Vicky Andrews is just a paperback raita looking for some bhaji to love
Where would Brits be without the local curry house? Every weekend they come. Married couples on a date night, hoping to spice up their lives. A family dinner, restless children pacified with iPads and ice cream. The lads’ night out, cheering the waiter on with six pints and thirty poppadoms. A monthly treat, splashing out on the mixed grill for two, alone.
The towels were the only thing that actually arrived hot...
I’m a creature of habit too. A chicken chilli masala has always been a guilty pleasure for this paperback raita, but after two of my ruby gems moved out of the neighbourhood (the Gulshan and Red Fort, if you’re wondering), I found myself searching for some bhaji to love.
Formerly an ugly, 1960s-style pub, the outside of the Purple Olive Lounge sparks a memory of the Pier Head’s long lost Berni Inn, a square beacon of hope on a boulevard of broken dreams. Inside, it is a version of Caesar’s Palace, bright lights and polished glass, furnished in bold colours. Mainly purple, of course.
The setting on this Saturday night seems chaotic. Men in huge winter coats crowd around the bar, anxious to get their takeaway orders home to empty bellies. Others queue in the doorway for a table, wondering what the delay is when they spy empty seats. The music is too loud and the television unavoidable as Vanessa Feltz and Les Dennis prove they really are Pointless Celebrities, commanding the eyeline over a bar swamped in dirty glasses.
Smokers kill some time outside, a cloud sneaking in with the wind to accompany our first round of drinks; one half Diet Pepsi (£2.20) and one half of Cobra (£2.40). “I poured a pint by mistake but I’ll only charge you for a half,” the waiter grins. Things may be looking up.
Ordering from six pages of the a la carte menu might have your average spice girl in a hot flush, but we have done our homework and fire in with a ‘Flaming Rajma Lamb’ from the signature dishes and a Chicken Masala from the chef’s specials, plus the obligatory sundries and sides.
By now, every table on this side of the restaurant is occupied, yet few seem to be eating. Food is flying out of the kitchen, straight into the arms of takeaway punters who leave with family-sized carrier bags and a smug grin.
Feeling hangry, we crack open a chilled bottle of Longbend Sauvignon Blanc (£23.95), a clean and crisp New Zealand white that entertains until our appetisers and starter arrive, simultaneously demanding our attention.
The golden, crunchy poppadoms (£0.70 each) and chutneys tray (£2.00) deliver as expected with a perfect selection of mango chutney, red onions, mint and chilli sauce - although the odd assumption that we wouldn’t want the lime pickle is swiftly rectified by sending the waiter back to the kitchen.
Sizzling seductively beneath an irrelevant garnish of Olympic sized red onion circles, the tandoori platter (£8.95) looks too good to leave for cold and so we dive into the carousel of lamb chops, sheek kebab, chicken tikka, lamb tikka and garlic chicken. It’s finger-lickin’ good, the succulent meat sealed with aromatic herbs, spices and a blackened hint of the tandoor.
Celebrated as one of the finest dishes on the menu, the Flaming Rajma Lamb (£10.95) leads the mains into battle, riding in on a purple trolley before being doused in brandy and flambéd. It’s an impressive entrance but an unremarkable combination of chewy lamb with onions and peppers in a mild and meek tomato sauce, the promised flavours of garlic, ginger and fenugreek overshadowed by too much salt.
The Chicken Masala (£9.95) is a curry to dye for - in appearance at least. As red as a baboon’s bottom but certainly no ring of fire, the chicken chunks swim aimlessly in a fluorescent but bland coconut-flavoured sauce that tastes more like a korma.
Thank heaven for carbs. The Purple Olive Special Rice (£3.70) is almost a dish in itself; a bold combination of basmati rice fried with onions, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachio, peas and saffron that indulges all the senses, while the Garlic Naan (£3.60) offers some comforting stodginess to mop up that nuclear red sauce before throwing in the towels.
“They were the only thing that actually arrived hot,” my partner grumbles, as we go through the motions of wiping our hands down. The bought-in speciality ice cream menu features Matka Kulfi, Ferrero Rocher Gold and ‘Funky Pie’, but none are intriguing enough to prolong our stay beyond a floater coffee for the journey home.
In trying to please popular tastes, have the flavours of our Indian restaurants got lost on the way? And was it worth two hours and £73 quid on a meal to find out? I would take the Purple Olive’s ‘award-winning’ claims with a pinch of saffron. Fine dining this is not, but I don’t think the regulars come here for that. Next time, I’ll just get a take-away.
Purple Olive Lounge, Speke Rd, Liverpool L25 0NN
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Poppadoms and chutneys 7, Tandoori Platter 8, Flaming Rajma Lamb 4, Chicken Masala 5, Special Rice 7, Garlic Naan 6
Keep calm and curry on