There are many excellent places to eat on Islay; seafood restaurants everywhere, fish and chips a-plenty, plus cafés and bistros galore. But amongst all this excellent grub, sometimes (if you're like me), you just crave some spice. The Taj Mahal in Bowmore is the only Indian restaurant/takeaway on the island, so they have something of a monopoly on this sector of the market!
The exterior is rather unprepossessing and, if I'm being honest, the interior doesn't do much to correct that initial impression. Essentially this is a takeaway with a large empty space into which about eight tables have been inserted. The takeaway area is not separated from the dining area, so people are coming and going for takeaways and the phone is ringing regularly. Some separation would be nice.
Having been seated (the only diners on a Friday evening), we were shown the menu and brought drinks (two pints of rather flat of Diet Coke). Pickles and poppadums soon appeared, which were very nice.
We just had the one starter: a mixed kebab. I have eaten in countless Indian restaurants and ordered myriad takeaways over the years and almost invariably choose this as my starter; in all that time, this is the first one that has been served in a sauce. And a totally unnecessary, totally overpowering sauce it was, which completely spoiled the dish. It might suit some, but it certainly didn't suit me. What should have been a selection of grilled meat with mint sauce and salad became a tomatoey mess. Shame.
So, at this stage I was seriously unimpressed, and my hopes hadn't been too high to begin with ("so long as the food is decent, that'll be enough, as it's great that we can even get Indian food on Islay at all", so went my reasoning).
Then the main courses arrived, and I must say at this stage things changed markedly for the better: Chicken tikka bhuna, lamb jalfrezi, mushroom pilau rice, mutter paneer, plain nan and peshwari nan was our order. The nans were fluffy and freshly cooked (obviously in a tandoor, not just bought frozen and heated up), the curries were excellent, spicy and tasty, the meat tender, the portions very generous indeed.
So, a game of two halves, really. I did finish the meal feeling I'd had pretty decent takeaway food, which is all I'd hoped for. Not first class, not Michelin star, but perfectly adequate.
After the starter, I would have given no more than 2/5. After the main course, I might have stretched to 4/5. However, the final bill at £50 was too steep, notwithstanding that this is on Islay and so the cost of bringing in the food is clearly going to be more expensive than it is for an establishment on, say, Stratford Road in Birmingham. However, £50 will buy you a cracking seafood platter for two in any of half a dozen restaurants nearby, so they still have to remain competitive.
As I said, if you're here for a week and desperately crave a change from the usual fayre, I don't think you'll be disappointed. Just don't hope for too much!
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