461 Lisburn Rd,
Belfast BT9 7EQ
028 9066 2168
The Raj is a restaurant I drive past at least 10 times per week. A constant presence on the Lisburn Rd regularly touted as the go-to place for a decent curry in Belfast. Despite my daily proximity to the restaurant along with the ever-popular recommendations I have never dined in the Raj (bar a sub-standard takeaway) with my Indian restaurant of choice being the similarly named Rajput on the East side of town in Ballyhackamore. It wasn't until my mother (who knows a thing or two about decent Indian restaurants) also started waxing lyrical about the Raj that I made the trip on a Friday evening in late April.
Much like many Asian/Indian restaurants they usually fall under the modern or traditional style of decor and the Raj unapologetically falls under the latter. From the Bollywood style music (which holds a certain nostalgia for me) to the 70's style seat patterns and the Indian style logo printed on the wall, the Raj is very much curry house chic. Not that that's a bad thing.
As I have maybe mentioned in previous posts one of my favourite parts of dining in Indian restaurants are the popadoms with their various accompaniments. They make a nice bridge between arrival and getting the starters and it's hard to beat a spicy popadom and a tiger bear. I'm pleased to say the Raj didn't fall short at the first hurdle. The popadoms were freshly fried and the dips provided a great variety in flavour. The onion chutney was the standout. The menu is as you would expect, all the regular starters in Chicken Tikka, Pakora, Samosa and Onion Bhaji which we opted for along with the Chicken Chaat.
Starter wise standout was the chicken chaat that entailed pieces of tender chicken breast doused in a rich sweet and sour tomato-based sauce. The chapati bread that the chicken is served on was perfectly fresh and not greasy which is often the case in many Indian restaurants.
The Onion Bhajis were crispy on the outside and again void of any standing or seeping grease. They could maybe have been improved with a touch more spice included in the flour mix and also served with a hot chilli sauce rather than my pet hate, sweet chilli.
For mains, again the menu was standard curry house fayre with the usual Vindaloo, Balti, Biryani, etc. I asked the waitress for her recommendation as I wanted something rich and spicy that packed a punch. The first question she replied with was "do you like garlic?". Well, yes, I responded to which she retorted "do you really like garlic?" Again, Yes I replied. The warning was noted and as I didn't have any close proximity meetings the following day I went with her recommendation in the Roshani. The dish that was presented to me incorporated 3 types of garlic; fresh, fried flakes and garlic powder. It certainly packed a punch. The best way to describe it would be a rich garlicky Madras. I asked the chef to up the heat level which made it particularly punchy.
Rachel, who is these days chilli adverse opted for the chicken tikka masala but this was mainly due to the fact that the nations favourite curry is also my 3-year-old sons favourite food at present. After our recent trip to the middle east, Teddy has found his love for 'red chicken'. It's hard to critique any chicken tikka masala as they all taste the same in being super sweet and creamy. The Ronseal of Indian cuisine.
To accompany the curry we had the obligatory pilau rice and some excellent garlic naan, which Teddy also devoured meaning we had to order another, that was freshly baked in their tandoor and brushed with just the right amount of garlic ghee, not that I needed more garlic.
To sum up, the Raj is probably up there with the best Indian food you are likely to find in Belfast. I have been fairly spoiled the past few weeks after travelling to Abu Dhabi and Dubai where I dined in some of the nicest Indian restaurants on the planet including the Michelin Starred Indigo by Vineet. When dining in high-end Indian restaurants you know to expect the unfamiliar with menus complied with dishes that simply wouldn't sell in Belfast. I love coming across peculiar dishes and flavours that you have never experienced before. However, there is something very comforting about eating in a regular non-pretentious curry house like the Raj that serves tasty, freshly prepared food paired with a few ice cold Beers.