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Lal Qila review

Ruth Allan is unconvinced by samey curries and shiny wallpaper at this new city centre Indian

Published on January 6th 2010.

Lal Qila review

I don’t think it’s a generalisation to say that Mancunians love a curry – posh, functional, takeaway, you name it – and our love is helping to beat the recession in the restaurant sector. Not one but two new curry houses have opened in city centre in the last few months, and, when Manchester Confidential editor, Jonathan Schofield, visited Zaika in December (click here for review) he enjoyed.

“Imagine that the ace of hearts is a huge speaker,” he said. “A big heart-shaped speaker, pulsing in a big heart shape…”

I kind of enjoyed my experience at Lal Qila too, although the good stuff was not all food-related. In fact, it was more magic related. But more of that later.

It was the middle of the festive season when I rounded-up a collective to chow down; two Dutch girls, Nina and Lauretta, and local singer-songwriter Magic Arm. Magic thought he had been to Lal Qila before. “It’s the red one in Rusholme, isn’t it?” he said. Indeed it is. Named after the Red Fort in Agra, Lal Qila has a luminous-fronted, 600-seater outlet in Rusholme and others in Handforth and Bolton too. Their new baby, however, is on Deansgate, where bling Scouse joint Negresco used to be.

Before its conversion to the spicy side, Negresco was a dark and sexy place. Think moose heads, lashings of leather, stacks of single malts and mirrors. Reincarnated as Lal Qila, it looks exactly like a mid-1990s curry house. There’s brown, orange and cream-ribbed corduroy on the seats, shiny, beige paper on the walls and other weird stuff, such as a chandelier crafted from what appear to be crystals from the Nineties hit show, Crystal Maze. Smart and clean it may be. Fashionable and cohesive it’s not.

Having settled into a cordy booth on the upper-deck of the restaurant, we got to grips with the menu, ordering starters of a seafood platter, chilli and coriander-packed potato patties, and a fine daal soup with turmeric, cream and rice. The restaurant specialises in Punjabi dishes – that part of northern Indian and eastern Pakistan which brought us the tandoori, the pakora and the naan. Taken together, the dishes offered a reasonable collage of the kind of hot food available. Nothing sang but there were no bum notes either, and pieces of soft, white fish in batter were a highlight.

For the main event, a spread of specials, karahis and baltis was unfurled across the table. The Dutch girls had never seen a British curry before. “They look kind of brown,” Nina said. It was a fair point: each dish was swathed in a thick, brown sauce, pocked here and there by green peppers and tomato.

I’ve never thought about curry colour too deeply before but, on further consideration, I suspect that the ‘brown’ effect is down to preparation. I’ve been experimenting at home with Madhur Jaffrey’s curry recipes from her excellent memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees, and she achieves a brown yet flavoursome base sauce by pureeing onion, garlic, spices and so on before cooking starts. It’s a technique that may have been employed at Lal Qila rather than good, old-fashioned over-cooking – although that was something of an issue too.

With little mountains of each on my plate, I tried the four mains with my eyes shut and the results were as expected. The heat-intensity and meat-type differed (lamb, chicken, fish and so on), but the flavour framework was pretty much identical: tomato, onion, garlic and varying degrees of chilli. These curries come in at between £6.90 and £9. They’re not massively expensive but I’d prefer to see more more effort going into the recipes for the price. Particularly when you consider that the set menu mains at award-winning Damson come in at around £9.50.

On the side, we had wholemeal roti, a garlic and fresh coriander naan and two types of rice (one with cashews and peas, and a not-too-artificially-brightened pilau) which were better. And despite my reservations, the rest were impressed. Magic Arm thought that his chicken karahi was “delicious”, and Dutch girl Nina thought that the fish balti was “a bit hot” but “tasty”. To my tastebuds, Nina’s was the best; soft hunks of cod in a dense tomato sauce with less over-cooked veg than elsewhere. For those planning a visit, starter or main course fish is probably a good bet, and the wine list is sound too – we had a light yet punchy bottle of Italian Primitivo.

The highlight for me was the service. The staff had time for us, checking over just enough times, chatting and recommending dishes. Our wine waiter even did some magic, producing cards from parts of his face, and a take on hypnosis. “Imagine that the ace of hearts is a huge speaker,” he said. “A big heart-shaped speaker, pulsing in a big heart shape…” Yep, that bit was a bit weird, but the Dutch girls loved it.

To recap, then, the Lal Qila experience had its ups and downs. The service, the entertainment and the fact that it’s a clean, smart, central spot were all ups. The stilted décor and average curries were downs. On the back of this meal, I suggest that Lal Qila is not serving the same quality, mid-price dishes that you’ll find at Zouk, East Z East and Akbar's. It’s not touching on the upper-end fare of Shimla Pinks, Zaika and Sanminis. Instead, it’s offering Rusholme-style curry dishes on Deansgate. Sometimes, that’s what I want to eat, but, here, I was disappointed.

Rating: 10/20
Breakdown: 4/10 food
5/5 service
1/5 ambience
Address: Lal Qila
310 Deansgate
M3 4HE
0161 839 7794

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

happygilmoreJanuary 6th 2010.

I would agree about Punjab, the dosas are a treat!

JoeyJanuary 6th 2010.

4/10 for the food is very harsh, I am a regular to Akbar's and Lal Quila in Rusholme. and I agree that these Two restaurants don't compare, with Akbar's producing more intense flavour in there dishes, but at a price.I have visited Lal quila on Deansgate a couple of times, one being the opening night, and enjoyed the food there immensity. Thinking it was a great step up from there Rusholme restaurant (which I rate), and with tasty Curry's at these prices it would rival Akbars.It seems that all the dishes ordered were of a tomato, onion and garlic base, with the main criticism being that all the dishes were then based the same ? Maybe try ordering something of a different base then? Makhani or Korma

GordoJanuary 6th 2010.

OK Hoppy, it is going onto our radar, we want to do a lot more stuff on the outskirts this year. Mind you, I rate the dal at zouk actually.

GordoJanuary 6th 2010.

Summiya, where's your favourite? I am not a great fan of the 'curry mile' type restaurants and having spent a bit of time with my nose in Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, trying her stuff out, I am frankly becoming very bored with all the bland curry houses out there. East Z East and Zouk i quite like; Zouks whole roast chickens are pretty spectacular.....

hoppy2...January 6th 2010.

@Gordo.... I've had the dal at Zouk twice and both times it hardly tasted of anything. Actually I was a bit miffed because I took my girlfriend their on one of the MANCON offers last year and we both had the meat option, and although it was nice overall, there wasn't enough......then when I went the next week with a friend (filling in for another friend) we had one meat option and one veg option and lo......twice the quantity of the previous visit! So I was diddled the first time!!! Seems like at £15 instead of £35 they were trying to cut the corners. This was the offer on from Thursday 28 May to Wednesday 10 June 2009 BTW. I also went with my girlfriend on the 1st offer from Wednesday 29 April to 4 May 2009 and that also was 2 meat options and (as I now know) quantities for just 1! Therefore twice I paid £30 for a £35 meal, instead of for a £70 meal as advertised! Needless to say I wasn't impressed. I know I should have spoken out (complained to them, blogged or whatever) before, but other matters had priority at the time and then it seemed too long had passed so I just left it.

hoppy2...January 6th 2010.

@Gordo I can't believe I put "their" instead of "there".....I'll just have to blame being interrupted in mid rant. lol BTW the Tadka Dal at Flavours is nearly as good as my step-mum's (she's Indian) and so if you like Zouk's dal you'll absolutely wet yourself on Flavour's....so best take a spare pair of pants, or a "pad" when you go!

JJJanuary 6th 2010.

I love Lal Qila! We would often taxi over to Rusholme for one so to have this in walking distance is great.So it might not be 'proper' or particularly up to date, but when the majority of people say they 'fancy a curry' this is exactly what they are after

RushmanJanuary 6th 2010.

Lal Qila is definitely one of Manchester shining lights in the world of Asian cuisine. I think the dishes at Lal Qila are excellent and while some of them can be ‘samey’ they are all of high quality. For example: the Lamb sizzlers with your own choice of sauce are excellent and one of the main reasons I am a frequent visitor. I think the point is with Manchester Indian’s is that you need to know where to go for your preferred fix. If I’m in a mood for good lamb with tasty sauces not drowning in ghee – then it’s Lal Qila. If I want something a little dryer and less saucy (and I have a big enough appetite) then its Akbar’s for their great range of Karahi style dishes (plus family naan of course!). That said, that all depends on what mood my Girlfriend is in-if she’s feeling the need for a healthier dish then we have to go to Zouks for spinach & chicken with a Romali Roti!

AliceJanuary 6th 2010.

I used to live in The Curry Mile and ate in every place. It's hard to find anything worth eating there, but maybe I missed something. It's good for late night cheap grub but not a patch on places like East Z East. Not yet eaten in Lal Qila Deansgate yet, but can't imagine it being there for long as that building seems cursed. I'm still sad about Negresco closing.

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2010.

Ignoring the fact that its all you can eat and buffet style, Nawab in levenshulme does some really great food, particulaly the spicy deviled offal (cant remember the name) its like haggis with spice - amazing

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2010.

Went to La Quila was it was rubbish. The staff were slow and food was bad, had to send it back. Wont be going back there again.

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2010.

try the Punjab in Rusholme - it's quite small and really tasty food

hoppy2...January 6th 2010.

I think Zouk is a bit over-rated by you all. I've been a few times on the MANCON offers and while some dishes have been great, others have fallen a bit flat....especially the dal.I've been in many Curry Mile places over the years and none have struck me as great, although at one time the Sanam was very good.If you care to venture out of town to the north a bit, you'll find Flavours on Manchester Road between Whitefield and Bury - http://www.flavoursbury.co.uk/This is a great Indian/Thai restaurant that I've never been disappointed with......and the Tadka Dal is very authentic (like my step-mother used to make) and to die for! Another favourite are the Thai Red & Green currys - marvellous!!!How about doing a review Gordo?

SimonJanuary 6th 2010.

I always found their Rusholme restaurant to be at the lower end of the scale for the curry mile...I went a couple of times... the decor was grim and felt grubby, and the curries (rogan josh / balti) were both somewhat salty and lacked the punch of flavour I found in other nearby restaurants, and as such, I don't think I'll hold my breath for the new one. I think Zouk would probably have to be my favourite curry restaurant at the moment.

happy and luckyJanuary 6th 2010.

I bet hoppy 2 is employed by Flavours. Thats twice he's mentioned it in two separate rants on two separate occasions . Odd and Suss

hoppy2...January 6th 2010.

@happy and lucky How much do you owe me on that bet??? I'm just a happy customer......of Flavours, not Zouk. Having said that, some of Zouk's food IS good, just not ALL of it that I have sampled.....perhaps half! I'm not against Zouk at all, it's better than a lot. IMHO, from personal experiences (being ripped off aside - lol), they are over-rated on most of the MANCON posts. Have you been to Zouk? What do YOU think of it? Have YOU any other recommendations? Try Flavours, if you haven't already, and let us all know YOUR opinion of it and how it stacks up against Zouk et al..

summiyaJanuary 6th 2010.

I have not been to the Qila in town but I can cook curries. The base that they use is the same as i have eaten in their Rusholme rest many times. food is ok but yes it all tastes the same. Go try the Village in Rusholme. Found the sizzlers and Kharia dishes to be well cooked.Took my parents when they last visited and they know about curries....... Akbars well over rated. Apparently they don't even cook fresh on the premises??

gJanuary 6th 2010.

As a curry obsessive, I would nominate The Village as the best on the curry mile and i think it as good as Zouk but alot cheaper- Lal Quila on the other hand is an awful bland resteraunt which should be avoided

SteveJanuary 6th 2010.

Gordo...give Eastern Revive in Wilmslow a bash...the lamb chops are the dogs danglers. My top choices are Dilli, Zouk and this one. By the way, I always make my curries from scratch from dry roasting the spices etc and they never take long unless I'm using a meat that requires long slow cooking like lamb shank for example. Went to Lal Qila in Handforth many years ago and it was rank...I wanted to go in the kitchen to have a chat with the chef and they wouldn't let me...enough said.

Jerry the catJanuary 6th 2010.

I dont go to Rusholme anymore havent been since the Shere Khan was done for cockroaches, if you take a walk around the back of these restaurants you might change you mind piled up food waste bins overflowing.

Saira KhanFebruary 4th 2010.

who mentioned the village. that place is always dead; food is not that good, service is a joke and they have immature staff who think its a disco.

Saira KhanFebruary 4th 2010.

who mentioned the village. that place is always dead; food is not that good, service is a joke and they have immature staff who think its a disco.

NortherngeezerFebruary 20th 2010.

Generally you'll find one dish in every restaurant thats outstanding, the key is finding it, and sticking to it. I choose my evenings fayre this way, i know what i fancy, so i know which establishement to go to to get it.

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