The Burj restaurant is located out of town but MICHELLE TOMPKINS discovered it’s worth the effort
Foxhill, nr Wanborough SN4 0DR
Tel: 01793 791888
Parking: Yes, plenty
Disabled access: Yes
Customer service: 9/10
Main course prices: £9 to £16
TripAdvisor rating: 4/5
IT'S a bold move to open up an Indian restaurant in the sticks. While people will happily stagger from pub to curry house on a boozy night out, it's a whole different ball game for the Indian food to be the night out; for a restaurant to rely on people getting into their cars, driving six miles out of town and abstaining from alcohol, all for the want of a curry.
So it's testament to The Burj that not only are people prepared to take the trouble, but they take the trouble time and time again. Booking is essential at the weekends and, I'm reliably informed, even Tuesday nights are packed. This is clearly a restaurant worth making an effort for.
It actually doesn't take that long to get there - just head through Wanborough and out the other side and it's a mile or so down the road - but it really does feel remote, sat on a crossroads with just a handful of other buildings around it.
The cream stonework and elegant signage ooze class and it feels like you've arrived somewhere special before you even walk through the door. The decor inside is just as classy - the classic reds, oranges and browns associated with the Indian restaurant, but with a contemporary twist - exposed brickwork, French windows and bold light fittings adding to the upmarket feel.
Our welcome couldn't have been warmer, with broad smiles and hellos from everyone we encountered, and after taking our pick of three offered tables, we were soon sat with drinks in hand and a sizeable menu to flick through.
According to the menu's preamble, the dishes are predominantly northern Indian in origin, developed by executive chef Mahesh Rathudi, who has worked in restaurants in South Africa, Zambia, London, Bangladesh and Mumbai.
There's also an admirable bid to break customers from their tikka massala habit: "You will find the firm favourites but also several unusual and evolved dishes, so we encourage all our customers to be adventurous and daring. Please try something new." Message received and duly noted. We turned our attention away from the 'popular dishes' section and refocussed on the 'house specialities'.
Not wanting to fill up on too much too soon we chose to start with a simple vegetable platter to share (£6.25). The waiter remarked on our excellent choice and it turned out he wasn't just being polite - it really was superb, comprising a crispy onion bhaji, a fiery vegetable samosa and aloo tikka (a fried potato cake with lentils, ginger and toasted cumin seeds). Even the garnish of shredded vegetables and baby coriander offered an explosion of flavour, complementing the heat of the spice.
I'd decided on the lamb shank rogan (£14.95) for my main course, and my partner the Goan chicken curry (£11.50). Between us we shared dishes of pilau rice (£3.50), aloo gobhi (£4.50) and garlic naan (£3.45).
I am usually put off having a lamb curry, for fear of fatty or chewy meat, but I was glad I'd taken the risk this time. The chunks of meat were so tender they fell from the bone, and the ruby-coloured sauce was fragrant and light. With the al dente crunch of the cauliflower in the gobhi, and some bread and rice to mop up the sauce, I was very happy indeed.
The Goan curry proved to have quite a kick, and my partner was grateful to our side dishes for soaking up some of the fire. As brilliantly orange as mine was red, his sauce was also flecked with fresh herbs and a liberal helping of chicken. He struggled slightly with the heat level, but battled on valiantly to finish everything on his plate. "If that was only one chilli (the rating on the menu), I wouldn't want to try two," he said, mopping the sweat from his brow.
So often the success of a restaurant is measured by the finishing touches, and it was good to be offered complimentary liqueurs at the end of our meal. I enjoyed mine (a Baileys) but my other half had to decline, being the driver for the evening.
Yes, this is one restaurant worth making the effort for. But it's also worth making someone else take their car.