Raja doesn’t monkey around with ingredients

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The tomato is, perhaps, an odd yardstick by which to judge an Indian restaurant.

But have a think.
How often have you been served tomatoes as a garnish at your local curry house and eaten something as bland as the average programme on peak-time BBC1?
At Raja Monkey Cafe, however, served as a salad with a starter, they were magnificent.
Vividly red. Soft. Sweet. Juicy. Impeccably diced.
Which shows a rare determination to ensure only great stuff finds its way on to the plate.
For those unfortunate enough not yet to have discovered Raja Monkey, it’s part of the Lasan group.

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But its food is vastly different from the stylish contemporary dishes at the mother ship.
It’s more rustic. More authentic. Heartier.
There are lots of Indian street food snacks, sublime dosa and wonderful curries
It shares with Lasan (and the other restaurants in the group) a commitment to top-notch ingredients treated with skill and respect.
A mid-week family meal there was a delight.

We ate

The pappodoms we nibbled as we selected the rest of our meal were an auspicious start – thin, crisp and served with slightly sweet yoghurt and chopped onions.
The pau bhaji with which I properly began my feast was a lovely thing – lightly-toasted buns almost like brioche served with vegetables enlivened by fresh green chillies. A wedge of lime added sharpness.

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The contrast of sweetness and spice was fabulous.
Opposite were heard sighs of contentment from those eating masala uttapam – flatbreads with the texture of crumpets served with tomatoes, onions, coriander and fresh green chillies.
Alongside there were similar sounds of approval from my son as he ate samosa chaat – veg pastries topped with tomato, onion, yoghurt, tamarind and green chutney.

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I went hardcore with my main course – a fiery mutton madras.
But there was more than just heat to the rich Tamil-style dish that came – with layers of sweet, sour and aromatic notes culminating in chilli heat at the end.
A paratha fragrant with mint worked beautifully with the flavoursome, succulent mutton.

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A chickpea curry and two thalis – platters with a variety of elements – were also well-received.
Afterwards we shared a pretty platter of Indian sweets as the waiter boxed-up unfinished food from the generously-sized main courses we’d ordered and not completed.

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The little sachets of mouth-freshening Shahi Meva – almond, dry dates, fennel, coconut and sugar – that concluded the meal were a nice touch.

The decor

Wooden walls, retro pictures and sub-continental artefacts give Raja Monkey the feel of a roadside cafe.
Indian music plays in the background as obliging and efficient waiters scurry about.
It’s welcoming, comfortable and totally unfussy.

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Need to know

We paid £100 for four people, including lots of beer.
Check out the snacks for a proper street food experience.
Raja Monkey does take-aways.
There’s on-street parking nearby.
It’s opposite Waitrose in Hall Green.
It’s closed on Mondays but open 5.30-11pm the rest of the time.

Raja Monkey Cafe
1355 Stratford Road, Hall Green, Birmingham B28 9HW. 0121 777 9010.
http://www.rajamonkey.co.uk

I work with the Lasan group as a freelance consultant but the meal we ate was paid for and is an unbiased account of our experience.