LaLa’s Indian restaurant in Wakefield, one of six under the stewardship of young entrepreneur Mohamed ‘Junior’ Rashid, has recently moved to sumptuous new premises on Westgate, right next to the city’s historic theatre.
After seven years they had outgrown their former restaurant on George Street and when the chance came to buy a former bar which had definitely seen better days the decision was taken to up sticks and move across town.
I’ve eaten at LaLa’s on and off during the past seven years with mixed reaction. To paraphrase the nursery rhyme, when it was good it was very, very good, when it was bad it was, well... not as good as it should have been.
I’ve had some fantastic meals but the last few times I dined there I was not overly impressed. Why? The meat was cut into such small pieces you had to fish about in the sauce to locate it, and when you did it was tough.
And so, it was with high hopes of definite signs of improvement that I visited the all-new LaLa’s a couple of weeks after it opened.
It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into designing the interior and that someone with a keen eye for detail has had a hand in it.
There’s lots of marble, velvet and brocade; massive statues, candles and wall paintings are dotted around and there’s an impressive chandelier in the foyer that must have cost a king’s ransom.
A quirky touch is the oversized king and queen chairs in the bar area; as they were the only seats available while we waiting for our table to be ready we sat down in them, somewhat self-consciously, I might add.
There are tables at two levels, ours was on the mezzanine floor.
One of the chefs who works here is called ‘Junior’ and is an experienced chef, having travelled throughout India, picking up recipes along his travels, in particular from the mountainous Kashmir region to the north of the country. Many of the recipes on the menu are his own creation.
As we passed the kitchen on our way to the stairs, I noticed Junior was doing the cooking, something which gave me confidence the quality of food we were about to eat would return to the standards of old.
Shown to our table and with drinks orders taken, we accepted the offer of a pickle tray accompanied by a couple of poppadoms each.
Something to munch on while the starters arrive and very pleasant they were too with a nice mix of sweet and sour pickles to get the juices flowing.
Starters cost from a mere £2.75 but I always find it’s a good idea, when reviewing an Indian restaurant, to opt for a mixed starter - that way you get a good selection of tastes and textures and an overview of what is on offer.
LaLa’s mixed starter for two is £11.95 and consists of a few pieces of chicken tikka, lamb chops, chicken wings, a seekh kebab and masala fish served on a sizzling platter of onions.
The pieces of skewered chicken were tender and of a decent size, but there wasn’t a lot of meat on the wings or chops.
I found the seekh kebab was too sweet for my tastes, my companion however loved it, and we were both in agreement that the masala fish was the highlight of the dish - crisp breadcrumbs and tender white well-formed fish.
Starter dispatched we made ready for the main courses. I’d ordered a karahi bhindi gosht (£8.25), my companion a meat paneer (£8.45).
Both were great value for money and this time there were no complaints about the quality and quantity of the meat with the cheese in the paneer well formed and the bhindi just the right side of al-dente with a nice texture and taste.
Our garlic naan came festooned on one of the metal stands so hated by chef Gordon Ramsay (in one episode of his Kitchen Nightmares series he famously gathered up all the stands from an Indian restaurant in Nottingham and sold them for scrap).
While I don’t have the same antipathy towards oversized naans as Mr Ramsay, I nonetheless prefer them to be of a more manageable size. We also ordered a portion of rice, which turned out to be light and fluffy.
Whether it was an oversight or just that we didn’t make the necessary overtures, we weren’t offered a dessert menu which was fine, as the food we had already eaten was more than enough.
Even when I wasn’t too enamoured with the food at the old restaurant I never had any complaints about the service.
Then, as now, the staff are delightful, offering customers just the right amount of attention without being overbearing and obsequious.
They are smartly turned out and polite and a real credit to the place. Tables are cleared quickly and once called for the bill arrives promptly.
There’s a good selection of wines from £3 a glass (£11.95 a bottle) and a decent collection of bottled beers, lagers and cider but it’s a shame that LaLa’s hasn’t opted to install draught beers (or craft beers, which are all the rage these days and go well with Indian cuisine) in his new restaurant, which would have been a welcome step. Still, there’s time...
Our meal, including a round of drinks (bottle of Cobra £4.20, bottle of Becks £3), came to a pleasing £44.20, which I was more than happy with.
LaLa’s has resisted the temptation to increase prices - despite the obviously large amount of money invested in the new restaurant, which is commendable. It deserves to do well and we’ll certainly be going back.
Address: 86 Westgate, Wakefield WF1 1XQ
Tel: 01924 377550
Opening times: Sunday-Thursday 5pm–11.30pm, Friday & Saturday 5pm-12.30am