On first arriving at Merlin's, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was tiny. It's a small squat, stone-fronted building and rumour has it that it used to be a bank - there's no telling if this is true! A quick cheque reveals a TARDIS like interior. At first there seem to be just a few tables but around every corner there are more - seats for about 80 diners in total. Merlin's have gone for the corporate image in a big way - everything from the carpets to the salt pots to the loo roll is inscribed with the wizard logo. The walls and partitions are festooned with masses of fake plants. We'd booked a table and found that not only had a 'Reserved' card been placed on the table but the name under which we'd booked had also been added. This was a very pleasant change from the usual 'give them the next table free after they arrive' attitude of most restaurants.
For starters, we had the usual complement of onion bhajis (spelt correctly on the menu!!), sheek kebabs and also a portion of shamee kebabs. Unusually, there were three spherical bhajis to a portion. These had a good taste although they weren't overly spicy. The shell was slightly crispy and the filling was very succulent. The sheek kebabs were also very good and very spicy. The shamee kebabs had eggs mixed into the mince mixture. Nevertheless, they had a pleasant taste. There was a fairly generous supply of side salad and splatter.
We'd spent quite a long time selecting the main dishes and in the end we all decided to try something new. The Chicken Shantera was perhaps the most disappointing of the lot. In all there were six small pieces of chicken and two lemon wedges in a fairly spicy and quite runny sauce. The Fish Bhuna Shantera was certainly different. A strong tasting fish, probably mackerel, mixed with peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, etc., making up a medium hot curry. It seemed to be well prepared but would probably have been better with a less overpowering fish. The Chicken Tikka Malai Mossala turned out to be a generous portion of tender chicken pieces in a mild minced lamb sauce. Very tasty. The Chicken Kolia had tender chicken pieces, with chunks of cauliflower and potato, in a hot (SteveB) or on-the-mild-side-of-medium (PhilS) and tasty sauce. The portion size could have been larger. We had some plain boiled and some pilaw rice and both were adequate. All nans were a bit on the small side but their consistency was very good. The keema was well stuffed with spicy mince but this had drifted to one side.
We finished off with mango, malai and pistachio kulfi. These were served upside down, still in their plastic screwball containers but also inside an ice-cream sundae dish. This made the portions appear more generous than they turned out to be. They'd either been standing out of the freezer for some time or had been zapped in the microwave a little longer than necessary as they were completely melted at the normally pointy bit. The coffee was also very good but only one tiny cup was served.
Merlin's has the appearance of an expensive restaurant but the prices are quite reasonable. The service was pretty slow to start with but once it got going, it moved on pretty rapidly. Overall, the experience was quite pleasant and we would not object to another visit.
Which gives an overall rating of 4 bhajis.