Although Cowley Road is far from lacking in Indian restaurants, Malikas was the first to tempt me through its doors. Formerly Jaipur, the revamped restaurant opened in August. As far as I can tell, the management team is the same: the name may have changed and the interior and menu been overhauled, but Jaipur fans needn't fear too much change.
On arrival, L and I were struck by both the smart appearance (modern leather chairs, linen tablecloths and tasteful low-lighting) and the polite friendliness of the waiters. On a pre-Christmas Monday night, Malikas was half-full yet calm: not so quiet we felt the need to whisper awkwardly, as sometimes happens on the first night of the working week, but pleasantly relaxed. Put simply, the ambience was spot on.
The menu at Malikas is extensive without being overwhelming, with vegetarians well catered-for. Starters range from £3 to £5, with classics including a lamb sheek kebab and a range of samosas, and more interesting options such as dahi wada (lentil cakes with spicy yoghurt and tamarind sauce). The chef's special section starts at £6.50 and offers meat and fish dishes including murgh nawabi, a whole chicken breast stuffed with medium-spiced mincemeat). The rest of the menu reads much as you'd expect it to: a selection of biryanis, kormas, bhunas and more, plus fish and vegetarian sections and side dishes.
Not feeling particularly adventurous, L opted for a chicken korma while I chose a vegetable balti, with a garlic naan and rice to share. The poppadoms were served in a basket and with a plate of 5 chutneys: despite the amount, we polished them off quickly. Starter devoured, I was somewhat taken aback by the arrival of a vegetable biryani, not least because I couldn't understand why someone would think I wanted to double up on rice: I'm not quite that much of a carb queen. The waiter was mortified and quickly whipped away the biryani, full of apologies and promising a balti in just a few minutes. Sure enough, my balti soon appeared, served in an elegantly elaborate white dish. Portions of main dishes were generous, but the rice wasn't quite enough for 2: if you're hungry, order your own. Both were tasty – L's korma was rich and creamy, with plenty of chicken, while my balti was pleasantly spicy with a good amount of vegetables. I was surprised at the omission of potatoes but pleased with the lack of peas – I prefer the little green globes as accompaniments rather than elements of a main dish. The moist, garlicky naan also passed muster.
On finishing, we weren't rushed to leave – quite the opposite, in fact. Presumably thanks to the festive season, we were offered a free drink. With good food, a smart interior and friendly service, Malikas is a winner in my book. The balti/biryani confusion (due to poor handwriting, apparently) aside, it was an experience I'd be happy to repeat. At £32.40 for a meal and a glass of wine each, I could even affrod to go back in January.
Malikas is at 218 Cowley Road, OX4 1 UR. Tel: 01865 723029. Take away is also available, with a discount for collection.