Dinner Out: Brunel Raj, Bristol

If there is anything guaranteed to make me happier than the proverbial pig in shit, then sitting in a curry house on a  summer evening with friends whom I love and make me laugh whilst drinking Kingfisher, gossiping and eating curries has got to be pretty  near the top of the list. That makes Indian restarants very easy and particularly hard to review, because I am predisposed to  love them – which makes being purely objective harder. But not impossible – as there are also some fairly shoddy curry places – I just happen not to eat in those for the most part. Anyway, objectively, The Brunel Raj in Clifton is one of Bristol’s best curry houses.  I am not the only person to think so, as the queues for table when we arrived last night, and the ability to book only for 6.15 or 9pm would testify. The small lobby was packed out with people waiting for tables and picking up takeaways – and I see that as a very good sign indeed.

We got our table a little after 9, and drinks, poppadoms and pickles were quickly arranged. We were absolutely ravenous by this time. They sat us by the french doors which looked out onto the quiet street outside, which was lovely – always great when you get the exact seat you would have chosen in a restaurant , especially when it is packed. There was a strange moment when my friend, (somewhat misguidedly in my view) ordered cider with his meal and was presented fairly unceremoniously with a can of Blackthorn, which seems a little strange in a place where the linen napkins are laid on your lap by the waiter as you sit down, and everyone else is drinking out of gold rimmed glasses but alright.  The poppadoms and their pickly friends came – five in total; mango chutney, lime pickle, tomato and onion salad, raita and that mango coloured coconut powder which I never know the name of. Really good quality, all, but maybe for 4 people, not really quite big enough.

My adventurous friends all opted for chicken dishes;  honey chicken, butter chicken and a chicken balti, and I chose a prawn bhuna. I would have liked one of their king prawn specials for which they are justly famous but as we were splitting the bill, I had to be a bit more circumspect. We chose garlic naan, peshwari naan, mushroom rice and pulao rice and saag bhaji. The table was absolutely groaning. Now, I don’t eat chicken in curry houses, I don’t eat chicken anywhere that doesn’t serve  at least free range (and this isn’t one of those places) , so sadly I can’t comment on their meals but from the sighs and groans and general lack of conversation I’m guessing everyone was happy. The rices and breads were light and  gorgeous, and the mushroom rice particularly so – I could have just sat there and eaten the whole plate, had my friends not started to give me funny looks, the saag bhaji was perfect and the prawn bhuna was fresh and full-flavoured, made with good quality prawns and very very moreish. But we couldn’t finish our food – nowhere near actually. We really didn’t need two rice AND two breads AND a vegetable side between us – god only know what would have happened if we had got a starter course too, but I’m glad we ordered it anyway.

I do think the quality of food is higher than average here, the service is fine if a bit brisk and in terms of cleanliness and comfort, I couldn’t ask for much more, certainly not at £20 a head for drinks and full bellies. This is probably not a restaurant for a romantic date – on a Friday or Saturday night, anyway – but it is a great place to go to eat, especially with friends, and if you are going to eat curry in Bristol the general consensus is that it’s not a bad idea to do it here. 4 out of 5 (point deducted for can on the table and strange poppodom/pickle ratio).

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