Brian Ellis follows the celebrity helicopters east of Preston for a taste of Eastern magic at Shajan (01254 813234) in Longsight Road, Clayton-le-Dale
WHEN you fancy a curry, nothing else will do. And with around 10,000 Indian restaurants in the UK, you don’t have to travel far to feed that craving.
Yet when you find a real gem, a quality eating place which goes that extra mile, it’s worth making a bit of a journey.
Shajan in the Ribble Valley is one of those. It must be to win Best Indian Restaurant in the North West title two years running.
Curry lovers come from far and wide – some of them celebs in their helicopters – to eat at Shajan on the A59 between Samlesbury and Whalley.
It’s been high on our list since not long after it opened in 1992.
We’ve seen it more than double in size during those 22 years and it just seems to get better and better.
On our latest visit we set out with the intention of sampling as wide a variety of dishes as the Evening Post budget would allow.
And so we took along youngest daughter, Amy, as a third set of taste buds.
But when you’re at the conservative end of curry eating, as we three are, the best-laid plans can fly out clean of the window once you’re sitting in Shajan’s plush bar area, with your nostrils sucking up those spicy aromas and your favourites are shouting out ‘pick me’ from the menu.
Mine, lately, has been on the list of ‘Royal’ dishes, sizzling platters that you pair with a curry sauce and then try your damnedest to polish off. Safe to say I was defeated – again. But more later.
Popular restaurants, by their very nature, get busy. So we booked an early evening slot to savour the softer pace.
Even then Shajan had a fair number already dining and more arriving all the time.
After the regulation popadoms, chutneys and pickles – a decent selection too – I went for the sheesh kebab starter which, at £3.25 for two decent chunks, was as big on spice as it was on size.
Mrs Ellis played it safe with a good helping of onion bhajis at £2.95, while Miss Ellis chose the chicken pakora at £4.50. All very tasty and all very good value.
Other starters we could – and probably should – have tried included garlic chilli king prawns at £6.75 and chicken tikka priced at £4.25.
Bring on my sizzling ‘Royal’ tandoori mixed grill which, with a large selection of meats – including another whopping sheesh kebab – for £10.50, took some getting through.
The Royals need a curry sauce for accompaniment and I picked a decent strength Madras. The whole dish was a challenge and one which I didn’t quite rise to, although not for the want of trying.
Mrs E had a full-flavoured Chicken Tikka Balti (£8.95) with fluffy boiled rice and a huge garlic naan.
Amy’s choice was the nation’s favourite, Chicken Tikka Massala (also £8.85).
One of my long list of bad habits is I unwittingly gawp at other diners to see what they’re having.
The bloke on the next table was tackling the spiced lamb shank – and struggling to finish it too.
None of us three managed clean plates and at this point Mrs E confessed she had maybe been a touch ambitious earlier in the meal with popadoms and a starter. Puds? No chance, thank you very much.
But that is the problem with Indian food, especially at a restaurant with the reputation of Shajan.
Eyes can be bigger than bellies –although they do offer you a doggy bag to take home what’s left.