A meal fit for a king?
The Maharaja’s Retreat
Nottingham’s latest Indian dining experience from the owners of the Calcutta Club.
The Boy and I love a good fix of Indian food every now and again. We were delighted to be invited to the newly launched Maharaja’s Retreat in Nottingham this week. Welcomed by a gentle, confident waiting team we were ushered into the tall atrium of the relatively historic building. The menu proclaims that every visit will be made memorable and we were looking forward to putting that to the test.
Walk with me
The restaurant is a comfortable, relatively high end one. I liked the slight mish-mash of colour and texture. The feeling of the opulence of the Maharaja’s residence is strong, but nicely understated with colourful but tastefully muted walls, deeply patterned wallpapers and prints of rulers’ portraits adorning the walls. Similarly the music is more contemporary Indian, giving a break from the often cliche ambience of a curry house. The whole gives a feeling of classic decadence without brashness or bravado. It is refined and pleasant to visit.
As with any Indian meal, you haven’t started before you have a couple of poppadoms. On the waiter’s recommendation we also tried the Sev Pappadi Chat, which I really enjoyed. There was a nice balance of flavours. The coriander and mint complimented the cooling yoghurt and sweet tomato. Of course a nice texture came through with the sev and pappadi and I liked finding the odd chickpea in there too.
Unusually for me, I also enjoyed the accompaniments. I’m not a fan of chutneys or pickles at all. However, the mango, onion relish and sweet tomatoey chilli sauce all actually appealed to my picky palate so we both tucked in with gusto.
Under starter’s orders
The starters come with the option of trios of chicken, lamb or fish to allow you to sample a few of the grilled options. The menu is clearly marked with vegetarian, dairy and gluten information so it is simple to make a selection that suits your diet. We opted to share the lamb and seafood trio because we wanted to give everything a try.
There were absolute standout dishes on each trio that I would be inclined to order again. Possibly the nicest prawn I’ve ever had in the form of the Solapuri Lahasuni Jhinga. Spiced with garlic, red chilli and caraway, this was sweet and spicy and beautifully punchy. It was also a very fat old prawn. Just a shame I only got to eat half of it as I dutifully split it with The Boy. The tandoori salmon was nicely cooked, but less remarkable. And the Swordfish Malai Tikka really carried the flavour of the ginger and nutmeg in particular from its seasoning, which I enjoyed.
On the lamb plate The Boy was blown away by the impact of the deep green crust of mint and ginger garlic paste on the hunk of lamb fillet. The lamb was absolutely exemplary in the way it had been handled, and the moist meat yielded so readily.
Along with our meal I opted for a bottle of Australian Chardonnay-Semillon because it was a hot, close and rainy day so I wanted the refreshment. Also the crisp citrus flavours were just what the doctor ordered to help cut through the richness of the food.
Mains for the Maharaja
On to the mains and we chose to pick some familiar favourites. A true test of any Indian restaurant. The Murgh Makhanwala, or Butter Chicken, is of course the ancestor of the anglicised Chicken Tikka Masala. Whether it contains more or less butter is up to the chef, but in this dish that richness was conspicuous in its absence. As indeed was the spicing that I expected to say. To say that this was the least successful dish of the meal is fair. To express that it kind of tasted like chicken in a sweet tomato soup is perhaps pointed, but accurate.
The Boy went for lamb again, although we shared everything. This was the slow cooked Gosht Zaika. The whole spices in the braising gave a deep, earthy flavour. The whole was rich and meltingly tender. Another triumph. The lesson being, lamb is what the Maharaja’s Retreat does amazingly well. It’s great quality and cooked to absolute perfection.
A bit on the side
To go with our mains, we had the Daal Makhani which had a good kick but was not as creamy or rich as I was hoping for. The saag paneer was absolutely rammed with spinach which I liked. However, the paneer was a little soft and didn’t have much taste too it. I don’t know if there is a new tendency to under-marinate a soft paneer that I hadn’t really picked on, but we have seen it before. Perhaps it is my taste for a firmer, punchier paneer that is out of sync with the norm.
With so many flavours and textures going on we kept the rest simple with just a pilau rice and a plain naan to share. As you can imagine, even this was far too much food for the two of us. The remainder was dutifully boxed up and we enjoyed a quick lunch the next day, which transported us back to this land of softly spoken, elegantly mustachioed waiters.
Fair to say then that a couple of dishes didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I think the butter chicken was the only real disappointment. The others just simply didn’t live up to the exemplary quality of their neighbours – they certainly weren’t bad.
When we finished up, a selection of chocolates was brought. Enough to totally overfill us, that last chocolate. Like some kind of gender-fluid Mr Creosote I waddled down Maid Marian Way towards the train station, belching my compliments for the chef to a bewildered Boy.
No simple curry house this. It is clearly staffed by both a kitchen team and waiting staff of experience and passion. It was obvious nothing was too much trouble. Having my wine and water poured throughout the meal always feels a little much too me, but I recognise it is something of a gold standard of service. The team were happy to talk us through the menu and recommend the standout dishes. Every aspect of that menu is clearly well understood – and well articulated.
Enjoy a generous discount on early evening dining, or take it as it comes later in the evening. Prepare to spend a few hours being gently wined and dined in this delightful corner of Nottingham. This is no curry house, but certainly a well thought out and carefully curated restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and thank The Maharaja’s Retreat for their kind invitation to dine with them.
Our meal was complimentary, but we paid for our wine.