With two new Indian restaurants opening nearby in recent years (Babar Elephant, Raj Gate) I thought it would be interesting to see how the more-established Baby Elephant was doing.
Those of a certain age will remember the restaurant, on Gathurst Lane, from its past-life as the Navigation.
Rewind 20 years, and I used to work in that very kitchen.
More significantly, it is where I met my wife, so I’ve got lots of memories of the place (good ones, before you ask).
Last Friday, Claire had the girls around, so it was the perfect excuse to revisit the Baby Elephant, along with my brother-in-law John, my niece Rebecca and her partner, Tom.
He’s from Yorkshire and a student, but was surprisingly generous.
The Baby Elephant has a good-sized carpark and is an easy stroll from Gathurst Station.
It’s a nice building, in an even nicer spot, right by the side of the canal.
But the exterior is looking dated – a lick of paint wouldn’t go amiss.
Inside, it’s a different story. The decor is modern, clean, stylish, and some nice elephant carvings add a nice personal touch.
The restaurant was busy, with a blend of parties, couples and families, but there were enough staff to cope with the demand.
We were even met at the door by the warm handshake of a waiter, who guided us into a lounge area and kindly took our coats.
The service throughout the evening was first-class. Professional, efficient and personal.
We had drinks in the spacious and comfortable lounge as we studied the menu; the staple Indian dishes were all present and accounted for, as well as an array of specials.
We ordered our food and, a few minutes later, a waiter took our drinks and guided us to our table.
First up: papadums, obviously.
With the obligatory chutney tray, featuring onions, yoghurt sauce, chilli sauce, and lime pickle, a substance I love without quite understanding why.
I’m a bit of a sucker for a clever name, so my starter was the ‘mushroom lollipop’. There was no lollipop at all, but five large, breaded mushrooms with a thin-layer of cheese sauce, which were adequate without falling into the ‘recommended’ bracket.
Rebecca’s chicken tikka was delicious; I know, I helped her finish it. John and Tom both opted for the chicken chat, which they enjoyed. Tom said it could have done with a bigger salad garnish; John – a carnivore of a human-being – said it had too much.
For the main course, I had a predicament. Go with something I know – in so I had a gauge to measure the quality by – or try something new. So John and I agreed to share a chicken madras, which was suitably hot but still retained a full after-taste, and a Goan Blussi Fish, which I couldn’t recommend enough. It had chillies and mango and coriander, and tasted fresh and delicious.
The other options, chicken tikka rogan josh and lamb rogan josh, both got big thumbs up. Bec’ commented how the lamb had no fat, and Tom was pleasantly impressed the garlic naan “wasn’t soggy”. Which put me off trying an Indian in Yorkshire any time soon.
The rice was proportioned just right, and, after taking our plates, we were immediately presented with hot flannels. Another nice touch.
The prices were reasonable, and there is a two-course, £9.95 early-bird special every day.
No-one wanted a dessert, and the modest menu of four sweets – cheesecake, fudgecake, funky pie and a ‘baby blue’ icecream – wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind. The desserts menu looked like an after-thought, which was fine by me. Who goes to an Indian for a dessert?
But while we’re on ‘areas to improve’, the draught beer selection was Fosters, Stella Artois and John Smith’s. When I go for a curry, I love it when an Indian beer is on offer – Kingfisher or Cobra or something I’ve never even heard of.
But that certainly didn’t put a dampener on a great evening, at a great restaurant.
And I’m happy to report the kitchen is serving up much better food than 20 years ago!
The bill ...
Chicken Tikka £3.95
Mushroom lolipop £3.50
Chicken madras £8.25
Goan Blussi Fish £13.50
Garlic Naan £2.95
Pilau rice £2.25