It's that time of the month again. I can't last more than 4 weeks without getting a craving for Indian food. This time, it was HUGE. Stewing up a pot of curry/dahl at home wasn't good enough. Even ordering a few curries out wasn't good enough. We wanted nothing less than an Indian banquet.
Regulars at Indian restaurants will know that most offer something called a banquet. It is a bit like a 'set meal' and though every place does it differently, the general idea is that you pay according to how many people you have and in return, entrees, mains, sides and (if you're lucky) dessert are all taken care of. Banquet is associated with 'abundance' and 'feasting'. If I want to stuff my face and wobble out with my belt undone, banquet is the way to go.
We looked at a few places to see which had the best deal. Being an owner of the Brisbane Entertainment Book, and being a poor uni student, I have a preference for going to restaurants listed in the book. If you haven't heard of the Entertainment Book before, it's a yearly publication organised for a charity. Restaurants nominate themselves to be included and offer discounts in the form of a coupon/swipe card. People who love eating simply purchase the book to enjoy the discounts. It's a great way to find new restaurants and it encourages me to go to places I haven't been before.
Maharaja Palace was listed in the book and it was in West End (easy to get to) so we decided to give it a go.
The restaurant is medium-sized and simple in decor. It doesn't have the strong ethnic vibe you get from some other Indian restaurants (e.g. Ceylon Inn). I actually prefer really vibrant, Indian-themed eating environments because it sets the scene. Maharaja was comparatively quite dull.
Our first point of irritation was that it took about 15min to even get menus. The restaurant wasn't busy but it seemed there was only one waitress taking orders, greeting people and handing out menus. It was frustrating because we were hungry and wanted to ask questions about how the banquet worked but after failing to attract the waitress' attention (she seemed to purposely avoid looking in our direction), we sat back and waited.
Luckily they had a box of crayons and paper on the tables to draw on. OR I MIGHT'VE GONE INSANE WAITING.
At Maharaja Palace, the banquets are priced according to whether or not you want entree and/or dessert. Because we were famished at this point, the boys decided on the works. It took a long time figuring out what we could/couldn't choose because there were massive communication dramas. Finally, we worked out that we could choose 3 curries between the three of us but the kitchen would be providing a mixed entree plate and desserts of their choosing.
The entree plate came out first. Most of the items came in 3's but for some reason there were only 2 samosa. The samosa was well, like any other really. I liked it but I always like this kind of stuff. We really enjoyed the pakora and there was a sausage thing (name unknown) that I liked too. I would have preferred a mint yogurt sauce to the sweet chili provided though.
A big bowl of basmati rice was brought out next. The rice was cooked well and pleasantly fragrant.
Our curries started arriving not long after that. The serving size was reasonable to me but as soon as the two guys saw the dishes, they instantly decided it was too small.
Lamb korma - a popular north Indian curry with cream yoghurt and fruit with spices, creating a rich creamy texture
I tried the lamb korma first. If I concentrated, I could pick out the subtleties of flavor and thought it was nice. However, it required a lot of concentration because the dish was so underseasoned in terms of both salt and sweetness. I eat very bland food at home (mum is salt-phobic) so for me to think something is underseasoned, it really has a problem. I also would have liked a thicker, creamier sauce.
Lamb saagwala - tender and flavoured Punjabi lamb curry with spinach and herbs
The lamb saagwala was the next item I tasted. It was a bit saltier but IMO still insufficient. There was a fair amount of lamb though and a good degree of spiciness.
Butter chicken - diced tandoori chicken in a sauce of cream and tomato puree
The butter chicken (my old faithful pick) came last. It was very creamy and sweet with a strong cardamon aroma. The chicken pieces were also nice and tender. In short, I did enjoy this curry and found it to be filling too.
Naan Maharaja (spinach and cheese naan) - bread stuffed with cheese and spinach, cooked in tandoori oven
A plate of naan was brought out. We were only allowed one choice and had selected the spinach and cheese naan. It was so average - soggy, no spinach flavor. No naan flavor. I don't know... it just didn't cut it.
Mango sorbet dessert
After our plates were taken away, dessert was brought out. There were 2 dessert plates between the 3 of us. The dessert was ice-cream and frozen mango with a mango coulis. Delicious but um, hello... not easy to share! Poor third person with no plate put down in front of them (that person was me, by the way). I would have loved more because after the heaviness of the curry, this sweet, cool, fruity treat was exactly what I wanted.
I've been bottling up a lot of critique in an effort to give a good, unbiased account of the food. The food wasn't too bad. It wasn't the best Indian I've ever had (though the butter chicken is something I'd remember for a while) but it was passable. The service on the other hand, was shocking.
We tried to overlook the fact we had to wait so long for a menu and that there was one woman trying to do everything at once (I noticed we weren't the only ones trying to attract her attention to no avail). There were minor issues like taking away our cutlery after the entree was served and not replenishing this supply for mains. That's OK. These things happen.
What really annoyed me was that banquets are charged per head yet we weren't given enough for 3 people. 2 samosa for 3. 1 naan for 3. 2 desserts for 3. It doesn't make sense to me. They should have a disclaimer on their menu saying 'please note: the banquet loses value the more people you get'. It was lucky we were all close friends and didn't mind pulling apart items for sharing but really, I can't see why they have to do this. For an extra scoop of ice-cream on a plate, they would have appeared much less stingy. The real icing on the cake of annoyance was that we calculated the value and the banquet was no different to ordering the items separately.
When it came to paying, the woman (same lady who served us) a) forgot who we were and asked 'which table were you at' when there was only 4 tables dining at the time and she took our orders and brought us the food... and b) said that we couldn't use the coupon for banquets. This had not been specified on the menu so we asked 'why' and she replied that it was 'already very cheap'.
I have to say... I eat out regularly and respect the whole coupon system. Some places will specify they won't deal extra discounts with some other offers they have but Maharaja's menu didn't mention this anywhere. No other Indian restaurant I've ordered banquet at refused use of coupon. And when I think they're good, I'll go back and recommend it to my friends. It was especially irritating because the banquet here wasn't even cheaper than ala carte and to add insult to injury, we had been shafted with less servings than we should have gotten as 3 people.
More table art... respect to anyone who can guess what popular game character this is supposed to be
I'll leave it there because there's no point harping on about one bad experience. I personally will never be going back.