"The old streets were a maelstrom of activity; with the hum of modernity ringing in my ears, I entered this cosy capsule of rustic indian charm..."
A vibrant street food café serving up inspiring Indian cuisine, you'll find Raja Monkey along stratford road on the outskirts of Birmingham. With the location emulating the look and feel of what street food is about, the inviting entrance brings a warm glow to the pavement, with its cosy seating, chalkboard of daily specials and bustling open kitchen on show.
As if I wasn't already drawn in by the storytelling on their website, the alluring menu featured the likes of classic biryanis, their famous dosa and thali plates inspired by ingredients and flavours from around India.
To start, we opted for the mixed fish (£4.29) and sarson-ka-jhinga (£7.99), aka tandoori king prawns. The mixed fish was a trio of tandoori salmon tikki marinated with yoghurt and coriander, battered punjabi white fish and a south indian spiced fishcake. A perfect mix of textures and spice, of which Sam's favourite was the salmon tandoori. Luckily for me, I had something similar awaiting me for the second course.
The king prawns were incredible; fat and juicy prawns with a whole host of flavour and zing. The heat was a little too much for me, although I still couldn't stop myself going back for more. All it took was a dip of the lightly seasoned raita and fresh salad to refresh my tastebuds and I was back on the heat.
With starters devoured, it wasn't long before the prompt and friendly service took our plates away and replaced with a lively palette of new colours and flavours. Sam chose the rajasthani thali (£13.49) whilst I opted for the south indian thali (£10.49).
The rajasthani is a mutton curry cooked with ground red chillies, whole cardamom and cloves. a truly warming and smokey flavour, created by not only the spices but slow cooking of the bone marrow stock. Although quite a dry curry, the tomatoes added freshness and moisture to the already mature flavours. It came with an amazing mint and coriander paratha, dahl and vegetable curry.
This stunningly presented ensemble of dishes is indeed the south indian thali. To my delight, the main dish was a salmon coconut curry which was very similar to Sam's showstopping starter. I delved in with the traditional dosa, scooping up the curry, dahl, vegetable curry and fragrant rice. For those of you who don't know, a dosa is a southern indian style pancake made with rice batter, so is vegetarian and gluten free. I was really pleased that this wasn't as spicy as my starter, and instead has just suggestions of delicate spices with a creamy texture.
We also ordered a side dish of paneer aur matter makhani (£3.79) which can also be served as a main. I love the texture and flavour of paneer, and although it usually lacks any flavour it's brilliant for taking on spices and sauces alike. this was no exception. With a thick tomato sauce, a hint of cashews and touch of ginger that tingled on the tongue. I actually had a go at making a similar dish, matar paneer, here, although it pains me to admit that of course Raja's was better.
Overall a fabulous meal in cosy but quirky surroundings. The food was innovative and fresh, the service punctual and friendly, and the staff passionate and knowledgeable about the menu. what more could you ask for? i'll definitely be returning.
1355 stratford road
Note: i was invited for a complimentary meal for purposes of review. all opinions are honest and my own.