much I’d have only finished out of habit rather than out of a desire to eat more. Raspberry tainted Rose and complimentary Brandy saved me from food blues.

Meanwhile Zoe and Lucea (sic) didn’t eat much of their Lahori Lamb, Chicken Biyriani etc and asked for a doggie bag, at over twenty quid each would be a small shame waste it. Besides Zoe’s only earning 12k and Lucea has hypoglycemia.

Then again and in SUMMARY T & J Mahal is more style over substance.

Willp2328 score: 5.5/10

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