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Lal Qila

117 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 5AL, United Kingdom

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Lal Qila opened in 1983. I have a vague recollection of coming here in its early years, and at that time it was pitched as relatively up-market for an Indian restaurant. Times have moved on though, and Lal Qila has remained frozen in time, so now it feels like a rather old-fashioned curry house, more a vindaloo and lager joint than anything more sophisticated. Still, any restaurant open for three decades must have some lingering appeal, and there seemed to be plenty of regular diners greeted like long-lost friends by the harried waiters.

The long, narrow dining room was decorated with crudely drawn murals, the wooden floor and tightly packed tables contributing to high noise levels. There was no double door, so an icy blast of wind came through each time diners came in or out. This was made worse by the door not shutting properly by itself , so for tables near the entrance such as ours there was a regular cold draught of night air. Even if they were not able to fit in a double door, it would be good if they could at least ensure that it closes properly. The dining rom had red banquette seating and paper tablecloths, the tables wedged close together, diners having to move tables around to get in and out.  The menu was lengthy and traditional, and there was an old-fashioned touch of offering a few token non-Indian dishes, such as omelette and chips. 

Chicken tikka (£3.95) had cheap chicken that was at least reasonably tender and with some spices from the marinade coming through, served with a 1970s joke salad of tasteless tomato and lettuce (11/20). Onion bhajia (£2.95) was actually pretty good, with crisp outside and a decent amount of onion flavor coming through (12/20).

A soggy cauliflower bhaji (£3.95) was poor, with little in the way of spice but very overcooked vegetables (8/20). Chicken biriani (£10.95) suffered from dried-out chicken pieces amongst the rice, which lacked much in the way of fragrance (9/20). Prawn masala (£8.90) had cheap prawns and a one dimensional hot sauce, the chilli heat the only spice that could be discerned (9/20). Naan bread (£2.50) was decent, though rather dense in texture (11/20). The channa was not bad, the chickpeas quite tender (12/20).

Service was stretched, and well meaning but very slow. There was a half-hour wait for our drinks at the start of our meal, and repeated reminders needed to get our bread, the bill etc. The waiters were certainly relaxed, joking around with the regulars at the tables on either side of ours, but I’d have preferred it if they had been a bit more efficient.

The bill came to £38 a head, which seemed quite a lot given the very basic level of food served and the proximity of good value alternatives such as Ragam and Diwana Bhel Poori. On a weekday night the restaurant was packed out, but to be honest it was hard to see why. 

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