Sunday, 19 November 2017

A hidden gem in village setting

NESTLED in the tranquil surroundings of Sonning Common, the Tandoori Connoisseur is a popular and well-established restaurant, offering its diners

NESTLED in the tranquil surroundings of Sonning Common, the Tandoori Connoisseur is a popular and well-established restaurant, offering its diners a taste of authentic Indian cuisine.

My partner and I were greeted at the door by the warm and welcoming owner, Ahmed, who has run the restaurant for 10 years.

Whilst the outside of the restaurant may not look particularly lavish to drivers-by, the interior has a divine charm to it.

Immaculate and beautifully presented, details such as the intricate woodwork framing the bar add to the traditional ambience of the restaurant. With such an extensive selection on the menu, offering a mixture of classics and unique house dishes, there is plenty of choice for meat-eaters, seafood-lovers and vegetarians alike. Ahmed was more than happy to offer us some recommendations.

We began with poppadoms, which were accompanied by five fresh Indian condiments: mango chutney, pickled lime, mint chutney, a chopped onion salad as well as a tamarind sauce, which was a rather unique addition providing a deliciously sweet and sour taste.

We ordered two starters at Ahmed’s recommendation, both of which arrived in sizzling dishes.

The first, king prawn sabzi, was served with a selection of turmeric, onions, cabbage and coriander all tossed in a tamarind sauce. The prawns were very succulent and had a fantastic depth of flavour.

The second dish, the mixed kebab, included seekh kebab, chicken tikka and onion bhajia. I was left impressed with the light, crisp texture of the onion bhaji, as well as the softly spiced flavour of the meat.

During our short interlude between starters and mains, we were aware of many locals popping in. Being such a warm summer’s evening, and with curry probably not being the first thing one would fancy in the heat, the restaurant still flourished as regulars came to collect take-aways and converse with Ahmed.

For our mains, we were treated to three of the house specialities: garlic chicken, stuffed special chicken and a new, unique and previously unnamed dish, which Ahmed informs me is now called the “Tandoori Connoisseur’s Special Chilli”.

The restaurant, I am told, comes up with a new dish at least every two to three months to keep the menu vibrant and fresh for locals who visit on a regular basis, and have “already tried everything on the menu”.

Our mains were accompanied by pilau rice, garlic naan and sag ponir, a spinach and Indian cheese dish, all very visually appealing and flavoursome.

The garlic chicken was surprisingly hot, although the garlic flavour was not too overwhelming, which gave it a fresh taste. The stuffed special chicken was accompanied by onions, red and green peppers, mustard oil and chillies, allowing it to pack a small, subtle punch.

I would very highly recommend trying the restaurant’s new special dish, the Tandoori Connoisseur’s Special Chilli. The chicken, cooked in a thick, spicy sauce, is served with peppers, onions and chilli. The heat of the sauce is, however, in no way overpowering and has a slight tang to it, which is exotic and interesting.

Whilst there are a selection of ice-creams and sorbets for dessert, my partner and I settled for a cup of tea and refreshing peppermint chocolates to finish our meal.

Ahmed and his staff can be praised for their fantastic hospitality, flawless service and wonderful, friendly nature. The food was outstanding and the traditional and relaxing aura of the restaurant and its surroundings makes it an exquisite dining experience. A true hidden gem in the heart of Sonning Common.

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