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Restaurant review: Maharaja

Gordon Ramsay ate at the Maharaja a while back and he now he swears by it. He would though, wouldn't he?

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Maharaja

IN the sixties, Liverpool’s London Road hummed with nightlife. Now it mostly hums. Then, London Road was all swanky restaurants (you could say “swanky” in 1967) and cabaret clubs where they queued round the corner to see Tom Jones and the Beatles. Now, they only queue at night in that part of town for the bus to London.

The Maharaja is responsible for the best Indian food in town, and the only good reason to be in London Road after dark

As the sixties faded, so did the area’s status as the place to go on a Friday night. London Road’s long slide was partially addressed with a facelift for TJ Hughes and its neighbours a few years ago, but the Lime Street end is still a sorry story of decline.

A beacon amidst the gloom, the Maharaja is responsible for the best Indian food in town and the only good reason to be in London Road after dark these days.

Nearby buildings display the scars of fire damage, while signs promoting local businesses – “The Picture Hous” “Tetley Bit” – have all got something missing. Rather like the figures we saw on the street: Shells of former human beings who shambled past our window table now and again. One, the better for drink, stared in, mouthing and pointing ostentatiously at our food. I don’t know what he was getting at but I don’t suppose he did either.

My last visit to an Indian restaurant was a family affair that began in ignominious fashion. Behind our table, a life-size representation of a Hindu god watched over the room in a classic benign pose, his right palm held outward, fingers pointing up. Our six-year-old took this as an invitation to high five him, and, to our horror, he duly accepted.

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Fortunately, nobody noticed my child’s act of sacrilege against a revered deity. This time I left the kids at home. The only gods at the Maharaja were in the kitchen preparing the food.

The standard of the décor is in inverse proportion to that of the cuisine, but this actually makes a refreshing change from classier joints where the look is incredible and the food inedible. These places come and go in Liverpool and I can almost hear the owners going over the pre-launch publicity for their latest business opportunity.

A pal had commended the Maharaja’s wine list to me, in particular a New Zealand gerwurtztraminer, which she said goes down a treat with the food. I suggested to Matty, my curry-loving companion, that we share a bottle. “Nah,” he said. “I’m too thirsty to drink wine.” That’s all right, I offered, I’ll get two bottles. He was having none of it and we settled for Kingfisher beer; bottles for me, draught for him. Cobra is also available by the pint.

The food here is from southern India – Kerala, to be precise – and the menu bears no relation to traditional high street curry houses. Much of the cooking is done in water rather than ghee, so there’s no danger of an oil slick with your chicken vindaloo. In fact, there’s no danger of a chicken vindaloo; here, the emphasis is on the flavour, not the ferocity, of the spices.

Pre-meal snacks (£2.50) are a carnival of shapes, textures and tastes, from achappam – flower-shaped crunches of rice flour, coconut milk and sesame seeds – to mini versions of the dinner-plate poppadom. Pickles and chutneys (£3) are fresh and full of contrasts: coriander chutney, chunks of lemon in its juices, a dishful of spiced, chopped-up garlic.

Then comes kerala bonda (£2.95), spiced potato balls fried in chickpea flour batter. They could have stoked the fire a bit but Matty thought me picky and it did come with good coconut chutney. Succulent King prawns (£4.50), marinated in spices and deep-fried in a dry, light batter, were lovely, as was fish sauce for dipping.

Chicken olathu curry (£6.95) is a well-balanced amalgam of chicken pieces, coconut slices, chillies, turmeric and tomato. Lamb stew (£7.95) is just that: with potatoes, carrots and onions in there alongside ginger, chillies and cardamom. All cooked in coconut milk. It helps if you like coconut – Kerala does, after all, mean land of coconuts.

The mains come with a tasty tamarind rice and a crumbly, nothing-special Malabar paratha. From limited side dishes, we picked at an unexciting bean and carrot thoran, when we should have chosen from a far more promising vegetarian range.

The waiters, willing and well-informed, paced the service nicely, not rushing it through as usually happens when there are more waiters than eaters. On London Road, the rents are not at a premium but passing trade is, and that’s the dilemma for the Maharaja: if they move to a part of town where people go, they will pay for the privilege.

The Maharaja has survived the desolation of its location by turning out meals that are of a consistently high standard and – at fifty quid for two, including service – amazingly good value. The food, like the place, is not fancy, but tasty and satisfying. I always think it’s the kind of food you might get in somebody’s home – but Madhur Jaffrey’s home rather than, say, Pete Wylie’s.


Breakdown: 9/10 Food
4/5 Service
3/5 Ambience
Total bill, including service: £50
Address: Maharaja South Indian Restaurant,
34-36 London Road, Liverpool
L3 5NF
0151 709 2006

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Sir Howard WayOctober 12th 2007.

Bah! Kerala Kitchen! Whatever happened to the 'Zola' Croatian restaurant? Has it re-opened elsewhere?I can’t think of anywhere less suitable than some dreary Wirral suburb to put any restaurant more exotic than a soggy pizza shop or curry house! It's all these car-addicted philistines eat!

AndrewOctober 12th 2007.

Ive been here twice so far, once for the business mini banquet lunch which I can recommend and an evening banquet, both were great. Id recommend it.

Helen and BobbyOctober 12th 2007.

We luuurrve the curries in here

gorgeousjayneOctober 12th 2007.

this is a fabulous restaurant, the dosa is amazing although i havent managed to eat a whole one yet. me and my husband usually go every few weeks and the service and standard of food is always brilliant. we went on new years eve with some friends from south africa who were vegan and my mum and we all had a fantastic time. cannot recommend this place highly enough

AnonymousOctober 12th 2007.

Superb curry house - never eaten anywhere like it before - scrummiliscious! AND THEY DO DELIVERY!!! there is a God. ;)

YetiOctober 12th 2007.

"the only south Indian Restaurant in the North West" Not quite true. Try the Kerala Kitchen in Prenton it is on Woodchurch Road just past Sainsburys.Dead easy to get to from the M53. Take the Birkenhead turn off and head towards Birkenhead in about a mile and a half past Sainsburys its there.

AnonymousOctober 12th 2007.

i've been to kerala kitchen in prenton.i think it is not a pure south indian restaurant.it is a mix-they do some kerala dihes but more of mughal style of dishes which come from the northern side of india.being a person from kerala i can affirm this.so i cant agree with yeti. as far as i know maharaja is the first and only pure southern indian restaurant in northwest.

AnonymousOctober 12th 2007.

I have been to this lovely curry house only once and i was really impressed, plus with one of us a vegan, the staff were extremely helpful and couldnt do enough for us. Brilliant

AA GrillOctober 12th 2007.

Thank you Yeti for the tip. My original piece said "only south Indian restaurant in the north west with a Roger Phillips autograph behind the bar" but for some reason the last bit was edited out.

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