It can often be tricky to say exactly why one meal at an Indian restaurant is excellent and why another is not quite so successful.
The Ali Raj Restaurant can best be described as an all-round performer. Most of what it does, it does very well.
For those who have not been, it is easily reached on Blackpool Road in Clifton and is neat, smart and comfortable inside with ample parking outside.
The service is friendly and very efficient.
So, on to the food.
It was early on a weekday evening and we ordered from the ‘three courses for £10.95’ menu. This includes a starter, main, sundries (either rice, bread, chips etc) and a coffee (more on that later).
We ordered and began our drinks in the bar area before being shown to our table.
The poppadoms and pickles were soon brought to the table. The lime pickle was ‘missing’ and was brought swiftly to the table on request.
So, on to the starters, which on the whole were a great success.
My wife and elder daughter had the garlic chicken and garlic lamb respectively.
The sauces on both was deliciously rich and tasty, and as the name would suggest, garlicky.
The small morsel of lamb I was afforded was soft, tender and a pleasure to eat.
The portion size for the dishes was just right - not an outright meal and not a measly mouthful.
I chose the shish kebab, and there was no arguing with the size of the portion - two generous-sized pieces of meat. There was nothing wrong with it as such, other than being a bit dry. I felt it really could have done with some sort of accompanying sauce. Had there been one, it would have got top marks.
Another complaint I would have is that the generic side salad had been cut or was sitting out slightly longer than it should have been. One side of my cucumber slice was starting to dry, as was the shredded lettuce. However it still made a refreshing accompaniment to the meat/curry.
The effortlessly efficient service meant that the plates were soon cleared and the wait for the main course was short.
My elder daughter’s lamb tikka masala was sweetly flavoursome as you would expect and packaged very well with the chips she ordered to make a filling and comforting main course. Again, the meat was tender.
My lamb rogan josh was mostly successful, but was still mixed affair. The meat was deliciously tender and the sauce was rich, with the right level of spiciness. However, it soon became clear that it was too much on the salty side and the sauce too thick for my liking - the type of sauce you pick the meat out of, perhaps have a few spoonfuls with rice but wouldn’t go out of your way to finish, unless you were really hungry.
Speaking about rice, the pilau rice was a little oiler than I’m used to - and this worked really well giving the meal a bit of general lubrication.
As is her habit in an Indian restaurant, my wife ordered an “extra spicy” vindaloo (this time with prawns).
She commented that the prawns were on the small side. She also said the sauce was too spicy. I feel it would be unfair to hold this against the chef. So, moving on...
My younger daughter ordered boiled rice and a garlic naan bread, which she quite happily worked her way through.
Is coffee technically a ‘course’ in a meal? If it is, then fine. I would say no, but accept that it is a fine line. Younger children could eat from the £10.95 menu - but how many drink the coffee?
Anyway, we got the children an ice cream each, neither of which were included in the price. Shame, as both ice creams were still frozen hard, obviously not freshly prepared, and, on the whole, were a let down.
Despite the niggles, it was generally a good meal with excellent all-round service.
The bill, with five soft drinks, came to just over £64.