Let’s consider that ubiquitous Indian dish – tandoori chicken.
Frequently it disappoints – cubes of sub-standard bird cooked so long and at such a high heat that it’s shrivelled to the size of Boris Johnson’s shrunken, desiccated soul.
Now let’s take a look at the tandoori chicken served as a small plate at Raja Monkey Cafe.
Here a whole leg, bone and all, of good quality poultry has marinated in deftly-judged spices and cooked on a skewer for a perfect time at a perfect heat in the tandoor.
It emerges seductively blistered and blackened, the residues of the marinade caramelised to add layers of intriguing, satisfying flavour.
Inside the meat is juicy and textured.
At the end comes a nice crescendo of chilli heat.
Alongside sits cooked gem lettuce that adds sweetness and strands of gently pickled red onion to add a bit of zip.
I ate it as a starter on my latest visit to Raja Monkey – a restaurant that’s long been a favourite of mine but which is now reaching new heights.
This was tandoori chicken that would be hard to surpass.
My wife ate another traditional starter – Punjabi samosas, plumply stuffed with potatoes and peas.
Again, these knocked spots off samosas served at most other places.
Their pastry was properly blistered and flaky.
They came with a tamarind sauce and a sprinkling of coconut.
Main courses were equally stunning.
Mutton chops are a cut of meat seldom encountered in any restaurant, let alone an Indian place.
Which is a shame because their robust flavour stands up well to assertive companions.
They’d been braised – I suspect for a very long time – in a sauce that was sweet and sticky with prunes and onions and delicately spiced.
Confit garlic gloves and shallots were scattered on top to add further sweetness, along with crisp fried onion to give texture.
This was a filling and delightful bowl of food served in a portion so generous that I was unable to tackle the fourth chop.
My wife’s paneer kofta’s were beautiful things – spherical dumplings that were crisply coated and melting inside.
They sat on a vibrant sauce of spinach and and cashews.
Battered samphire lay on top of the kofta to give saltiness and texture.
Rice and roti accompanied the main courses, their blandness a perfect foil.
I’ve eaten many times at Raja Monkey but it seems now to be progressing to a higher level.
It’s expanded into premises next door and undergone an interior facelift to make it smarter.
It’s still relaxed and well-priced and its food remains recognisably Indian, but there’s now a refinement and confidence that has elevated dishes.
Raja Monkey is firmly among my favourite Birmingham restaurants.
Need to know
Raja Monkey is opposite Waitrose in Hall Green.
Starters and small plates kick in at £4.49 for aloo chaat and peak at £12.79 for scallops.
A thali costs £15.
Main courses range from £8.79 to £16.29.
There are veggie and seafood options.
Raja Monkey is fully licensed.
Raja Monkey Cafe
1355 Stratford Road. Hall Green. Birmingham. B28 9HW.
We ate there as guests. This is review is an honest and unbiased reflection of my experience.
Interior and exterior images are courtesy of © Edwin Ladd Photography. Food photographs are my own.