The vast, metropolitan town that is Cowes boasts no less than three eat-in tandooris, the Island’s county town, Newport, has only two, and Ryde, Shanklin and Sandown have to make do with one each – oh, and one in Lake. It’s a mystery why, outside Cowes, such busy tourist towns boast so few Indians, when they seem to have pub grub, cafes and burger bars in spades. So, to further research the issue, Matt and Cat invited a couple of friends to join them at Sandown’s only tandoori, the Taj, on the High Street.
The Taj is like many tandooris in layout – laminated floor and discreet lighting. However, it deviates pleasingly by eschewing linen cloths and plush overstuffed seating for cafe-style chairs and bare wooden tables. There is also more space than is often the case in some packed restaurants, allowing diners and their food plenty of room. The table Matt and Cat’s party chose was a round one, which is always a benefit for a social occasion. The courteous waiter took orders for drinks but, surprisingly, no poppadums and chutney was produced or even offered. This is normally de rigeur in a tandoori.
The menu was short and simple, with a good selection of staple Indian dishes at reasonable prices. Matt, just recovering from a cold, decided to go for the spicy chicken Madras to clear the passages. Cat picked chicken tikka massala, and they decided to share a sag bhaji between them.
The restaurant was busy, and so there was a fair wait during which Matt and Cat chatted with their guests. The place certainly seemed to have a good lively atmosphere, and as the punters poured in Matt and Cat were glad they had taken the time to reserve a table in this popular venue. When the food arrived it proved to be worth the wait. The chicken madras was hot, and very tasty, with some good tender chicken chunks in it. Matt could have managed a bit more of it, but Cat found her chicken tikka massala portion size to be just right. It was a nicely coloured dish; the sauce sweet but not sickly and the chicken beautifully tender. The sag bhaji was exceptional, with plenty of freshly-cooked spinach making a rich and almost sweet-tasting dish which perfectly set off the main meals.
As the meal drew to an end, Matt and Cat and friends became aware of an absence. Apart from silent clearing of dirty glasses and plates, they’d had no attention from the staff at all. Nobody had come to ask them if they’d enjoyed their meal. Nobody came to offer them coffee and desserts. Nobody even offered more drinks. In fact, although the restaurant was emptying and staff were busy cleaning tables elsewhere, nearly an hour and a half after finishing the meal nobody had even brought the bill. It’s very nice to have the time to chat after and not be hurried out, but there is a fine line between discreet and negligent service – a line which the Taj was perilously close to crossing. Eventually one of the party had to stand up and buttonhole a waiter before the bill was produced.
The Taj was a good place to eat, without a doubt. Reasonable prices and very passable food, served in pleasant surroundings. The inattentive service did, however, take a little of the pleasure away from the experience.