Sometimes, when you enter a restaurant, you have a pretty good idea what the food is going to be like. Not so with Aladdin's, the destination of our first big outing of the alleged new millennium. It looks quite basic, a bit rough and ready but not unpleasantly so and certainly very clean. We'd booked a table for four but in the end five of us turned up. This wasn't a problem as the place was almost deserted - particularly surprising for a Friday evening. It's quite a small place and at one time it was an insurance broker's office. The strip lights are now gone but the sixties polystyrene suspended ceiling remains. A small bar has been installed by one wall. The other walls were dripping with artificial plants through which could occasionally be glimpsed Hill House Hammond and General Accident logos. The desks have also been replaced by about 10 formica topped tables with velour covered conference centre style seats. A waiter sat by the kitchen door carefully folding menus and equally carefully measuring the mint yoghurt into pots.
We'd been given menus when we'd sat down but hadn't been asked if we wanted popadoms or drinks. Plenty of time was available for making our choices which was pretty useful as the menu was extensive with the main dishes reasonably priced - most were less than £4. After much deliberation, we placed our orders and also ordered a takeaway (more of that later!). At last, we were asked if we wanted any popadoms (we declined) and allowed to order drinks. Four pints of Carlsberg and a half of cider. Although there was a draught Carlsberg pump on the bar, the lagers looked and tasted as if they had come from a can. However, it's a well known fact that lager doesn't travel well so the taste and texture (if a crust on the head counts as texture) could be explained by the fact that we were almost 200 metres away from the Carlsberg brewery! The cider was definitely from a half empty bottle.
The starters followed soon after the drinks. PhilS plumped for the onion bajee - the small round type, but plenty of them with a very good texture. The sheek kebabs came sizzling into the room. Another first class starter beautifully spiced but unfortunately a bit on the puny size. The already excellent taste of both bajees and kebabs was further enhanced by an equally excellent chilli sauce. HazelB decided to test the chef's mettle by ordering a non-menu mushroom chat. This was a mega portion, beautifully prepared and presented and was declared "the best I've ever had" receiving an unprecedented 10 out of 10. SteveB opted for the chicken ranga. We'd never heard of it but the waiter described it as chicken tikka in a spicy sauce. SteveB described it as six pieces of tender chicken in a fairly hot and tasty sauce, proving that the waiter knew his stuff.
After such outstanding starters, we were eagerly anticipating our main dishes: 2 lots of Balti Peppered Chicken, 2 lots of Balti Lemon Chicken and a Balti Korai Chicken . Five almost identical dishes arrived. The house balti gravy seems to be an unappetising looking brown slurry. Not the most visually appealing but as we had already found with Aladdin's appearances are sometimes deceptive! PhilS found that, although the Balti Lemon chicken had been described as fairly hot, it was very hot! Fishing the slices of lemon from the sauce was also a bit of a problem. It tasted good but not as good as the one he'd had on a previous visit. HazelB and SteveB disagreed over the Balti Peppered Chicken, HB being disappointed with the taste but admitting that after her excellent starter, anything less than perfection would have been a non-event. SteveB found the chicken to be perfectly tender and the taste of the sauce to be OK but had difficulty discerning the white wine and green peppers which were allegedly in the dish (and also the coconut which wasn't advertised but was present in abundance!) IanD's Korai Chicken was very good. The sauce was tongue-tinglingly spicy and there was lots of chicken. Once again, we opted to use nans - a plain family and small garlic - to soak up the gravy. The garlic nan was dripping with garlic butter which wasn't fully absorbed so the underlying taste was of a plain nan - albeit an above average plain nan. The family nan was far too crispy in the centre but the edges were spot on.
We decided to splash out on kulfis but were once again frustrated to find that there was no mango available (Is there a world shortage of mangos?). HazelB gave up, but the rest of us opted for the malai variety. The taste of cardamom was a bit overpowering and IanD firmly believes that we actually got almond and not malai kulfis. Disappointment all round on the kulfi front, HazelB having made the wisest choice.
Although the service at Aladdin's was at time a bit on the relaxed side, the staff were certainly very friendly and couldn't have done too much for us. They even gave us each a free calendar as we left. We'd certainly visit again. We're not sure if we'd get a takeaway though!
Which gives an overall rating of 3 bhajis.