People get territorial about their restaurants and takeaways and The Raj is a perfect example. Those who go regularly swear by it.
When Paul, Tom and myself decided it had been too long for a sports-desk night out, it was an obvious choice.
Some of Wigan’s Indians are in big, splendid buildings: The Raj Gate, the Baby Elephant, the Babar Elephant, the Rivaj, Bindi (formerly Aspull Spice).
The Raj isn’t one of them.
Boxed in between a Coop and a car-wash, it is an unimpressive building.
But don’t be deceived - once inside, the interior is stylish, the atmosphere relaxed and, more importantly, the food is excellent.
Walk inside, and on the right is a small, L-shaped seating area for those waiting for take aways. The restaurant - done in stylish red, black and white, with suspended spotlights - on the left.
Indian music videos are played on a TV but the Believe in Wigan book and Latics and Warriors final tickets under the glass table add a nice, personal touch.
Once Paul had arrived fashionably late (it’s the only time he gets fashionable), we were guided to a table.
The service throughout was professional, warm and friendly; staff are happy to share a joke, creating a mood which feels much more ‘landlord and local’ than ‘waiter and diner’.
It was a Thursday before a Bank Holiday weekend, and quiet.
Two other tables eating in, three or four takeaway orders (I noted one even pulled the ‘Am I early? May as well have a pint while I’m waiting’ trick).
Our former colleague Greg Farrimond loves The Raj. He moved to London last year and I think he misses The Raj more than his mates.
So, obviously, we sent him a picture to show what he was missing out on while he was down in the Big Smoke – not realising he was back home for the week. Ah well, his Cobra didn’t go to waste. It’s a great pint, Cobra, in a stylish glass. But anyone who isn’t a fan may be disappointed – it’s the only option on tap.
We grazed over the obligatory round of papadums, accompanied by a complete chutney tray, while we waited for our starters, which came in good time.
All the staples are present and accounted for, as well as some more unusual dishes.
I opted for the fish pakora, and I’m glad I did. It was delicious. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Lightly spiced and coated, and then fried, the only disappointment came when I had finished it.
Tom didn’t even need to glance over the menu to choose his starter, a chicken pakora. A former resident of Springfield, he discovered the culinary treat years ago and said it was just as good as he remembered.
Paul ordered the reshmi kebab but it arrived looking like a small omelette, flipped, to sandwich the lamb pieces. The joke about him ordering an egg at an Indian restaurant was just about wearing thin when he requested chips with his main.
‘Egg ‘n chips? In an Indian!? You’ll want scampi next time.’
Solely for the purposes of this review, I helped myself to a handful of the chips and had no reason to complain. The salad garnishes were uninspiring – shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a lemon wedge – but it’s fresh, and cold, and honestly, who goes to an Indian for a salad anyway?
For the mains, Tom and Paul shared a lamb jale-jule (anyone think of Ali G when they read that? No? Just me then...) which promised to be madras strength, and the medium-strengthed lamb roshun achari.
Turned out well, too, because Tom prefered the former and Paul the latter; tasty dishes with naan, pilau rice and, of course, chips.
The mains arrived on a cart and, in a nice touch, the plates were warmed, and wiped, for us.
I opted for the chicken balti jalfrezi. The sauce was rich, varied and packed with flavour, with charred peppers and chilis.
There are many Indian restaurants in Wigan which look better from the outside than the Raj.
But if there’s one that serves tastier food, I’ve yet to discover it.
Pint of Cobra: £3.60
Chicken pakora: £3.10
Bangla fish: £4.50
Lamb jale-jule: £8.50
Balti chicken jalfrezi: £8.45
Pilau rice: £1.95