"You Choose" — Raja Monkey

Once a week I walk into a restaurant and ask the staff to order for me

Venue: Raja Monkey, 1355 Stratford Road, B28 9HW; Website 
Choice: Monkfish Moilee (£16.29) Chooser: Munayam (head chef) 

I'm announcing a tireless roots and stem investigation into how I left it 3 years between Raja Monkey visits. The place has doubled in size since I last indulged in what is, surely, one of suburban Brum's best venues. They’ve managed to pass that tricky test of expanding (a lot) without losing charm, the open kitchen still a glorious centre-piece. The restaurant didn’t have that horrible barny/empty feel that many overextended places get, and it was bubbling with diners on a Wednesday night. They've shifted away from street food (while everyone else desperately pulls into that direction) and towards what can best be described as Lasan's little sister. I mean, it's always has been part of the Lasan Group, of course, but now it looks and feels like Lasan Lite, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment. It's like the quality has shifted up a gear or two, and sure the prices have crept with that, but in doing so they've found, or even created, their own niche. A "nice occasion, but doesn't have to be a big occasion" sort of a restaurant. A 41st birthday not a 40th. The service, as always, was slicker than a buttered otter, with the scallop with spring cabbage chutney, peanut and cucumber kakdi "small plate" (bit punchy at £12.79) a velvety, super soft and impeccably seared hit. When ordering (and this was a really flex move) the waiter said they’d got to the point where there wasn’t much they could do to improve the tandoori chicken, so they've stopped trying. The implication being it can't get any better and, sure enough, they're right. I've never had better tandoori chicken, anywhere. Chargrilled, blistered skin duveted over supple chicken — chef knows how to master the tandoor without drying out the bird — an immediate addition to my Brummie death row meal and a £6.79 steal. The monkfish main (£16.29) is a wonderful example of a chef balancing flavours, nothing over-powering, just nuanced and refined, the fish sits in a creamy, coconutty sauce that I would gladly have placed my entire face deep into had it not been, you know, niggling social norms. The mutton chops in prunes (£13.99) is absolutely a sharer of a dish. A rich, spicy, stocky, deep and fruity number, it's delightful to dip into but, I suspect, a battle to put away solo. Thin, crispy naan was faultless but the king of the sides were the samphire fries – the ultimate in bitter, salty deep-fried naughtiness, hiding under the cover of veg. It won't be three years again, I promise. It's got to be somebody's 41st birthday soon. Menu


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