Many Indian restaurants-cum-take-aways are much of a muchness: similar prices, similar choice, similar flavours. What sets Royal India apart is it embracing the 21st century with a clean décor and a functional and stylish website, something so few venues of a similar ilk have managed.
Many Indian restaurants (the same could be said of Chinese, Vietnamese and others) feel like odes to heritage; a couple of generations have worked a space that hasn't been renovated at all over the last few decades. This may well add character but you'll certainly think you are getting a better deal if the venue can compete with somewhere like Soho in slickness and feel, while keeping its prices aligned with its peers. And Royal India succeeds in just that: spotlights shine down onto a polished wooden floor, and lavish, framed Indian fabrics bedeck the spotless white walls. The furniture isn't particularly remarkable but it fits well with the formality of the tablecloths and folded napkins. The fact that it feels more upscale than its prices suggest offers a good first impression.
A certain sense of hospitable formality is also often part of places such as this, and Royal India (regal by its name) fits this ethos well. The waiting staff wear an all-black uniform with shirts and smart trousers, and the tables are dressed elegantly with immaculate white napery. Whilst perfectly pleasant, many venues are moving away from this kind of formality, and perhaps a slightly more spontaneous approach to proceedings would contribute to a better atmosphere. However, the clientele actually counterbalances the potential for stuffiness by being relaxed and chatty. Most diners are locals heading out for an affordable meal, with a crowd that reflects the kind of folk Stokie is famous for: young professionals who have recently outgrown east London, essentially. The only real aspect that seems out of tune with the feel of the place in general is the large TV broadcasting sport events.
The selection is predictably long and it focuses on tandoori, signature dishes and the classics that always do well with British palates. The quality is pretty good, and there's good distinction between dishes, so there's none of the laziness that can befall places such as this, where dishes taste entirely generic and derivative of one bland base sauce.
Within the starters (£2.75-£5.75), the Royal Shuruwaat (£7 for two people) is a delicious, vegetarian selection of classics such as pakora, aloo chaat (potatoes and chick peas), onion bhajis and vegetable samosas. It's a good way of sampling a few dishes, and pretty inexpensive given the portion size.
The mains (£5.25-£10 with the odd dish going up to £13) offers similarly generous platefuls, and the Royal Classic Thali (£12.45) is another good way to try a few bits and bobs. The tandoori chicken falls off the bone beautifully, the lamb jalfrezi is full of spice and the chicken tikka masala good enough to keep the many whom love this particular dish pretty happy. The thali also feature Bombay aloo (perfectly fine), pilau rice, plain naan bread (good) and raita.
One thing to note is that vegetarians are definitely welcome here. The menu includes a fair few veggie options, including some that aren't often seen in curry houses, such as the sabzee haleem (£5.75), which sees fresh vegetable cooked with lentils in a fragrant sauce.
The drinks list is comparatively short in comparison to the food menu, but there's still plenty to satisfy most. There are a dozen wines described with informative notes on flavour and body, and they're pretty fairly priced at between £3.25-£3.75 per glass or £12.50-£18 per bottle. Beer comes in the form of - surprise! - bottles of Kingfisher and Cobra (£4.25), but that's obviously no bad thing - they are good. Lassi (£2.25) and mango juice (£2) are the most interesting soft drinks, a section that could perhaps do with a bit more choice. There are plenty of spirits, liqueurs and after dinner shots from which to choose, should your evening be taking that particular slant.
The Last Word
Royal India is a good curry house. The food is perfectly fine with prices that will keep most pockets pretty pleased, and although it's perhaps a little formal the restaurant itself looks a good deal better than most.