We were invited to try out Le Raaj recently, an Indian restaurant located on the road linking Chester-le-Street and Durham. Housed in an old Victorian chapel, I had driven past many times on my way to work and found it an intriguing concept. Having recently visited Dabbawal, the menu was not as daunting as I’d anticipated upon investigation. In fact, they even have a specific page devoted to vegetarian dishes. I took along my mum and sister – both omni – to ensure all bases were covered. Mr. Canny was disappointed not to be invited, but our Mini was at capacity 🙂
Dinky was mesmerised by the water panels dotted around the warren-like building. The interior of the restaurant was decorated with rich colours and felt quite spacious. The clientele was mixed; a couple were dining with their granddaughter at the table beside us, while some businessmen were talking about car manufacturing loudly not far away.
While perusing the menu we were presented with a plate of poppadoms and a tray of dips and chutney. All 3 of us struggled with the spicy pickle, preferring the mild mango and creamy sauces instead.My sister started with the Chicken Momo, which had the appearance of a spring roll. It also had a similar assembly, with spiced chicken and vegetables filling filo pastry and then fried. Rather than being greasy, the parcels were light and crisp. Eschewing my usual Onion Bhaji, which my mum chose instead, I ordered Sabji Pakora. Cauliflower, aubergine and potato were mixed together in the same way the bhaji is prepared, and also deep fried. I enjoyed them and was pleased to try something different. My mum was happy with her starter, declaring them the best she’d eaten. Le Raaj was definitely off to a winning start.I have always been a creature of habit when it comes to Indian cuisine, and have favoured cream-based curries to those with a kick. When visiting our local takeaway I’ve recently replaced my regular order of Chicken Kurma with the veggie-friendly Paneer version instead, but have yet to branch out into any of the more traditional dishes. Wanting to be brave and to try something new, I asked (as I did at Dabbawal) for the waiter’s recommendation. He enquired about my preferences and then suggested an off-menu dish of Paneer Hariyali (which translates as green). Similar to Saag Paneer, it had a little more heat to it which I was able to handle. There is a chicken breast version available, made with marinated meat cooked in fresh crushed garlic, ginger, green chilli, coriander, cream and spinach. The portion was huge, but it was so tasty I didn’t want to leave a morsel. My sister’s Tandoori Chicken (£8.95) was marinated in yoghurt and mild spices, making it moist and flavourful. Barbecued in a charcoal oven and served with green salad, she also ordered a Cheesy Naan to accompany it. I tried it and wasn’t a fan. Traditional is always best! She requested a doggy bag as she couldn’t manage it all.Mum’s Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi (£8.95) was also served on a sizzling plate, which made other diners turn and stare as they were carried to the table. It was drier than the Tandoori Chicken, which should be expected as it hasn’t gone through the same marination process. Even with just the salad accompaniment, these dishes would have been a decent sized main course option. We were clearly just greedy ordering rice and other accoutrements.
I was disappointed not to have had room for one of their delicious-sounding Ferrero Rocher cheesecakes I was teased with, even if I had shared with my sister. Dinky was also getting quite fussy as we’d taken over 2 hours to eat. The sheer volume of food, and also having a bit of a chinwag, meant we were slow to consume our meal. It was 8 o’clock by the time we left, and she wanted her own sweet potato supper before bed.
All in all, we felt our experience of dining at Le Raaj was great and we’d definitely return. Because the dishes are prepared from scratch the menu can be adapted to suit those with a dietary requirement. I was told that catering for a vegan wouldn’t be an issue when I enquired about dining there in the future with Mr. Canny, which was great to hear. In fact, I felt nothing was too much trouble. When Dinky started to get fussy as we finished our meal, our lovely waiter asked if he could entertain her so I could finish in peace. The food was reasonably priced too, I thought, although those dining on a budget could visit for their £8.95 3 course lunch option instead.
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