Le Raj, Epsom Downs, Surrey KT17 3LB - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 17:41 31 May 2011 | UPDATED: 21:12 02 July 2014
Gone are the days when a curry was regarded as a bit of lads' night decadence. Today, Indian cuisine sits comfortably alongside the finest dining in the top foodie guides - and it would be fair to say that a small corner of Epsom has had a hand in this trend. Matthew Williams pays a visit to legendary restaurant Le Raj
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2011
Restaurant reviewed: Le Raj, 211 Fir Tree Road, Epsom Downs, Surrey KT17 3LB Tel: 01737 371371
Food and drink 9
What we ate:
Malai Maach: codfish fillet marinated in light flavoured cardamom, £5.95
Chuto chingri: tiger prawns marinated with delicate spices, £5.60
Morchana: marinated lean chicken cooked with hand ground roasted spices, green chillies, fresh coriander, £10.95
Kata gosht: lamb cooked with lentils, chillies and curry leaves, £9.95
Peaz pilaw: basmati rice with eggs, spring onion and parsley, £3.95
Khumbi bhaat: plain rice with mushrooms and green herbs, £3.95
Paneer nan: nan with chillies, mint, cheese and garlic, £3.50
Shak aloo: spinach and potatoes, £4.20
Le Raj Caramelita Ice Cream, £5.95
Le Raj Malai, £5.65
Vina Marro Rioja Crianza, Domeca De Jarauta, Spain (2007), £23.45
REVIEW: The reputation of Le Raj precedes it; stretching not just across Surrey, but right across the world (many will have heard the infamous story of the take-away order that came all the way from the USA; and yep, the customer paid for it to be flown over in case you’re wondering).
Certainly a mecca for the rich and famous, TV personality Chris Tarrant is one of many well-known regulars – and, in fact, a ‘trophy cabinet’ as you enter the restaurant houses tokens from other visiting celebrities, including Pierce Brosnan and members of Chelsea FC.
It’s not surprising really when you consider that as long as 20 years ago, when curry in this corner of England had all the gastronomic respectability of the local kebab shop, owner Enam Ali and his team of ‘culinary artists’ were already starting something of a revolution in Indian cuisine.
Also the founder of the British Curry Awards and long-standing chairman of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs, in 2009 his efforts were recognised by the Queen with an MBE for his services to the industry.
Today, you may barely be able to move for high quality Indian restaurants in Surrey, but that doesn’t appear to have quenched Le Raj’s heat.
Found in an affluent corner of Epsom Downs, while the entrance and bar is modern and stylish, the main dining area feels more like you’ve stepped into the old town hall, or at least some fashionable historic hotel – you half expect cream tea and scones, rather than poppadoms and chutneys.
The service was highly attentive from the start on the night we attended – a quiet Tuesday evening. Having been unburdened of our coats we were led to our table, well spaced from its neighbours with big furniture to cocoon you further.
Wine ordered, we delved into the comprehensive menu, which traverses traditional favourites to less well known Bengali dishes – ‘some inspired by my mother’s cooking; others by chefs at the royal Moghul courts,’ states the website.
A Michelin mention
Our starters, both fish dishes, were presented more like Michelin star fare – in fact, the restaurant does get a mention in that auspicious guide – and the Malai Maach codfish fillet, marinated in light flavoured cardamom, deserves special praise. My dining partner and I would happily have had seconds… and then thirds.
Delicious aromas wafting through the air signalled the arrival of the mains: gargantuan dishes filled with curry sans neon food colouring, egg fried rice with very obviously real egg (rather than the almost plasticy, erm ‘stuff’ that so often accompanies), shak alloo and nan.
All tasted as good as they smelt, although a word of warning on the spicing front: while my three-chilli morchana was perfect, a deep flavour with a pleasant rather than overpowering kick to it, my partner’s dish, chilli kata gosht, probably should have carried a rating of four on the night – delicious, but definitely eye-watering too!
Flames were quenched with post-curry ice cream, which proved to be an absolute winner, with caramel and crème brulée variations both a real treat.
Anticipation can often make expectations soar and the eventual reality seem somewhat underwhelming, but Le Raj fully lived up to its billing, laying on a feast fit for any king.
3 other great Indian restaurants in Surrey
147-149 Station Road, Addlestone KT15 2AT: 01932 841682
A stylish restaurant with a chic and cosmopolitan ambience. The kitchen combines authentic Indian flavours with a contemporary twist, and favourite dishes include the lamb rogan josh, chicken saali and the king prawn jalfrezi.
19 Anyards Road, Cobham KT11 2LW: 01932 865005
Set in a traditional timber-framed building, with a modern and stylish interior, Indian culture meets British tradition at Massala, where they embrace the flavours of five regions in a selection of delicious dishes.
372 Malden Road, Worcester Park KT4 7NL: 0208 330 7990
The Shalimar opened over 18 years ago and has been going strong every since – once being named The Sun’s best curry house in Britain. They specialise in curries originating from northern India.