As the weather turns, MAXINE GORDON goes in search of a warming supper at one of York's best-known Indian restaurants

IT was a rainy, cold Sunday night and we were in need of a hot and tasty dinner.

Circumstances aligned to bring us (almost) to the door of Lal Quila, the long-established Indian restaurant in Bishopthorpe Road.

We'd planned to go to another restaurant, but when we turned up in our car, it was closed. Hungry and mindful of the monsoon-like downpour I needed to think quickly. We wanted a curry. We needed to be able to park. For review purposes, it had to be a restaurant we hadn't visited in recent years.

And so it was that within five minutes we were driving around the shoppers car park in Bishopthorpe Road – luckily managing to find the last-but-one spot.

Brollies in hand, it was a quick dash to Lal Quila, situated bang in the middle of a parade of shops which boasts several other eateries, although only the Thai, Rice Style, was open.

Bishopthorpe Road is celebrated for its vibrancy and as a go-to eating-out spot. That's during the day. Come night, most of the cafes, delis and shops are closed, making it a different prospect altogether and not nearly as inviting (except for Angel on the Green which stands out like a lighthouse in a storm).

On entering Lal Quila and shaking off the raindrops like a soaked dog, we were greeted by friendly staff who offered us a choice of tables and were swift in bringing us menus and drinks – Cobra beer for me and my husband and a diet coke for our teen daughter.

Despite Lal Quila being a stalwart on York's dining scene, it was my first visit.

It is split over two dining rooms, probably because it had been two shops originally. The interior is very bright and white, the stark lighting and white tablecloths combining to give it an unfortunate institutional air.

The menu had plenty of choice, including a decent selection for vegetarians.

We agreed to a round of Poppadoms with pickles, relish and chutneys – it seemed rude not to, and I can never resist those moreish intros to an Indian feast.

As we munched and crunched our way through the pre-starter, we played pass the parcel with our choice of dishes. Reviewing rules mean we all have to order something different – and negotiations worthy of a Brexit deal were entered into before we settled on our final choices.

Both my husband and I wanted the Shahi Shashlik chicken bhuna – billed as tender pieces of chicken tikka cooked in the clay oven with tomato, peppers and onions. Nick won out because I spied a chef's special curry which looked a good deal: a choice of meat or prawn curry with rice and chapati for £10.50.

Our vegetarian daughter settled on the vegetable masala, with plain boiled rice.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves: we chose a fish pakora and aloo chaat as sharing starters. Ordinarily, I would be hard pressed to say which of these two is my most-loved Indian starter. I always have the former when I visit my favourite Indian restaurant in my home town without disappointment, while aloo chaat – a spicy serving of potatoes, often with a pancake and chutneys – was one of the tastiest dishes on the menu at the now closed Cat's Pyjamas.

Unfortunately, Lal Quila's offerings didn't quite match up. The aloo chaat was tasty enough, but didn't come close to knocking the Cat's PJ's dish off its perch. As for the fish pakora, they resembled fish goujons, but with a thin and slimy filling.

Happily our main dishes made up for the low-key beginning.

The fought-after bhuna turned out to be worth battling for. The sauce was dark and rich and brimming with oversized pieces of oven-charred onion, red pepper and tomato. The chicken tikka was rather thinly sliced, but pleasingly tender and full of smoky and spicy flavours. All too often, chicken curries can be tough – this was anything but.

The masala was bright orange-yellow with generous amounts of mixed vegetables including cauliflower, potato and carrot as well as chickpeas. My daughter found it a bit sweet and said she would order something spicier next time. She had also ordered the sweetest of naan breads – the peshwari (traditionally stuffed with coconut, almonds and fruit), so was definitely passing on dessert.

My meal arrived on its own silver platter, with a separate pot for the curry and a mound of plain-boiled fluffy rice on the side, next to a helping of salad and a folded chapati. The curry was dull brown in colour and full of small coldwater prawns. Although not hugely appetising at first sight, it was surprisingly good, and spicier than I would normally have chosen. But it was a cold night, and I welcomed the heat which spread through my body like Ready Brek. I really liked the curry sauce, which was thick with slow-cooked onion and generously spiced. The rice was perfectly cooked, as was the chapati. I cleared the platter, save for the salad (who wants salad with curry – I just don't get it?).

Service was friendly and hard to fault. There were not that many diners, but Lal Quila appeared to be doing a good trade in take-aways.

Our bill for the night was £55.95, which we thought was fair enough value.

Lal Quila, 17 Bishopthorpe Road, York


T: 01904 670684

Food: Decent 3/5

Service: Good 3.5/5

Ambience: Too bright 2/5

Value: OK 3.5/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press