“ Address: 3/5 Mill Lane / Arundel / West Sussex / BN18 9AH / Tel: 01903 884224 „
"Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish" - Robin Cook
Earlier this year I enjoyed a family gathering at India Gate, a curry house located in the historic town of Arundel in West Sussex. It was only a small family gathering and as Arundel is a sort of half-way meeting point for us all, we decided to give India Gate a whirl. Although it's been trading as India Gate since June 2007, I'd never eaten there under the new ownership. I did, however, enjoy many a curry there when it was trading under the moniker of New Castle Tandoori.
I find that the trouble with English curry houses, Tandooris, Balti houses, Indian restaurants - call them what you will - is that they are invariably "samey". You've been to one and you've been to them all. The menus are all very similar, the décor mostly generic and the prices more or less the same. You invariably get a good meal, but it's nothing that you couldn't get two doors down at a different curry house for a similar price. An Indian restaurant in the UK has to work very, very hard indeed to stand out from the crowd. And what a crowd it is - I read somewhere recently that there are over 9,000 Indian restaurants in the UK! So was India Gate going to prove to be a real Passage to India or end up not really being much of a Jewel in the Crown? Read on....
~~~ THE VENUE ~~~
The décor in India Gate is fresh and modern. There's no heavy flocked wallpaper or banquette seating in this curry house. Everything is done out in creams and browns with pleasant dark red accents here and there. The walls are decorated with modern art and the occasional cloth banner. The seating is all in comfy leather look chairs, and all the tables are laid with pristine white linen cloths. As you enter India Gate there is a pleasant waiting area set out with a couple of sofas and table with current newspapers and magazines artfully arranged - ideal if you are waiting for your take-away, your table to be made ready or simply to enjoy a pre-dinner aperitif. To one side is a bar area, which fairly gleams with well polished pumps and optics. India Gate serves both draught beers, Kingfisher and Carlsberg, as well as bottled India lagers such as Cobra.
Behind the waiting area is the restaurant itself, which is all open plan. Although it is fairly compact (it seats up to 100 diners), it looks much bigger due to the clever use of a mirror to the far wall. The ground floor dining area is very light and bright due to large picture windows on one side. Upstairs there is a large room available for private functions. The toilets just off to the side of the bar, and they were clean and very spacious when I paid a quick visit.
~~~ THE MENU ~~~
The menu at India Gate is fairly standard Indian fare. All the usual favourites are there; you can choose from the usual suspects of Tikka, Tandoori, Massala, Dhansak, Bhuna, Korma, Balti or Biryani, or venture into the braver waters of Vindaloo and Madras if you so wish. To be honest there was very little in the way of surprises on the menu. My uncle was tempted to try Ostrich Tikka or Ostrich Bazar, but we all concluded that he was very unlikely to get an honest insight into what Ostrich tasted like if it was coated in Tikka or Tandoori flavouring.
There is a list of House Specialities, but they weren't all that inspiring. Honey Roasted Spicy Lamb sounded nice, but not particularly authentically Indian. The most interesting sounding dishes were Kodu E Bahar (chicken cooked in a sweet pumpkin sauce), the afore-mentioned Ostrich dish called Ostrich Bazar (marinated Tandoori grilled meat served with yoghurt) and Hash Makhani (Tandoori grilled duck in butter, yoghurt, cream and mild spices). The Seafood House Specialities sounded slightly more exotic with a Swordfish Bhuna (served in medium spicy sauce of tomatoes and green peppers), Meen Molee (a rather Thai sounding dish of coconut fish curry) and Machli Biran (sea bass marinated in mustard oil and mixed spices).
The Chef Recommendations seemed to be the more expensively priced dishes - things like King Prawn Jalfrezi at £9.95 (a spicy sauce of onions, tomatoes and chillis) or Duck Shashlik Massala at £10.50 (Tandoori duck on skewers with Massala sauce).
Pricewise India Gate is average. Starters range from £2.95 to £4.95 and main courses range from a simple curry at £5.75 or Chicken Tikka or Tandoori Chicken at £6.95, up to the more expensive dishes (usually prawns, duck or ostrich) at £11.95. There is a small selection of 5 to 6 vegetarian dishes on the menu as well, so non meat eaters are not just limited to filling up on Naan bread and vegetable curry. We did briefly look at the dessert menu, and there was a limited selection at around the £4 to £5 mark. I'm not going to list the full menu here for obvious reasons, but if you're planning a visit to India Gate then the full menu and prices can be seen or downloaded from their website at: http://www.india-gate.co.uk/files/india_gate_menu_arundel.pdf.
~~~ DINNER FOR SIX ON A SUNDAY NIGHT ~~~
As there were six of us in our party we had pre-booked a table for 7.30pm on a Sunday night. However, when we arrived the restaurant was more or less deserted, with only a couple of other tables occupied. Things didn't appear to pick up much for the restaurant as the evening progressed and I estimate that the place was only ever 25% full at the most. You'd have thought it would have been much busier on a weekend evening at the start of summer - after all Arundel is a real Mecca for tourists.
We didn't have to wait long in the restaurant reception / bar area before we were greeted and shown straight through to our table. We were seated right at the back of the restaurant in front of the wall mounted mirror mentioned earlier. We had a nice table by the window, even though there is not much a view from India Gate. We were given menus and our drinks order taken immediately. The men all chose large litre sized bottles of Indian Cobra lager at £4.00 a time. I opted for a more demure half a lager shandy. My Mum had nothing and my aunt chose a white wine spritzer. All the drinks arrived very swiftly and the wine glasses on the table then removed.
We set about perusing the menu, and briefly discussed having starters, before deciding they weren't really needed. I can honestly say I've never eaten a starter in an Indian restaurant; we always plump for making do with Papadoms and dips and then moving straight into the main course. I find that one invariably gets such a good portion for a main course, that there is never a need for an appetiser. Therefore, we ended up ordering 12 plain papadoms, which came served with a nice selection of dips. As well as the ubiquitous mango chutney, fiery lime pickle and onion salad, we had a fourth dip in the form of a yoghurt based mint and cucumber concoction called Raitha. This proved to be ideal for calming down the palates of those that had partaken too freely of the lime chutney :o)
For our main courses, we nearly all ordered something different. My father plumped for his usual Balti dish in the form of Balti Chicken Tikka Sag (£10.95), which was a dish of chunks of chicken breast marinated in a Tikka sauce and flash fried with fresh spinach and spices (chilli, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, paprika and coriander) in a Balti dish (a small metal wok-shaped pan). Originating from the Punjab region, a Balti dish can be quite dry compared to many Indian dishes, but it's a dish redolent with fresh herbs and spices. At India Gate, the Balti dish was served with Naan bread, and my father ordered a portion of Pilau Rice to accompany it. I didn't try it, but he pronounced it excellent, and he wiped the Balti pan fairly clean with his Naan bread...so I guess that speaks volumes as to how much he enjoyed it :o) My aunt went for the nice safe perennial favourite of Tandoori Chicken (£8.95) which was half a small chicken marinated in Tandoori paste. This came served with a small side salad and she ordered a portion of Sag Aloo (spinach cooked with potatoes and coriander) to accompany her chicken and add a bit of moistness to the dish. Sometimes Tandoori Chicken can be a little dry, but the meat here was nice and succulent and very juicy.
My uncle always eats some kind of prawn dish whenever he has a curry, which I always find a strange choice...but each to their own. In this instance he choose Tandoori King Prawns Massala (£12.95), which was a dish comprising of king prawns marinated in Tandoori paste and yoghurt, threaded onto skewers for cooking and then finished off with a rich creamy Massala sauce. Massala sauces are made up of spices such as cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, Garam Masala and paprika - so plenty of flavour as you would imagine. In this instance, the Massala paste was mixed with cream to make a thick fragrant coating for the prawns. He enjoyed it immensely, but it wouldn't be on my list of choices. I prefer my prawns fresh and as nature intended them - not masked in strong curry spices.
My partner was tempted away from his usual favourite on curry night a Tandoori Mixed Grill. India Gate had a chef's recommendation entitled Special Mix Massala (£12.95), and he thought it would make a pleasant change. The dish was a combination of king prawns, Tandoori chicken, Lamb Tikka and Chicken Tikka cooked in a clay oven and finished off with lashings of creamy orangey coloured Massala sauce. He wasn't all that impressed to be honest. There was rather a lot of the creamy Massala sauce and it was overly sweet to the palate. I suspect they had overdone the coconut milk in this instance, as the sweet coconutty flavour completely masked any of the Indian spices in the Massala paste. I tasted it myself and it was rather wincingly sweet. There was rather a lot of liquid to the dish, and it was a case of fishing about in the gloopy mix to try and hook out the meat and prawns. He ordered a Keema Naan (Indian bread stuffed with spiced meat) with his dish and used it to mop up some of the excess sauce in his dish. He finished the dish, but it won't be one he'll order again. I would imagine he'll stick to his all time favourite of the Tandoori Mixed Grill next time - no gunky sauces in that :o)
Myself and my mother both ordered the India Gate Special Biriyani (£12.45) as Biriyani is a real favourite of mine. The India Gate version consisted of chunks of Lamb Tikka, Chicken Tikka and King Prawns lightly spiced, fried and mixed with Basmati rice. I was very impressed with the Biriyani at India Gate. There was a gossamer thin omelette garnishing the rice, meat and prawns, which was a lovely garnish, and there was a fresh salad garnish to the side of the plate as well. A Biriyani dish is always served with vegetable curry, and this one was very tasty, with plenty of small chunks of vegetable in it. Too many vegetable curries I've had have been served with peas and whacking great chunks of boiled potatoes, but this one was more finely diced, lightly spiced and very tasty. There were plenty of meaty chunks of lamb and chicken mixed in with the Basmati rice, and at least four king prawns. If I have any criticisms of the dish at all, it was that it was just a little bit on the salty side for my palate. Apart from that, it was up amongst the best of the Biriyanis I've ever ordered.
The food was all served piping hot and a prompt and timely fashion. There was a slight mix up over how many potions of Pilau and Basmati rice we'd ordered, but the waiting staff quickly sorted things out with the kitchen. The portions were on the generous side and everyone cleared their plates...even my partner who did not really enjoy his choice. We decided to forgo on desserts as the selection was not particularly inspiring and we were full anyway. Like many Indian restaurants (and Chinese and Thai venues...), desserts at Indian Gate were not really their forté, and the selection tended towards expensive pre-packaged ice-cream based concoctions. There was a nod towards freshness with a Mango and Papaya choice, but that was about it. We moved straight onto coffee and mints instead.
~~~ SERVICE WITH A SMILE? ~~~
The service was very attentive, but rather odd. One of the waiters was rather over-zealous in his behaviour and really quite bossy. The members of my party all had much to chat about and plenty of news to catch up on. However, whenever this particular waiter appeared, I really think he expected us to shut up and wait expectantly in silence for any instructions he might want to bark at us. Passing empty dishes and glasses to him was de rigueur no matter what else we might want to do. Conversations were interrupted, and his word was "the word". At the end of the meal he leaned right into the middle of the table to help himself to what he obviously assumed was his tip, without a please, thank you or excuse me. Most would wait until the guests have left the table or the diners offer the tip up...not snatch it off the cloth without a word of thanks. Methinks it was most odd behaviour - ever so slightly aggressive and really rather rude. That said, the other waiter was as charming and helpful as his companion was rude and abrupt, so that helped take the edge of his partner's oddity. They did, however, both insist on addressing my 72 year old mother as "honey" everytime they spoke to her, which we all found hilarious, but again, rather odd.
All in all we had 12 Papadoms, 6 main courses (plus various side dishes) and 3 coffees plus drinks, with the entire meal costing £135.00, onto which we left a cash tip of £15.00. It wasn't bad value - working out at around £25.00 a head. The nicer waiter offered us all a free brandy at the end of the meal, which was an extremely generous gesture. Unfortunately only those of us not driving were able to take them up on their offer.
~~~ MY CONCLUSIONS ~~~
There's nothing wrong with India Gate in Arundel (apart from the odd waiter!). It serves nicely cooked and delicious tasting Indian dishes. It's clean, comfortable and well-appointed. The portions are good and the prices reasonable. However, it's nothing special at all. They don't offer anything different or outstanding that you couldn't find in one of the other 8,999 Indian restaurants in the UK. Yes, you'll get a good plate of curry at a reasonable price, but the menu does tend to lack innovation and fresh new ideas.
I do recommend Indian Gate - the food is good, and the venue pleasing. However, they do lose half a star from me for their rather oddly behaved waiter. I don't think he is doing their establishment any favours at all, and he maybe needs to rethink his career options - he didn't appear at all suited to the service industry.
Three and a half stars from me...rounded down to three stars due to the weird waiter.
If you are interested you can read all about Arundel itself in my review entitled "The jewel of the South Downs" at http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/destinations-national/arundel-in-general/1074333/
~~~ OPENING HOURS AND FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
* India Gate is open seven days a week both for dining and for takeaways.
* Opening hours are: Lunch - 12.00pm to 2.30pm and Dinner - 5.30pm to 11.30pm.
* All the major credit cards are accepted.
* Disabled access is good, as the restaurant is all on ground floor level.
Arundel is a very popular tourist spot so parking can be a problem. There is a small car park directly behind the restaurant, but spaces are rather limited. It does not belong to India Gate so parking there is at your own risk.
India Gate also have several other venues in West Sussex - one in Chichester, one in Merston (just off the main road between Bognor Regis and Chichester), one in East Preston (near Worthing) and another in Pulborough (near Petworth).
~~~ CONTACT DETAILS ~~~
3/5 Mill Lane
Tel: 01903 884224 or 01903 882140