We live in a society that isn’t kind to restaurants. One that eats them up and spits them out. One that is so fickle it could be a contestant on Love Island. A staggering 90% of restaurants in this country fail within the first twelve months. Why? I don’t bloody know, I’m not a restauranteur; I’m an over opinionated twerp with a keyboard. But the ones that I have seen demise with my own eyes have been poorly judged concepts (lobsters), rotten locations (sea food restaurants above Café bloody Rouge) and just bad luck (Comida, you were brilliant and you’ll be back). It almost puts me off my dream of a little Italian restaurant of my own. Almost. The restaurant business is not a lottery, it’s a cleverly thought out line of ticked boxes and processes, as my good friend Barry Sherwin has pointed out to me on many an occasion. And he knows a thing or two about opening these places. So there.
Once past that opening year it’s no guarantee that it’s an easy ride. Profitability and longevity are the two things that the industry craves, and to achieve this takes hard work and constant reflection. The machine chugs along, driven by trends and an ever changing customer focus. React or die, it’s as simple as that. Take a chameleon approach and you might see two, maybe five, even ten or twenty years if you’re really lucky. But fifty? There can’t be too many successful businesses that even dream of reaching half a century. Rajdoot have, which is a crazy number given that I would have been but a twinkle in the eye of the raging hormonal body of my fifteen year old pubescent father when they first opened in 1967. I struggle to comprehend pieces of furniture that are fifty years old, never mind places to dine at. How they have achieved this is too much for this pea brain to take in.
Maybe a good starting place for an explanation would be the service. It’s old school slick, customer orientated and polished to a high sheen. We are seated in a plush waiting area and watered, given menus and then taken to a sultry dining room way bigger than it first appears, which is a talent they share with me. Our corner table is adorned with thick white linen, preloaded with crisp poppadum’s and a spritely chopped onion salad. A singular candle sits on one corner, more a romantic gesture than a lighting requirement. At first I assumed they were going all out because they knew I was coming, though it would later transpire they had no clue at all about me. I like that. They go to this effort for everyone. Which probably goes someway to explaining the buzzy dining room on a midweek night.
What also explains the mostly full room is the food, which, on our meal here puts it in the upper echelons of its type in the city. Its wonderfully traditional, rich and decadent. We share a platter to start that is probably too much food to successfully proportion our meal. Like we care. We each devour the mini fillet of chicken shaslik we have each been portioned to, and make light work of crisp samosa with the most fragrant of potato and pea filling. We cloak batons of shish kebab with onion kulcha which, with the ingenious addition of mint yogurt, turns it into the most delicious lamb sandwich you could wish for. Only the tandoori chicken lets the team down for being on the dry side. It still gets eaten.
We go for two of the chefs recommendations for main. He clearly knows what he is talking about. On paper the Murgh Kebab Masala looks like a tarted-up description of a chicken tikka masala. Thankfully, it is nothing of the sort. The kebab is a tightly packed mixture of minced chicken and herbs that have been skewered and blasted through the tandoor until the outside is charred and the centre is just cooked through. The sauce is nutty and complex, heavy on the spices that trouble the nasal passages, not the other ones. I just wish there was a little more of it. I want to glaze the supple garlic naan with sauces this good, and whizz it the individual grains of pilau rice. The other main was a lamb chilli bhuna that doesn’t disappoint. It’s heady and spicy, littered with chilli and chunks of pepper. The tender lamb is a testament to the virtues of patience. We wipe the bowl clean with the last shreds of the naan.
They make both gulab jamun and kulfi in-house here, so we request a smaller portion of each to try both. Indian desserts are often a massive disappoint, but these were lovely. The gulab jamun was not over soaked in syrup, the kulfi delicate and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. They work surprisingly well in the company of each other. If you can find room for dessert, I suggest you harass them into doing the same for you.
I’d not eaten at the Rajdoot before this. I guess that I’d been scared that a business open for that length must be old fashioned and reliant on the aging regulars for custom. I couldn’t be any more wrong. It’s done fifty years because they serve precise and comforting Indian food with the sort of service that shames many a Michelin starred restaurant. It is rightly a stalwart of its kind in the city. I already cannot wait to go back for more.
I was invited to dine at Rajdoot by Delicious PR