Thousands of motor racing fans descend on the iconic Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in West Kingsdown, Kent in south east England each year to get a fix of adrenaline-filled, ear-busting bike, car and truck racing. Once the season starts, generally around March many of these petrol-heads with the noise of screaming exhausts still ringing in their ears will head across the road for lunch and dinner at the popular Rajdani Indian Restaurant. Voted Best Asian Restaurant in the South East of England in the prestigious Asian Curry Awards in 2017, the family-run Rajdani offers southeast Asian food and a foodie break from the thrills of the circuit.
A popular Chef’s Special at the Rajdani is Beef Shatkora, a dish flavoured with a lime flavoured fruit and described as succulent, spiced and offering diners a unfamiliar citrusy flavour.
The shatkoras used by Rajdani are sourced from Sylhet, a city and region in the east of Bangladesh. Popularly known as wild oranges, the fruit is about is some 7cm in diameter, oval and with pointed ends shaping up like a pumped up lime.
Rajdani was opened by Rob’s, the current owner, father Abdul Khan and cousin Suna Miah over 20 years ago. The restaurant takes its name from the Bengali term for ‘Capital City.’ Historically, the finest spices and other culinary ingredients sought out in southeast Asia could only be sourced together in the capital’s food markets. So this was where the best chefs and restaurants chefs lived and worked. Today, ‘Rajdani’ is more commonly used as the colloquial Bengali term for ‘town’.
Rob and his brigade offer contemporary Asian dishes with a short, changing menu. The team is currently developing a gourmet menu that will be released early this year with a greater choice of fish, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Outside, the Rajdani lies behind a large car park and is reminiscent of a sprawling bungalow, while inside the open plan dining area is shorn of adornment with walls painted white and discretely lit, offering a calming atmosphere. Every so often, waiters flamboyantly open the kitchen swing doors and frequently wheel out trays of sizzling Tikka and Tandoor dishes which has diners craning their necks and willing the waiter to bring the dishes to their tables.
It’s hard not to start a curry with a plate of poppadums and pickle and chutney tray, so we did! Generally I leave the sour lime pickle to my fellow diners, but the Rajdani’s was lighter and less bitter than I expected and the mangrove chutney was similarly tempered, not too sweet but moorish.
Rajdani aims for authentic south Indian tastes and flavours, with today’s diners eager to experiment with spices and textures. So, while there are plenty of classic dishes such as Kormas, Vinadaloos and Dupiazzas; Tandoor King Prawn Massala and Makhani or Butter Chicken, onthe menue Rob is also experimenting with less obvious dishes such as Naga Chicken (made with the awesomely hot Naga chilli).
My drink of choice was Cobra, which at 4.8% ABV is less gassy than many lagers and happily complements spicy food, as it was designed to do. Now a global brand, Cobra still has that artisan feeling and doesn’t distract from the main event, the food.
My main course of Beef Shatkora bought lime-fringed flavours to the meat in new and intriguing ways. Eaten raw, Shatkora have a reputation as sour and bitter, reminding many of grapefruit but cooked its adds warmth to a dish. Chefs preparing the fruit often boil the peel to soften the skin and then the thick rind is diced and folded into curries adding a rich, zesty, limey tang to meats such as beef and fish.
The Rajdani is a large open-plan restaurant with a small dance floor in the middle which at the weekend is often hosting a disco or the occasional Elvis impersonator. However, Rob’s focus at Rajdani is the food, the atmosphere and providing an unusually high level of service.
Tearing at our naan breads we mopped up juices oozing from our Tandoori King Prawn, blanketed our Sheek Kebab sticks and soaked up Beef Shatkora and sauce from my dining companion’s Chicken Pasanda, which was delicately flavoured with the merest hint of rose water.
We passed on desserts, although had we had the appetite would have chosen Mata Kulfi, a pistachio kulfi – a traditional southern Asian ice cream, slightly denser and heavier than delivered though European and US-recipes.
Winning a high profile award such as the Asian Curry Awards is reward for working hard on menu design cooking and service. A combination that will have locals and race fans roaring for more.
Note: We dined at The Rajdani as guests.