It’s not often I write about places outside of the city centre. As I live, work and do my radio show in the two or so square miles that make up the heart of the second city, it’s hard to winkle me out of it without a big pin.
In this case, the pin was the inestimable Paul Fulford, renowned Birmingham food writer who invited me to Raja Monkey, a name that’s been on my ever growing list of venues to seek out for a long time.
It’s nestled along the Stratford Road in the suburb of Hall Green, a few miles out from the city centre and easily reachable by train or bus. It’s a funky venue serving cuisine in the style of Indian roadside dhaba (think of a truck stop with awesome food). It’s also part of the well regarded Lasan Group who also own Lasan (naturally and currently being refurbished), Izza Pizza, Nosh & Quaff and Fiesta Del Asado.
Raja Monkey is perhaps the most relaxed of their venues. Their whole ethos is a small menu of dishes, flavoured well and served simply; you’ll never see words like ’roundel’ on this menu. It’s an intimate venue, with booth to the front observing the kitchen and tables to the rear. The walls are all colour-washed in bold shades and there’s traditional artwork and enamel signs, with vintage window shutters thrown in the mix. All of it blends well and comes across as tasteful and not overdone.
To keep us sated whilst going through the menu, we had Papad (Poppadoms) served with onion salad, yoghurt dip, mango chutney and a spicy pickle. We were also asked about dietary requirements whilst being handed the menu, always a nice touch.
The poppadoms were crisp and slightly salty, which is my preference, whilst the sauces all complimented each other well. With a chilled bottle of Cobra, they went down lovely.
To start, I chose the Frankie Dosa, from their ‘Famous Dosa’ section of the menu. It can also be ordered as a main if you wish. If you’ve not heard of Dosa imagine them as an Indian version of a crepe but made from rice and black mungo bean. This one was stuffed with stir fried mutton and pickled onions.
It’s great to see mutton on menus again. An oft neglected meat, it’s much more flavoursome than lamb, taking on a gamey flavour and a slightly tougher texture. It’s a meat that has fallen out of popularity over the last few years but it’s worthy of your consideration. This example in particular was rich, with the gamey meat matched by the pickled onion. The accompanying dipping sauces were to fully enjoy the crisp dosa. Paul chose the Mutton Kebab to start which came with a side salad and sauces and smelt heavenly.
For main, I had Chicken Curry, that’s exactly how it’s described on the menu, no schpiel, nothing, just ‘Chicken Curry’ and the price. I loved that! It’s nice to see a venue sticking to the basics with good quality, no nonsense cuisine. The curry itself was delicious – big hefty chicken chunks in a rich peppery sauce, evenly spiced with no overpowering punch of coriander (which I’m not a big fan of). To accompany, I chose a plain naan. This was how I expect a naan to be – warm, fluffy and airy with a crispness at the same time. It was perfect for mopping up the sauce, although I was a little envious of Paul’s chapatis at the same time. They looked equally as delicious.
Talking of Paul, he had the Chicken Bhuna with the aforementioned Chapati. I had a little taster and it was beautiful. The chicken was tender with the caramelised onion masala sauce the perfect partner. Something I’d love to try more of next time I go.
For dessert, I chose the Gajar Halwa possibly the only other famous dessert, other than carrot cake, to be mainly composed of carrots. It’s made with grated carrot milk, sugar, water and cardamom. It was DELICIOUS, the carrot still had crunch but was also almost velvety at the same time, dissolving in the mouth. This version came topped with vanilla ice cream, which oozed into the steaming Gajar Halwa and elevated this dessert up a notch into perhaps one of the best comfort foods for an autumnal evening.
Paul’s dessert looked no less delicious, he chose the Rasmalai another traditional favourite from the sub-continent. It can be described pretty much as a cheesecake without the biscuit. A cured cheese (a little bit like paneer but not as firm) soaked in clotted cream and flavoured with cardamom, with a bit of pistachio on top. If you’re not a fan of hugely sweet desserts, I’d give this a whirl.
All throughout the meal, Paul and I talked about a wide range of topics from local newspapers to kitchen refurbishment to what we think is going to be the next hot cuisine (Malaysian & Phillipino were my choices) and the frippery of certain food service.
Then I realised what I miss from the suburbs sometimes; catching up in a restaurant where you don’t feel rushed to be in and out and you can enjoy great tasting, simply served food in an unfussy environment, dedicated to making its guests feel like they’re at home. I couldn’t think of a better place than Raja Monkey to do it.
I mean that’s what Autumn is for, right?
Where: Raja Monkey, 1355 Stratford Rd, Birmingham B28 9HW
Who: Raja Monkey, Lasan Group, Paul Fulford
Disclaimer: For this visit, I was a guest of Paul Fulford and Raja Monkey who provided all food and drink. This provides no bias to the post. This blog is my own personal opinion and strives to provide an independent view, promoting, enjoying and reviewing the range of exciting food and venues in and around Birmingham.