But in preparation for my 25 May radio show on the topic of Indian restaurants, I decided to branch out from my curry houses of choice and try out Aziz. Turning up with two friends at 6.30 on a Tuesday, I was surprised to be asked whether I'd booked. I know it's a popular spot, but given that only a handful of tables were full at that point, it seemed a little unnecessary. More surprises were in store, as we were seated by an ageing waiter in a full suit, complete with dickie bow and the rather modern accessory of a bluetooth headpiece. Not exactly something you see every day. The menu was much more familiar territory: a manageable selection of starters (priced from £4.15–6.75) followed by a range of special meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes, plus the usual curry classics. There's nothing radically different about the menu, but it covers all bases and caters to all palates. Some of the specials sounded interesting, such as kodu gosht (lamb with pumpkin, £9.75) and eitcha bagaun (medium-spiced prawn with aubergine curry, £9.75). Dishes are priced from £7.75 for a vegetarian main to £12.95 for some king prawn dishes: although prices don't climb too high, I would expect to see some cheaper vegetarian options.
While perusing the menu, we chomped on poppadoms: served in a bowl rather than as individual poppadoms, they come with a good selection of chutneys. The menu's extensive enough without being over-facing, and so we were able to narrow down our choices pretty quickly. As we waited, the restaurant filled up and I begun to understand the waiter's concern at our lack of booking. Established in 1990, Aziz is clearly doing something right if it's packed on a Tuesday evening. Apparently the critics agree: Aziz has scooped numerous awards down the decades, including 3 British Curry Awards and accolades from The Times and The Observer. Given this impressive record, our expectations were pretty high.
Our food arrived after an appropriate interval, and we struggled to find space for the 3 mains, 2 portions of rice and 2 naan breads, plus a complimentary vegetable side dish (a bonus that comes with all vegetarian mains). It all looked very appetising, but on digging in, it wasn't exactly piping hot. None of our dishes were cold, but they were definitely just a shade or two above lukewarm. Temperature aside, it was all pretty tasty and served in decent portions. The Murgh nariyal (chicken with coconut milk and cream, £8.95) had a good ratio of chicken to sauce, with decent-sized chunks of chicken and a good creamy taste. I enjoyed both the sag paneer (spinach and cheese) and the motor baigun (aubergines and chickpeas in a lightly-spiced sauce, both £7.95) – the latter was particularly flavoursome, if a little too salty for my taste. S wasn't sure the sag paneer was homemade, despite the menu's claim to the contrary. As I'm more of a sag aloo girl usually, I couldn't hazard a guess. The freebie vegetable dish looked pretty insipid, so we were all surprised to find these limp-looking root vegetables and courgette packed a chilli-and-pepper infused punch. It was pretty tasty, and a complimentary dish is always welcome, as was the token side salad which turned up.
|Free vegetable side|
All in all, it was decent but forgettable. The food was nice enough, if not quite hot enough; the setting and atmosphere are fine and the service was OK, but I won't be rushing back. On receiving the bill, we were all shocked to find that a pint of lime and soda (oh yes, being a food blogger is just so rock and roll) cost £3.25. To be honest, I think that's what I'll remember Aziz for. That, and the fact that the waiter assumed we were leaving a bigger tip than we intended to (especially given limesoda-gate) and kept the change. I'm neither team Aziz nor anti-Aziz: I'm just a bit indifferent. And sticking to tap water from now on.
Aziz is at 230 Cowley Road, OX4 1UH. Booking recommended for large groups and at weekends. Take-away available (order online or by phone). Tel: 01865 794945.
On Friday 25 May, I will be discussing Indian restaurants in Oxford on Jo Thoenes's show on BBC Radio Oxford. You can listen live or for up to one week afterwards via this link. If you have any comments on favourite Indian restaurants in Oxfordshire, please email the show or get in touch via their Facebook page.