Restaurant review: Adda Hut

This week you get a simple, straightforward review of a simple, straightforward restaurant. But before that, I’d like to apologise to any of my readers in Woodley.

Because I’ve never reviewed anywhere in Woodley, in the best part of ten years. It’s one of those satellites of Reading that has escaped my attention. I made it out to Lower Earley – just the once, back in 2014 – although I can’t see myself going back any time soon. And this year, finally, I reviewed somewhere in Tilehurst, long an omission. But Woodley has never been on my radar. I’ve reviewed more places in Bristol than in Earley, Woodley and Tilehurst put together, a fact I know delights so many of you.

I assure you it’s not because I’ve taken against Woodley. In fact, I’ve always had warm memories of the place. The thing is, I grew up there – or pretended to – and it was the first place I lived when my family moved to Reading in the early Eighties. So I have happy memories of mucking around on the airfield, and walking the dog round Dinton Pastures, of going up the precinct and spending my pocket money in Beatties, the games shop. Of buying my teenage diaries from the Newscentre (and filling them with awful shite) and of buying new pairs of shoes every year from Milwards in time for the start of the school year. (You’d be better off wearing the boxes, my mum said most years: size twelves, you see).

I came back to Woodley after university and lived there until the late nineties and, with my schoolfriends who were also marooned there, we would go to the Bull & Chequers and drink to forget that we were stranded in suburbia. It was forever 1996, and someone in that pub liked to put enough money in the jukebox to play What’s The Story, Morning Glory? in full, from beginning to end. And that was nightlife: if you didn’t like it, you caught a coach to Utopia. Or on summer nights you could walk across Ashenbury Park to drink at the Land’s End and pretend you were in the countryside. And back then, I can’t even say I was that dissatisfied. That was enough, for a while.

Anyway, I thought Woodley’s role in my life was over and done, preserved in aspic, but then something happened which I didn’t expect: I got together with Zoë. She grew up on the same streets as I did, a few years later, and her parents still live there. So my past became, to some extent, my present and I saw Woodley afresh, through different eyes. And actually that was properly lovely. After all, it was an excellent place to grow up, and for all I know it still is. If I could tell eighteen year old me that he’d still be walking home past Bulmershe School in the summer of 2022 he’d probably have been horrified, but life is full of surprises.

One thing that has changed is that, at long last, Woodley has a few potentially interesting restaurants. Not that I ate out in Woodley as a kid – the treat was a takeaway from Hong Kong Garden, and a VHS from the video store next door if you were lucky – and for many years it was that or Red Rose, the solitary Indian restaurant (it’s still going). When the George, a bog standard Chef & Brewer pub, opened on the edge of town it was genuinely a source of excitement.

But nowadays Woodley has the highly rated La’De Kitchen, right opposite the Waitrose. It has a surviving branch of Cozze which has outlived the one in the centre of Reading. There’s a fancy-looking takeaway pizza place that looks a cut above Papa John’s and a dessert shop doing waffles, sundaes and milkshakes. And last but not least there’s Adda Hut, the subject of this week’s review. 

I picked it because it just looked different enough to be worth a try – its website talked about serving the food of Kolkata, and its menu was relatively small and focused, a bhuna and dhansak-free zone. My very old friend Mike, a drinking buddy from those Bull & Chequers days, was home staying with his parents for the tail end of the year, so he joined me there on a dismal, sodden evening, the shopping precinct lashed with wind and rain.

It truly was an inhospitable evening, the kind where nobody in their right mind sets foot out of doors, but even so it was jarring to arrive in an empty restaurant. I mean completely empty: one table was occupied by a couple of members of staff, one tapping away on a laptop and the other staring into space, but otherwise it was as dead as they come. It’s hard to judge a restaurant when it’s completely devoid of atmosphere – especially when it’s not their fault – but for what it’s worth I quite liked the room, all muted colours, wood panels and twinkling lights. We were the only customers all night, although I was relieved to see a steady stream of Deliveroo pickups.

As I said, it’s quite a narrow menu and that’s the first thing that alerted me that it might not be generic stuff. Ten or so starters, labelled “Calcutta Street Food”, a dozen meat and fish curries and a good range of vegetarian dishes. Two biryanis, which by central Reading standards is a starvation diet. But also, everything just looked a little out of the ordinary – lots of meat on the bone, plenty of fish dishes and many things I’ve just not seen anywhere else. 

It’s a dry restaurant, although they don’t charge corkage if you want to bring a bottle, so I had a very enjoyable mango lassi and we shared a jug of tap water – the decadence! – while we made up our minds. One of the two staff members, who had the air of being the owner, came over and answered our questions about the menu, making suggestions and recommendations and pointing out specialities. I would say we played it fairly safe but fortune might favour the brave, especially if you like fish on the bone as the menu has rather a lot of that.

I really enjoyed both our starters. Their speciality is Calcutta Fish Fry, but instead we went for the fish pakora and I don’t feel like I missed out at all. It was an impressively generous helping of fish in a light and only slightly spicy coating, with just the right amount of crunch. A crazy amount of food for six pounds, and a real plate of joy. It came with a sort of acrid mustard dip which I started out actively disliking but ended up constantly dabbing more pakora into, unable to make up my mind. Mustard sauce and mustard gravy appear multiple times on the menu, so perhaps that too is a Kolkatan speciality.

Even better, and my star of the night, were the mutton chops. Now, the description here is misleading. The wait staff told me that rather than being chops they were in fact croquettes of minced mutton and potato, breaded and fried. That made me expect something a little more like the mutton rolls I’ve had before but what turned up was bigger, better and nothing like that at all. 

Instead they were huge bronzed spheres, looking like arancini on steroids, with a permacrust which gave way under pressure. But if they looked like arancini, what they resembled more than anything was a Scotch egg where the kitchen has dispensed with the annoying faff of including an actual egg. Instead you just got a warming filling of lightly spiced mutton, almost haggis-like, and the whole thing was quietly beautiful. It came with two dips – a thin, red, spicy one which I loved and another which I would put good money on being ketchup.

“That was really good, and just big enough” said Mike. “I’ve got room for the mains.” This is why Mike is thin, and I am not: those starters were generous, but if they’d been twice as big I’d have had no complaints. By this point in the evening we’d spent the princely sum of twelve pounds.

Could mains live up to that? They came pretty close. Mike wanted to try the tawa mutton curry, and it looked the part with a thick, brick red gravy. And the gravy was the absolute best bit. I loved it – deep and sticky, with thin ribbons of slow-cooked onion that suggested someone had taken their time over elements of our meal. If I’d just had that gravy with rice and bread I’d have been a happy camper, and in that respect it reminded me of some of the very best Indian food I’ve had.

And the mutton wasn’t bad, but I was expecting slow-cooked meat that broke into strands whereas this was leaner, more tender but perhaps slightly less interesting. We practically finished it all, though. I left one piece of mutton which was bouncier than I liked, but between us we polished off every molecule of sauce.

What I liked about the fish curry we also ordered was that although it looked decidedly similar to the mutton curry – you might have struggled to pick them apart in a lineup – the taste was distinctly different. This was a thinner, sharper sauce studded with nigella seeds, and big wodges of skin-on filleted fish that easily broke up into smaller pieces. Equally intriguing, although the mutton had the edge, but best of all I honestly felt like these two dishes had different start and end points. Obviously you never really know what goes on in a kitchen, but I didn’t feel like Adda Hut was using gallons of chopped tomatoes and packets of curry powder.

When the sauce is that good, you need to have vehicles for it. Steamed rice was – well, it was steamed rice, you don’t need me to tell you about that – but they also serve an interesting range of breads. No naan here, but paratha and puri stuffed with peas or lentils. We ordered the latter and I absolutely loved it with both curries – just a smear of lentil inside the bubble of bread, but still beautiful torn into pieces and loaded with the last of that gravy. Spice levels were slow and subtle, which is not the same as bland: I was still dabbing my nose by the end.

Our bill for all of that, including a service charge, came to just over forty-five pounds. And when the bill arrived I wished I’d tried more – given their desserts a chance, or ordered a cauliflower curry on the side. I felt bad that their one table of the evening hadn’t spent more money. But I suppose what I’m really saying is that I knew there were things I could order next time.

“How long have you been here?” I asked as the man I thought was the owner came to take our payment.

“Just over a year.”

“And how’s Woodley treating you?”

“Pretty well, actually. The weekends are manic.”

That relieved me, and we headed out into the miserable squall for a post dinner drink at Bosco Lounge – somehow going to the Bull & Chequers would have been a nostalgic step too far. Bosco Lounge was buzzing, still sending food to tables at half eight, and a large group at some nearby tables appeared to be doing some kind of art class. We had a debrief where we both concluded that Adda Hut was rather nice in its quiet, unshowy way and that we’d positively warmed to the place.

Later on I ventured back out into the relentlessly hammering rain to catch my bus, and the lights were still on in Adda Hut, although the chairs were stacked and they were giving up for the night. Bosco Lounge had felt fuller than it deserved to be, and when I passed Cozze it was still doing decent trade. By contrast Adda Hut felt quieter than it should have been, and that didn’t feel right.

I started this review with an apology to my Woodley readers, but I hope I have enough of them to give Adda Hut a try, even if I don’t necessarily manage to persuade the rest of you to head out in the direction of RG5. Because as I rushed past it brolly up, on that miserable evening, I found myself oddly grateful to this little outpost that had served me and my old friend some decent, interesting food on a night when many restaurants would have been eyeing the front door and waiting to close. A hard winter is coming, and not every restaurant will survive it. I very much hope Adda Hut does.

Adda Hut – 7.5
101 Crockhamwell Road, Woodley, RG5 3JP
07447 552987

https://www.addahut.co.uk

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Takeaway review: Zyka

I’m easily old enough to remember a time before delivery apps and dark kitchens, before the weird and wonderful world of restaurants running side hustles, diffusion brands or heat at home kits. Back in the Eighties and Nineties, for most people, takeaway meant a curry, a Chinese meal or fish and chips from the local chippy. The closest you got to fusion food was having curry sauce (or in my case, sweet and sour sauce from Woodley’s Hong Kong Garden – still going strong, would you believe) on your chips. They were, in all respects, simpler times.

And in those days, having a good takeaway nearby was like gold dust: if you discovered one close to home, you made the most of it. At the end of the last century I lived in Nottingham for a year, and just round the corner from my house in Sherwood was the most incredible Indian takeaway. The flavour has probably been enhanced with a powerful dusting of nostalgia, memory’s answer to MSG, but the Fridays when we got food from there and sat down in front of something from Blockbuster Video were happy evenings indeed.

I’ve never found anything comparable in Reading. I used to live just around the corner from Kings Chef on the London Road, and I had their Chinese takeaway from time to time but it largely left me unmoved. And back when it was open, I would happily wander over to the now sadly defunct Seaspray to grab fish and chips which were still hot when I got home. But doing restaurant reviews for eight years meant that, until the pandemic hit, I never had much cause to use takeaways. And now the proliferation of delivery services, third parties on bikes and scooters and all that means that there’s probably too much choice. You channel hop meals the way you channel hop TV programmes or, as I remember from my days on Tinder, actual human beings.

Ordering from Zyka, the subject of this week’s review reminded me slightly of the old days. No Deliveroo or Uber Eats for them, so you just have to contact them and tell them what you want. Although you can order online (and they even take Apple Pay), so it’s not quite as basic as getting a leaflet through your door and ringing them up. And why did I choose Zyka? I thought you’d never ask: it’s because it won an award recently.

Not at the British Curry Awards, which were announced this week and gave prizes to the likes of Benares in Berkeley Square and Cheltenham’s brilliant Prithvi (“we’re building back balti” said the Prime Minister in a by all accounts cringeworthy recorded message). And not at the English Curry Awards, which were awarded in October and where winners included Wokingham’s Mumbai, either. Zyka won at the Curry Life Awards, also held October, where they were one of twenty-one restaurants to win “Best Curry Restaurants Of The Year”. With hindsight, there are a lot of different curry awards and a lot of winners: perhaps they should have some kind of unification bout, like they do in the wrestling. 

Anyway, a fair few people have asked for this review, off the back of that award, so I figured it was about time. “They’ve been excellent for many years”, one person told me on Twitter, adding that they’d diversified by opening The Switch, a Tilehurst café which looks, on paper at least, like an attempt to create a West Reading equivalent of Café Yolk. “The menu doesn’t look that inspiring” said a friend of mine. “It’s not a patch on House Of Flavours” was another piece of feedback I heard: I guess if there was universal consensus I’d never need to review anything.

For what it’s worth, I think my friend was right about the menu. It’s pretty generic, with the same dishes you’d find anywhere else. Starters are mainly bhaji, samosas and a few options from the tandoor, and then there’s a tandoori section and largely the same curries offered with either lamb, chicken, seafood or vegetables and paneer. Another section is entitled “House Favourites”, which makes you think this might be where the specialities live, but no: that’s where you find your bhuna, dopiaza, korma, dansak and so on. 

In fairness to Zyka, and I may end up saying this a few times in this review, it may well be very different if you eat in the restaurant. The menu makes a point of saying that they’ve selected the dishes on the takeaway menu to ensure that they travel well – and I understand this might make some dishes unsuitable but I was still a little surprised not to see something off the beaten track on the menu. Because they’ve won an award. 

Anyway, my order for two people – poppadoms, a couple of starters, two mains, a vegetable side and some rice – came to a smidgen over fifty pounds. They charged three pounds for delivery and a nebulous extra quid under “surcharge”, whatever that means. I got a text saying that my meal would be with me in about an hour and then, just like in the old days, we sat back and waited.

He was at the door ten minutes later than predicted, but because I didn’t have the facility to endlessly, pointlessly track his whereabouts I just assumed it was because he’d left a little later than planned rather than because he got lost. And everything was piping hot and in a rather natty branded carrier bag. So far everything had gone like clockwork, and the only thing left was to eat the damned thing.

And that, I’m afraid, is where things didn’t quite come together. I’d chosen one of their curries that wasn’t generic, the murg haryali, chicken with mint and coriander: “a touch of sweetness and spice”, said the menu. I have fond memories of a similar, Kermit-green dish from Bhoj many years ago, aromatic and whiffy with garlic. This, I’m afraid, wasn’t that: it’s true that there was a bit of spice, but mostly there was sweetness – an odd, saccharine, artificial sweetness. You got the mint, but not really the coriander, and the chicken, tikka-tinged, was in big and slightly homogeneous pieces. I didn’t finish it, and it tasted a little – that word again – generic.

Zoë – and how many times have I had to write this in 2021? – ordered better than I did. Still giving carbs a relatively wide berth, she’d picked Zyka’s equivalent of a mixed grill, the Zyka mixed tandoori. This was fundamentally a huge plate of meat, with chicken and lamb tikka, an impressive quarter of a chicken, some prawns (“look, there’s a crustacean” was how Zoë chose to describe this development) and a seekh kebab. All lobster-red, so red it’s unreal, and all suffused with the deeply savoury notes that come from time well spent in a tandoor. 

I had a bit – I enjoyed the chicken, I thought the lamb was on the tough side. “I love the meats. I’d order the meats again” was Zoë’s verdict after this meal, although in fairness she says that after nearly any meal in which meat plays a predominant role (sometimes it’s a little like living with Captain Caveman). She’d chosen bhindi bhaji, thinly sliced okra, to accompany her rhapsody in crimson, and she thought it was decent enough, “but a little bit underseasoned”. The menu had given me the option to have this dish “desi style” for an extra pound, saying this meant the dish was “a slightly spicier and more authentic take”. I didn’t go for that, and maybe I should have, but it’s a bit weird to have to pay extra to make it taste authentic. They do seem to like their surcharges at Zyka.

The two starters, repurposed as side dishes, were fine but again, no more than that. I think it’s pretty hard to fuck up an onion bhaji, so if I say that these were good I’m not sure it’s especially glowing praise. And the samosas were a little unremarkable – full of pellets of minced lamb and peas but without any overwhelming flavour. You got two of them for a fiver, and the following day on the way back from seeing my dentist I picked up two infinitely more enjoyable ones in the legendary Cake & Cream for under two quid. Cake & Cream, as far as I know, has not been nominated for any awards, but I’d give them “Samosa Of The Year” any day of the week. There were also some poppadoms, but they always taste the same in my experience – even a bad one is usually enjoyable, provided it’s not stale.

I don’t want to sound withering about Zyka. What I had wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great either. And this is the problem with awards: back in 2011 when Petersham Nurseries, a restaurant in a garden centre near Richmond with plain tables and no whistles and bells, won a Michelin star the chef there, Skye Gyngell, said that she wished she could give it back. The expectations of her customers changed, and they wanted to eat at a kind of restaurant she never wanted hers to be. It got too much, and she quit the following year. 

I get that expectation problem, admittedly on a different level, with Zyka. If they hadn’t won an award, maybe the upshot of this review would be “eh, it’s okay”. But because it has, it’s hard not to come away saying “how did they manage that?” I had a much more enjoyable takeaway from Banarasi Kitchen earlier in the year – which is equally well placed to serve West Reading, and much closer to you if you live across town. But the restaurant Zyka really made me miss was Bhoj. I ordered deliveries from Bhoj a few times, back in its golden age when it was still on the Oxford Road, and it never disappointed me.

I’m sure Zyka would have done brilliantly back in the days when I still had a Blockbuster Video card, when it was all leaflets folded into three and putting a call in from your landline (remember landlines?), shouting above the background noise. But the world moves on, and things change. There is so much choice, and it raises the standard: a rising tide, as I often say, lifts all boats. Although perhaps it’s a neighbourhood thing, and maybe if you’re a Tilehurst resident you count your lucky stars to have it just down the road. 

I should close by giving them the benefit of the doubt – maybe you had to be there. Maybe their full, eat-in menu has all the imagination and execution that was missing from my meal this week. And I know a restaurant is so much more than the food, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their welcome is warm, their service superlative. I’ll make a point of checking them out in person in the New Year, and I look forward to them making me eat my words. But, for now at least, I’d rather eat elsewhere.

Zyka
6 Park Lane, Tilehurst, Reading, RG31 5DL
0118 9427788

https://www.zyka.co.uk
Order via: Direct from the restaurant

Takeaway review: Rizouq

I don’t think I realised, back in January when I started reviewing takeaways, just how it could widen the scope of my blog. Initially, I focused on reviewing restaurants that had opened since we all went into our first lockdown a year ago, which is why I’ve looked into the likes of Banarasi Kitchen, La’De Kitchen and O Português. But now that I’ve been doing this for a few months, and the number of shiny new restaurants on my to do list begins to diminish, I can see that reviewing meals at home opens up all sorts of establishments that I simply couldn’t review before. 

Some are places that don’t have physical premises here like Rosa’s Thai or Burger & Lobster, London restaurants testing the water by running dark kitchens in Reading and partnering with Deliveroo. Others are chefs who deliver in a specific area – these can often be hyperlocal and specialised, like Caversham’s Pielicious or West Berkshire’s The Iberian (which sadly doesn’t deliver to my address: I’ve already checked).

Then of course there are heat at home options offered by established, high profile restaurants – frequently more expensive but aiming to offer a restaurant experience in the comfort of your own home. The most famous of these, locally, is of course our very own Clay’s, but plenty of well-known restaurants offer something like this, for now at least, either through their own website or via a third party like Dishpatch (a company surely named by a Sean Connery fan). 

Whether restaurants continue to offer heat at home options beyond April or May is a fascinating question, and one I suspect many restaurants are wrestling with right now. Is it a useful additional revenue stream, or an exhausting side hustle that will be dropped when restaurants can open again? Most likely nobody really knows the answer to that, just as nobody knows what the shape of hospitality, our social lives, the world of work and, more broadly, life itself will be like over the rest of this year and beyond. 

Will we still want to eat out, or will we just be delighted that the quality of TV dinners has improved a thousandfold? Will we still want to go to pubs in large groups only to get stuck in a conversation with that person who bangs on non-stop about their job, or your one friend who never buys a round, or will we decide we’d just rather stay home drinking better beer, wine and spirits in our comfies?

Your guess is as good as mine. But either way, the overwhelming feedback from readers of the blog has been that you don’t want takeaway reviews to come to an end next Friday, so it may well be that you see more of these kinds of meals in the weeks ahead. And, as always, if there’s somewhere you’re particularly interested in (or somewhere you especially recommend) you should let me know.

The other type of restaurants I can review now that I couldn’t back at the start of 2020 are those that are almost exclusively takeaway. Firezza, which I sampled in January, falls into this category and so, pretty much, does Rizouq, the subject of this week’s review. 

Rizouq bill themselves as a family-run Pakistani takeaway, and pre-Covid their site on the Wokingham Road had the grand total of one table in the window: you could technically eat in, it implied, but nobody did. One table is almost as discouraging as no tables at all, I tend to think, with the notable exception of Harput Kebab, just round the corner from the Nag’s Head. There’s a certain magic, if you ask me, about sitting next to a fogged up window, a warm glow behind you, Edward Hopperesque on the Oxford Road, half-cut and devouring a chicken shish.

Rizouq has been on my radar for the best part of four years, though, because of my regular reader Mansoor (last seen tipping me off about La’De Kitchen). He’s been telling me for as long as I can remember that I needed to give Rizouq a try and even gave me a list of the best dishes to try. “The chicken samosa is up there with the chilli paneer from Bhel Puri for loveliness”, he told me once. On another occasion he said that I should try the snacks in general and the shami kebab in particular (“we have a regular order of frozen shami kebabs for quick meals during the week”). 

More recently, he told me to try the curries and the chicken tikka sizzler (“that’s my wife’s favourite”, he said), and I thought that I’d gone quite long enough without taking Mansoor’s expert advice. So I went back through his Tweets to me, I made notes and, on Wednesday night, I sat down with my phone to put as many of Mansoor’s recommendations as I could into action. 

This turned out to be trickier than I expected, and I’m afraid it means you now have to sit through some of the dullest paragraphs I’ve written in a long time – dull but sadly, probably necessary. So here goes: I managed to find Rizouq on Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Most of the dishes are nearly a pound cheaper on Uber Eats, and the delivery charge is a pound less too, so if you’ve had good experiences with them then knock yourself out. I am not using Uber Eats, because they’re shite, so I stuck to Deliveroo. 

However, while researching this review I found that Rizouq are also on JustEat – on desktop but not, it seems, on the app. Go figure. The dishes are cheaper on JustEat than on Deliveroo, too. And, it turns out, you can also order on Rizouq’s website, although the website isn’t easy to find – it’s fairly low down in the Google search results. It is listed on Rizouq’s Facebook page, but if you try and access it that way it’s blocked because it apparently goes against Facebook’s community standards. Given all the offensive dross Facebook refuses to take down, all the hatemongering and anti-vaxxing, that’s even more baffling. 

What’s also baffling – sorry, we’re not done yet – is that the menu is subtly different across all of the platforms. I’m boring myself writing this, but in for a penny, in for a pound: if you order via JustEat, for example, you have a choice of a “vegetable curry” or a “non-vegetable curry”. If you order on Deliveroo you can choose lentil, vegetable, chicken or lamb curry. And if you order on Rizouq’s website they have five different curries, which come in two different sizes. Confused? Me too. So if Rizouq is a well-kept secret, it might be because they make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just a thought.

For those of you who are still awake, the menu is so wide that you could easily struggle to work out what to order if you didn’t have a sherpa like Mansoor to guide you. It covers a lot of bases, so there are starters and snacks, curries and biryani (I think the biryani used to be a weekend only thing, but it seems they now sell it every day). But there are also burgers and wraps, many of which feel much more conventional in nature. So a seekh kebab wrap sits alongside a Southern fried chicken wrap, a tikka sizzler burger is in the same section as a minted lamb burger. There are samosas, but also mozzarella sticks and garlic mushrooms. It’s clearly a modern menu designed to cover all bases in the community it serves, with a few adjustments made for that purpose – no beefburgers, turkey bacon instead of regular bacon and so on. 

Even at Deliveroo prices, nearly everything is either reasonably priced or plain cheap. You’ll struggle to find a dish costing over ten pounds, starters are all less than a fiver and the burgers range between five and eight pounds. We ordered two starters and two mains with sides and our meal came to thirty pounds, not including tip. Everything was very efficient, too. We placed our order at six o’clock, and half an hour later our rider was on his way. He got to us in less than five minutes – an impressive feat – so in next to no time we were taking everything out of the carrier bag and dishing it up. It came in a mixture of recyclable plastic and foil and more problematic polystyrene, but everything was perfectly hot.

Mansoor’s tip about Rizouq’s starters was a good one, as these were definitely the best things I ate. You got three chicken samosas, each one bigger than my hand, for four pounds fifty (or even less if you order through someone else) and they were magnificent things. The pastry was maybe harder, oilier and more brittle than it is at Cake&Cream up the road, but the filling was beautiful – nothing but shredded chicken, potato, spice and a slowly building heat. I loved these, although I have failed to sum them up as succinctly as my other half Zoë. “It’s fried, it’s fresh as fuck and it’s full of meat” she said. All the Fs. “What’s not to like?”

I also loved the shami kebab. I wouldn’t have ordered this without the recommendation from Mansoor – I’d have been far more likely to stay in my comfort zone and have seekh kebab instead – but these were a real revelation, fiery yet comforting patties with shedloads of strands of mutton. I expected them to keep their shape a little better and have a bit of a crust, but in reality they were so soft they fell apart dishing them up from their foil container. Whether they’re meant to be quite that soft is for someone better informed to say, but the taste was so good that I really couldn’t have cared less. Again, all this just cost four pounds fifty.

If the mains were less successful, it’s possibly because the snacks had set a high standard. My chicken tikka sizzler was perfectly enjoyable but a little unremarkable – a nicely spiced fillet in the sort of soft floury bap you don’t see too often these days, with some mayo and iceberg lettuce. That was it: done pretty well, but on the basic side. I think I’ve been ruined by the Lyndhurst’s katsu chicken burger, the size of which made Rizouq’s burger look a bit anaemic by comparison. On the other hand, Rizouq’s costs five pounds fifty. 

I don’t know why I thought having a side of hash browns was a good idea, but I did anyway. They were shop-bought and perfectly enjoyable, if a little limp and floppy. Next time I’ll have fries or, most likely, order something different, although I still polished them off with my new gastronomic obsession, Johnny Hot Stuff’s “Hot Date” sauce, picked up from Geo Café. It was only after the meal that I realised I’d neglected to take a picture of my main but trust me – even if I had, I don’t think it would have sent you running to order one.

Zoë had gone for the daily lamb curry which was in a relatively dry sauce and served on the bone. She really enjoyed it, despite usually being a little suspicious of meat on the bone. I wasn’t quite so sure – the meat I tried was delicious and tender, but with rice thrown in this dish came to eleven pounds, and I couldn’t help thinking that better options were available, from Banarasi Kitchen, from Clay’s or from Kobeeda Palace. That’s the curse of reviewing, as I said to someone on Twitter recently: you are always comparing, whether you’re comparing to your expectations, to your hopes, or to a similar dish you’ve tried elsewhere.

So, that’s Rizouq: a menu, hidden in a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, strewn across four different websites. But if you look beyond that, it happens to be a great example of a restaurant that knows exactly what it wants to be, understands its customer base and serves it admirably. Mansoor aside, I expect a fair amount of ER readers either haven’t heard of Rizouq or wouldn’t consider giving it a try. Did my meal put it on my radar, and would I recommend it to you? 

It’s a cautious yes from me on that score. I do think that the experience – the menus and the myriad of delivery options – is needlessly confusing, but at the core of it, when you strip away the distraction, there’s a good, authentic and crazily reasonably priced menu in there waiting to be discovered. When I go back, which I definitely will, it will be to try more of the snacks, and maybe a seekh kebab wrap, or I’ll have a crack at Rizouq’s biryani to see how it compares. 

Or, better still, perhaps I’ll follow up on another recommendation from my insider. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Rizouq offers a desi breakfast, and looking at the menu, I can just imagine myself tucking into a Lahori chickpea curry, spiced potatoes, halwa and buttery puri. Mansoor speaks very highly of it, and that’s good enough for me. After all, he hasn’t steered me wrong so far.

Rizouq
117 Wokingham Road, Reading, RG6 1LH
0118 9668899

https://rizouqtakeaway.co.uk/order-now
Order via: Rizouq’s website, Deliveroo, JustEat or Uber Eats

The Dairy

Click here for a more recent review of The Dairy from July 2022.

It was love at first sight when I first laid eyes on The Dairy. I’d been paying a visit to the MERL on Redlands Road earlier in the day and I’d dimly remembered that The Dairy, one of the bars which was part of the University, was just down the road. I’d never been, so in the spirit of adventure I did a bit of research, checking out the sadly departed Matt Farrall’s excellent article on the subject for the Whitley Pump. Later that week, I dropped in for a drink.

When I got there, I was thoroughly charmed. It took a bit of finding – it’s pretty much completely unsignposted, and you access it by going up a ramp only to find an unadorned door with a simple plaque next to it saying “The Dairy” in a plain, municipal-looking font. Once I got there, though, I liked the look of the place: it’s made up of two big rooms with clean, white walls, sizeable tables (high ones in the main room, lower ones in the back room), comfy furniture and a wide array of decent beers on keg, including four different craft lagers and representatives from many of our local breweries: Siren Craft, Wild Weather and Elusive, not to mention other breweries like New Wharf and XT.

It’s a university bar, but it was open to the public and seemed to have a pretty varied clientele. Not only that, but even without a student discount you could get a pint of good, well-kept craft beer for around three pounds fifty. I found myself making a mental note that this could make a great place for board games nights with friends, or for a quiet pint on the evenings when I fancied a change of scenery from my usual haunts (it was sleepy on a week night at the start of term).

Then I spotted the menu. Now, normally I would never have considered The Dairy as a venue for a food review, but there were lots of interesting touches on the menu which made me wonder. Jerk chicken, curry mutton and Jamaican vegetable stew all looked different from the usual fare and even the burgers, complete with a very now charcoal brioche, seemed slightly out of the ordinary. I took a picture of the menu and resolved to come back to see if this could be the kind of hidden find which always lifts my spirits.

Returning on a Saturday evening with my partner in crime Zoë, The Dairy was much more obviously a student bar and was far busier. I felt a tad decrepit grabbing a stool at one of the high tables, and then swapping it for one better equipped to support my child-bearing hips. That feeling wasn’t helped by looking around to see hordes of young people watching the big screens, playing pool, eating all-day breakfasts (not something on the menu I had ever considered ordering, in all honesty, and especially not at eight o’clock at night) and generally not appreciating that they were slap bang in the middle of the best years of their lives.

I wandered into the back room to see if any tables were available there, but was greeted by such a wall of noise that I thought better of it. I did spot one gentleman at another table who was even older than me, and that reassured me enough to grab a menu. Broadly speaking it divided into two sections (unless you count a very small selection of starters and salads and – of course – that all day breakfast): world food and burgers. We quickly decided to try one of each and I went up to the bar to place the order. None of the dishes costs more than a tenner and once you hand over your card (the whole place is cashless) they give you a little gadget which buzzes when your food is ready, signalling for you to go and pick it up from the hatch. Easy peasy.

The first warning bell rang when the gadget buzzed, no more than ten minutes after placing my order; that felt quick enough that I wondered whether a microwave had been involved. I approached the hatch to find the food had been set down in front of me, but with nobody on the other side to greet me. The shelves behind were full of stuff from Brakes, another disconcerting sign. I would have just taken the dishes and gone back to the table but one of them, the mutton curry, was missing the advertised naan bread and mango chutney. Instead there was a small bowl of what appeared to be giant, wan-looking chips, stood upright. I waited, but nobody appeared, so I said “excuse me” as loudly as I dared and a lady wandered in from what I assume was the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, but I’m waiting for a naan bread” I said, doing the English thing of apologising for expecting to receive what I had ordered.

“It’s a mistake with the menu” I was told tersely. “It’s wrong. You don’t get naan bread, because it’s a Caribbean curry. These are yuca fries.”

Never mind, I thought, carrying everything back to the table and picking up some cutlery from the bar. The mutton curry was Zoë’s, but I managed to try enough of it to dispel the rumour that it had been microwaved: surely it would have been hotter if that was the case. The meat was a tad chewy – not undercooked per se, but not enjoyable to eat and the spicing in it was probably best described as subtle. It was definitely luke-warm, though, and for nine pounds the portion felt a little on the mean side. I didn’t try the yuca fries (although I did google them to find out that they were made of cassava) but Zoe ate a few without any real enthusiasm. They looked like the kind of thing you might use to insulate a loft.

“What do you reckon?” I asked.

“It’s just not hot. To be honest, I’d rather go to Clay’s.” She had a point – I would far rather have spent a little more and had an infinitely better curry elsewhere. I had a feeling the list of places doing a better curry than The Dairy – and this in itself was pretty alarming – probably included Wetherspoon’s. Still, I’ll say this for the mutton curry: it wasn’t the chicken burger, which is an early front runner for the single worst thing I’ll eat in 2019 (let’s hope it bags that prize, because I don’t really want to think about what, if anything, could beat it into second place).

The charcoal brioche was weirdly, cloyingly sweet. The bacon – back, cooked to miserable limpness – was indifferent and salty. The burger itself was breaded and I’m not sure whether it was baked or fried but the coating had the texture of an asteroid with no discernible seasoning: the chicken, once you got to it, at least recognisably had started life as a fillet but after that it had been not so much cooked as mistreated. The thin slice of American cheese on top had been completely unmelted by the lukewarm contents of the brioche. I wasn’t sure how the kitchen had managed to overcook something, yet it still wasn’t hot: I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

The “barbecue glaze” underneath it had the sort of gloopy sweetness which gave me bad flashbacks. There was something odd about the taste of the fries: it could have been that they were tepid, it might have been that they were stale, it might have been something else altogether. Running through the possibilities in my mind started to bring on reflux. I left a fair amount of this dish, and most of the fries, and things have to be pretty bad before I do that.

If the food had been good, there would have been more drinks. We would have checked out the dessert section of the menu and ordered the churros (“plain and caramel filled… served with butterscotch sauce”). But the food wasn’t good, and I needed to leave before I was completely put off The Dairy as a watering hole, and for that matter put off churros for life. The meal, along with a ginger beer and a very pleasant pint of Eisbar, a “Vienna style lager” by XT, came to just shy of twenty-two pounds. Service at the hatch had been pretty perfunctory, but the bar staff had been lovely and friendly (and one of them was very apologetic about it being her first shift). The whole thing seemed to reinforce my overall view, namely that The Dairy was a great place for a quiet drink but that nobody should consider eating there.

As we left, I was torn between feeling a little queasy and really wanting to eat some chocolate, or at least something that didn’t taste of the chicken burger. In the end I thought better of it, but that burger sat uneasily with me for the rest of the evening.

“I suppose the obvious comparison is the Oakford” Zoë had said while we were waiting for our food, before anticipation transmuted into disappointment, and I think in many ways she is right. For cheap, cheerful burgers, at least – although having done some research since the burgers at the Oakford are a little more expensive, mainly because fries are extra (though I don’t think anybody in their right mind would pay extra for The Dairy’s fries). But really, I couldn’t think of a good comparison: where else would the food have been quite so underwhelming?

I don’t know whether The Dairy’s dishes do come from a Brakes lorry (from the section of the website marked “for students”, perhaps), and you could say that I should have known better than to expect great food from one of the university bars. All I can say is that I was taken in by the menu, but more to the point I wrongly thought that the pride The Dairy had put into its drinks offering would be matched by the food. So I do have a new favourite watering hole, along with a salutary lesson that even after over five years of doing this I remain more than capable of making the wrong call and picking a duffer. I still recommend going to The Dairy for a nice pint if you’re in the area (and the benches out the front might be lovely on a summer’s day). Just make sure you’ve eaten beforehand.

The Dairy – 4.6
Building L14, London Road Campus, Redlands Road, RG1 5AQ
0118 3782477

https://www.facebook.com/londonroadcampus/

Himalaya Momo House

A disclaimer before we get started this week: I have form with Himalaya Momo House. I’d never eaten in the restaurant before, but I have friends who live in Caversham Park Village (or CPV, as I’ve come to refer to it) and when I visit them and they’re too frazzled to cook, Himalaya Momo House has become their takeaway of choice. Sometimes they have it delivered, usually we wander through the green spaces of almost-south-Oxfordshire-but-not-quite to pick it up. Every time we have, even though it’s in one of those vaguely purgatorial 60s rows of shops (like Woodley Town Precinct and no doubt countless others) the welcome has always been kind, friendly and warm and the people eating in there seem to be having a lovely time. The food, in my experience, has been thoroughly decent, too.

That ordinarily wouldn’t have been enough to prompt me to review it: after all, it’s a way out of town (albeit on the pleasant and surprisingly quick 23 bus) and Indian restaurants can be found everywhere in Reading. But I heard a number of people on Twitter enthusing about it, and I decided that it wouldn’t be fair to let my happy memories of it as a takeaway cloud its potential as a restaurant. So three of us, including my CPV resident friend Angela, paid it a visit on a weekday night to test it out properly (with a list of recommendations of dishes to order from Angela’s husband Frank, which I treated less as suggestions and more as a non-negotiable shopping list – he was at home with the kids after all, it seemed the least I could do).

The room is basic and tasteful – plain squishy high-backed leather dining chairs, crisp white linen and attractive framed black and white photographs on the walls. There were even a couple of pleasant-looking tables outside in an optimistic attempt to introduce café culture to the area. Even on a weekday night a fair number of tables were occupied and there was a nice buzz to proceedings.

Two of the starters had been suggested by Frank and were variations on a theme. A quarter of Tandoori chicken came plain and unadorned – unless you count the salad (and who does?) and a weird splodge of two sauces that looked a bit like a manky spider’s web. I loved it – simple and unmucked with, although I would have liked some raita with it. It had just the right combination of crunch and tenderness, although it seemed like a small portion: only later did I realise that I was used to sharing an entire tandoori chicken with Frank (and if that sounds gluttonous, let’s just say I’ve seen him polish off an entire Nando’s chicken – extra hot – in one sitting, so I was very much along for the ride).

HimaTandoori

Chicken sekuwa I liked less – cubes of chicken on a skewer dusted in, among other things, chilli flakes. The menu talks about a marinade but I didn’t get any of that, so no depth of flavour and no tenderness that would come from marinating the chicken. It was a little dry, a little tough and, compared to the tandoori chicken, a little surplus to requirements. That said, none of the starters were north of four pounds so nothing was exactly a costly blunder.

HimaSekuwa

Angela is a vegetarian, so she went for the pani puri (described on the menu as “mostly liked by ladies”, a rather unfortunate piece of gender stereotyping if ever there was one). They were almost like bubbly crisps filled with red onion, cubes of potato and – I think – chickpeas, and eating them is both enormous fun and a race against time. You pick one up, fill it with tamarind sauce through the hole in the top and eat it in one go before the whole thing disintegrates, the gastronomic equivalent of disconnecting the wires to the bomb with the timer blinking 00:01 in red. I tried one and liked them an awful lot – far cleaner and tastier than at, for instance, Bhel Puri House, where if you’re not careful with the sauce you end up chugging a whole mango lassi with your mouth on fire.

HimaPani

The mains took ever so slightly longer to turn up than I would have liked, but when they did they were an interesting bunch. We’d tried hard not to just order the bog standard kormas and jalfrezis so stayed on the house specials and Nepalese offerings instead.

The most interesting was the dumpak lamb, which came in a copper pot, topped with a thin chewy layer of naan, speckled with nigella seeds. The meat steams under the bread, and the whole thing was pretty glorious – the lamb tender, the sauce rich and thick. What I had done, entirely by accident, was order something a little like a pie: you can argue that a dish with a lid isn’t really a pie, and I have some sympathy with that argument, but you can’t really argue that accidentally ordering a pie is ever anything less than splendid. The sauce was beautiful mopped up with the plain naan or stirred in with the keema rice, a cracking dish of rice and minced lamb, again impressive value at four pounds.

HimaRice

Sherpa chicken was more divisive. The menu mentions nutmeg, chilli and fresh mint, but I didn’t get any of that. If anything, the sauce was fruity and sweet with something I couldn’t place – pineapple or mango, maybe. I quite liked it, although it wasn’t on a par with the dumpak lamb. My companion who ordered it pronounced it pretty ordinary. The tarka daal on the side was lovely, though – sticky, salty, reduced to something thick and intense (although having eaten their daal lamb in the past, I expected nothing less).

HimaDhalChick

The vegetarian main was the thali, and again I managed to wangle a small taste of something from each of the compartments on the metal prison tray. It was almost enough to stop you missing meat: a vegetable curry with peas, firm chunks of potato, cauliflower, thin sliced green beans and a little heat. Another section contained a lovely spinach dish, not spicy at all but rich with tomato. There was more of that daal, to add a savoury note, a generous helping of naan and a dome of white rice shot through with cardamom. Last of all, a cold dish almost like a paste, again with plenty of tomato in it. I liked the whole lot, probably more than thalis I’ve had at other Nepalese restaurants in Reading (and having been to Dhaulagiri Kitchen, that’s quite a high bar these days). Angela loved it.

HimaThali

The three of us were too full for dessert, so once the mains were cleared away and we’d begun the long, protracted process of digestion we got the bill and settled up. This is where it gets complex, because on weekdays Himalaya Momo House does a deal where you can get a starter, a main and rice or a naan for a tenner – impressive value indeed (although that didn’t apply to the vegetable thali, which seemed a bit mean). What that means is that although the bill for three – including two huge crisp bottles of Mongoose beer and a disappointing lukewarm mango lassi – came to fifty-two pounds it would ordinarily be a little more. All the more reason to pay it a visit on a weekday evening, I’d say.

Service was lovely and friendly, if maybe stretched a little more thin than I was expecting – and all the serving staff were enthusiastic, kind and interested in feedback. As a little postscript, I heard from Angela later that week – she had been back to Himalaya Momo House to pick up some takeaway (that tandoori chicken for Frank, no doubt) and the waiter had remembered her and everything she usually ordered. “When will you come back?” they asked her as she picked up her groaning carrier bag. That’s lovely attention to detail, and I think it’s that kind of place, the sort where you might want to cultivate the status of a regular.

I think it’s obvious that I was charmed by Himalaya Momo House. The challenge is working out how much of that charm would translate to someone who doesn’t live near Caversham Park Village and would have to make a pilgrimage to eat there. Tricky. I loved the place, my other companion wasn’t so sure. “Just another suburban curry house”, she said. I don’t know about that. I think it’s worth a punt if you want to try something new, or go for a nice drive or take that 23 bus. You can report back and tell me I’m wrong. Would I have gone out of my way to eat there? I honestly don’t know, but it does make me glad I have friends who live in the area.

Himalaya Momo House – 7.5

28 Farnham Drive, Caversham Park Village, RG4 6NY
0118 9484818

http://www.himalayamomohouse.co.uk/