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

Lazeez

Lazeez closed in February 2018, and will be replaced by a new restaurant, apparently called Afghan. I’ve left this review up for posterity.

Pardon the pun, but eating out is often about your gut reaction, and some of the oddest meals I’ve had while reviewing have been ones where my head tells me one thing and my gut tells me another.

Usually, that happens in fancy, precise, pristine places: my head admires the artful arrangement of ingredients on the plate and the provenance (which always, however well-intentioned, has a whiff of name-dropping about it) on the menu, but my gut tells me this is food for people who love to tell people where they’ve eaten, rather than food for people who love to eat. Lazeez, a newish Pakistani restaurant down the Wokingham Road, is that unusual beast, the same phenomenon in reverse. I can see lots of reasons why I would dislike my meal there, so how come I didn’t?

I went partly because despite being three months old it had nearly no digital footprint whatsoever – no reviews, nothing on TripAdvisor, although I’ve been told by one reader that it was easily as good as House Of Flavours. But also, I was also intrigued by the notion of a Pakistani restaurant, as I don’t think Reading has any others which specifically identify themselves as such. In a rare piece of research not involving Wikipedia, I even asked a colleague at work, currently planning his wedding in Islamabad, what Pakistani food is like. “Pretty much the same as Indian”, he said.

It’s an interesting place to open a restaurant, two doors down from Miah’s Garden Of Gulab, which either demonstrates huge confidence or a fundamental lack of market research (even now, having eaten there, I can’t decide which it is). But it’s quite a nice room, a big square with booths and banquettes round the edge and tables in the middle. One interior wall has rather tasteful brick-effect tiles, another has very attractive lattice-work with lighting panels behind it which, disconcertingly, change colour on a regular basis. I can imagine on another, busier, night it could all be a bit much, but on a quiet weekday night (and it was quiet – we were the only table there) I rather liked it while at the same time knowing I shouldn’t. It was a disconnected feeling I had to get used to.

Certainly the menu was compact by the standards of Indian restaurants I’ve been to: no poppadoms on offer, a smallish selection of starters, a similarly manageable range of mains (grilled, chicken, lamb or vegetarian) and a handful of specials, including lamb trotters – maybe another time, eh? – and the only seafood main on the entire menu. Two other things jumped out from the menu. One is that the restaurant doesn’t have an alcohol licence, which I suppose will rule it out for some people but didn’t bother me. The other, more significantly, is how inexpensive everything is: most mains hover around the six pound mark, the costliest starter is four pounds.

So, cheap and nasty or cheap and cheerful? The starters were the first evidence. Shami kebab, which I ordered as a change from the usual sheekh kebab, sounded interesting – a mixture of finely minced lamb and ground dal. I liked it more in theory than in practice – two round pucks which had a vague flavour of lamb but none of the texture that goes with it, and a heat which went from “meh” to “my word” by the end of the dish. If anything they were more like spicy rissoles, which sounds more like a euphemism for a medical complaint than something you’d clamour to pick off a menu.

LazeezShami

Chicken tikka was a more traditional choice and was better, if not perfect. I was a bit surprised by how neatly cylindrical it all was, cut into equal sized chunks by someone very good at cutting things into small chunks (a trick which was to be repeated with the main courses). It was quite tasty, if a little bit lacking in the tenderness of the best examples I’ve had in Reading. I couldn’t decide how I felt about it, torn between “this is only four pounds!” and “well, it’s only four pounds”. Both starters came with a perfectly decent selection of perfectly decent raita, mango chutney and something a bit like a hot chilli mint sauce.

LazeezTikka

No sooner had the starters left than the mains, two sizzling karahi dishes on little wooden stands, were whisked to the table. This is one of my pet hates in any restaurant, and more than anything it made me wonder if Lazeez quite got how restaurants are meant to work. I understand it must be dull standing around in a kitchen when the room out front only has two customers in it, but that’s no excuse to curtail what’s meant to be a pleasant, leisurely evening for those two customers. Still, I could hardly send them away and again, I found myself thinking that given the price perhaps I was the one with the wrong expectations.

Karahi chicken was pleasant. Chunks of chicken and, I think, some little shreds of chicken were in there and I spotted a few little batons of ginger on top. The sauce was red, a little spiced but pretty unremarkable. The whole thing was a little well-mannered for me, as if someone had fitted a normal dish with a silencer. It was also ever so slightly on the small side and the pieces of chicken were also a tad diddy, especially if you’re used to the massive pieces in many Indian restaurants where you have to cut them in half or risk somebody having to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. Still, at the risk of repeating myself, it was six quid.

The star of the night was the bhindi gosht – lamb curry with okra. The okra was what made it – sticky rather than slimy, still firm and really quite delicious with the gently spiced sauce and the sweet shreds of onion. This managed to be subtle rather than bland, in contrast to the karahi chicken which got that balance wrong. But again the pieces of lamb, though tender and soft, were small and few and far between. Both dishes, the karahi chicken and the bhindi gosht, were shiny with oil to the extent where I had slight misgivings.

LazeezMains

Rice was rice, no surprises there. There wasn’t enough sauce to need it all. More of a clanger was the aloo paratha. I love paratha; I know it’s unhealthy but there’s something about those buttery layers of bread that makes me come over all unnecessary, and the idea of such a thing stuffed with potato really appealed to me. Unfortunately, what came out was a stodgy, oily thing, the shape of a frisbee, full of cubes of potato and peas as you’d find in the middle of a samosa. Arg and Lydia from The Only Way Is Essex are switching on the Broad Street Mall lights this weekend, but even those two combined are not quite as dense as that paratha was. We abandoned half.

On a more positive note, possibly due to the lack of an alcohol licence, Lazeez doesn’t just do glasses of mango lassi. Oh no. They do a jug of the stuff. For seven pounds. It’s not every day you can go into a restaurant and say “and I’ll have a carafe of the mango lassi” and they deserve some credit for that alone (it was very nice too, to the extent where I wish I’d skipped the shami kebab and had a jug to myself). I should also say that service was lovely, if a tad eccentric. Obviously there are no real excuses for a meal which took – no word of a lie – forty minutes from start to finish, but the waiter was very friendly and genuinely interested in us, what we thought of the food and the Indian restaurants around town. Dinner for two came to thirty-two pounds, not including tip. We didn’t have dessert, mainly because my stomach felt more oiled up than a Chippendale.

Sometimes the act of writing a review is the final thing that crystallises my view of a restaurant. You’d think that would happen here, and yet despite all that’s gone before I feel a certain warmth towards Lazeez. Yes, there were lots of mistakes – the timing, the execution of some of the dishes, their oiliness – and yet it feels like Lazeez is a chrysalis from which a good restaurant might at some point emerge. I even wondered whether I was really in the target market for Lazeez or whether it’s aimed towards the Pakistani community in Reading (it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me; on my way home I wandered into Home Taste across the road and asked if I could look at a menu. “Not unless you’re learning Chinese” grinned the man behind the counter).

Crucially, what might keep Lazeez going is that it fills a gap in the market; it’s cheaper than most of its competitors and it’s an easier, more casual place to grab dinner (especially before going out drinking, or if you’re with teetotallers) than Miah’s. Put it this way, given a choice between the two I’d still go to Lazeez nine times out of ten, even though ten times out of ten my head would probably tell me that Miah’s is a “better restaurant”. But that’s how it goes: the gut wants what the gut wants, after all.

Lazeez – 6.7
146a Wokingham Road, RG6 1JL
0118 9668802

http://www.lazeezrestaurant.co.uk/