“If there was an award for the most pleasant surprise of the year, eating at Radhuni would already be in the running. Pristine, welcoming, plush and with food that consistently impressed, this smart new Bangladeshi restaurant in Loanhead was an unexpected but hugely welcome treat.”
By Richard Bath
Perhaps we should have been prepared because Radhuni – which apparently translates as ‘passionate cook’ – is owned by Matin Khan, the proprieter of Ittihas in Dalkeith, a Bangladeshi restaurant that has won a slew of awards in recent years and has quickly developed a very strong local following. And judging from the food and atmosphere at Radhuni, Khan is well on his way to having a second success story on his hands.
It’s clear as soon as you walk through the door that Khan has aspirations far exceeding those of your average curry house. The place is huge, with space for about 150 diners, but it is also light, airy, contemporary and with the sort of upscale interior design touches you’d expect in a city centre brasserie rather than an Indian restaurant in Loanhead. Sumptuous hand-printed wallpaper, subtle lighting, expensive banquettes and starched table linen mark this out as a venue with ambition.
Khan has also tried hard to provide as many talking points as possible, one being the paved ‘Shisha Sanctuary’ at the back of the property, where al fresco eating will be on the menu when summer arrives (presuming that actually happens). Even if you don’t want to eat outside, the garden also provides an opportunity to go for a post-meal puff on one of the many hookah pipes that line the walls and which are available to diners.
But, as with Ittihas, it’s not the fripperies and the environment that have been gaining attention in this part of Midlothian, but the food. At first sight, however, the menu was as underwhelming as it was long. Bangladesh is part of what was Bengal, a region with a rich culinary tradition, particularly when it comes to fish, yet there was no sign of the traditional Bengali fish dishes. Instead there were the usual curry house-staples – the biryanis, kormas, bhunas and vindaloos – that can be found in hundreds of thousands of Indian restaurants up and down the country, not to mention a smattering of ‘European’ dishes (chicken nuggets or omelette, anyone?).
Once we had got over that disappointment and ordered, the food started to arrive and we forgot our misgivings. If Khan has decided that Midlothian tastebuds will drive what is offered at Radhuni, his chefs (who, bizarrely, were all from Nepal, as were the efficient waiters) make up for a lack of authenticity with a real passion and skill at their craft.
Our starters, in particular, were fantastic. I decided to start with that curry house classic, the prawn puri, which is basically small prawns in gravy served on unleavened bread, and was rewarded with a gorgeously mushy and warming version of this great dish. Alistair’s mixed kebab selection was, if anything, even better. His huge chunks of tandoori chicken and lamb were perfectly cooked, while his vegetarian pakora had none of that harsh grittiness you often find in pakora, nor did they have any sign of the oiliness that is another frequent failing.
Our main courses were equally classic staples, but both were well produced. Alistair plumped for the murgh mango, which is essentially a chicken tikka cooked in a creamy sauce of mango, onion, garlic and coriander, while I opted for the Kashmiri, a mild, creamy curry in which lychees are used heavily. If this was perhaps not ideal synchronisation on the ordering front, with two huge bowls of similarly mild, creamy and fruit-based curries appearing together, they both passed muster. We would certainly order both of them again without hesitation, while the rice was perfectly done, the keema nan bread also spot on and the tarka daal (stewed lentils and split peas) absolutely perfect.
If the lack of authentic Bengali dishes was a disappointment, there were at least some of the sweet puddings for which the area is also renowned. Unfortunately both of us had already eaten so much that we side-stepped dessert.
All in all, this was a very positive experience. The food, with the obvious caveats about the authenticity and range of options, was excellent; the service was good; the environment was tip-top; and the prices – most of the main courses were around £8 – were astonishingly good value for money. If Khan could have chucked in a couple of Bengali fish curries and enough dry weather to try out the hookah pipe, the evening would have been pretty much perfect.
93 Clerk Street, Loanhead. Midlothian (0131-440 3566, www.theredhuni.co.uk)
Starters: £3.60-£5.95 Main courses: £7.95-£13.95