“ Address: 2 Queen Street / Quayside / Newcastle upon Tyne / NE1 3UG „
I love old buildings and except for a few really brilliant modern landmarks designs have no interest in the newly built. I can appreciate, however, why many old buildings sit empty while soulless new developments spring up in and around our cities. The most important old buildings are often protected which means that the space can't be altered to make it more appropriate for the needs of today's businesses and refurbishment rules often means that new windows and the like are prohibitively expensive.
Newcastle's Rani Indian Restaurant strikes me as a business that's housed in such a building. Just off the city's famous quayside and situated directly under the Tyne Bridge, this handsome late nineteenth century building is certainly visually impressive but I can't help thinking that the problems that come with such a property may be responsible for a frequent turnover of businesses that have occupied it. In the last ten years or so this property has been home to a Thai restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and now Rani.
As handsome as the tall windows are, they no doubt cancel out the benefits of the heating. While we were in the restaurant I couldn't feel comfortable because it was just too chilly. Doors have been removed between the rooms to open the place up and make it feel more spacious but every time the front door opened there was another blast of arctic chill. Access is via a handful of steps on the corner of the building and there doesn't appear to be any wheelchair access. Even if there was, the tables are crammed in and there wouldn't be much room to manoeuvre.
We remembered just in time that we had a voucher to use at Rani and phoned to book; perhaps it was because we were making a booking for a Tuesday evening but Himself came off the'phone feeling that whoever he had spoken to was not really interested in the request. No name or number was requested and when the voucher offer was mentioned the response was a weary 'Yes, yes'. Fortunately there was a table for us when we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule, hoping to eat early and get back home to watch the football; naturally it wasn't a table with our name on it. There's a comfortable seating area just inside the doors but on this particularly cold evening I was more than happy to be shown straight to a table away from the entrance.
The offer we'd purchased entitled us to two starters, two mains and rice to share; as I didn't personally buy this voucher I don't know how much was paid for it but I have given the menu price of the items we ate as these time limited offers change frequently. A £1 surcharge for lamb or chicken tikka, king prawns and other seafood applied not only to our offer but to mains from the menu too.
There was a decent selection of starters but nothing really unusual except maybe mussels which appear only occasionally as a starter in Indian restaurants in this neck of the woods. The starters were just a little pricier than average for Newcastle restaurants of this standard with my choice Sheek Kebab Roll priced at £3.50 and my companion's Desi Tikka at £5.90. From the description of my starter choice I knew just what to expect: minced lamb that had been formed into a sausage shape and cooked on the skewer before being wrapped inside a rolled chapatti. The meat was super spicy but a little on the dry side and need copious amounts of mint sauce to make it more palatable. The 'Desi Tikka' on the other hand came with no description but my curry obsessed dining companion knew what to expect; however, I feel that this erratic approach to describing the dishes is worth pointing out. While some dishes were described in fine detail, others were described in such a way as to mean nothing to the average diner, or else to be such a minor variation as to be almost pointless: examples of this would be "Chana: bhuna dish cooked Apna style" and "Roshun: bhuna style plenty of garlic". Anyway, Himself really enjoyed the desi tikka which was as hot as promised and got him prepared for his next course. The chicken was thoroughly cooked but moist and flavoursome and it was notable in that those good flavours were not lost in the chilli heat of the sauce.
My main course was 'podina jhall' (£7.90) which was offered as a lamb or a chicken dish: I chose lamb. This was described as a hot dish in which the meat was marinated in chilli, mint and garlic and then cooked in home ground spices. It was initially the fresh mint that came through as the dominant flavour but the chilli soon took over and I felt that this was a dish that could have been more enjoyable with just a little less chilli because the other flavours were strong enough without it. As a result I picked out the pieces of lamb which were tender and not at all fatty and made a point of eating them before trying again with the sauce, mixing it with the pillau rice to try to make it not such an ordeal.
Himself chose the 'lanka masalla' (£7.90) which he had with lamb. This one was described as a hot dish with fried onions, chilli, garlic and fresh coriander. It was less hot than the podina jhall but still pretty lively. Fortunately Himself has a better heat tolerance than I do and he made light work of this dish before helping with mine. As with the podina jhall the meat fell apart easily but was still juicy. While this was a tasty dish Himself commented that there was nothing about it that was really distinctive and I wonder if that might be the case with several of the vaguely defined dishes on the menu. At £1.50 each the chapattis seemed overpriced and were a little cold and therefore dry when they arrived but the pilau rice was fine and served two people easily.
Overall we found the food to be good but not great. In terms of value it's mostly fair: the most expensive dishes on the menu are the seafood dishes from the Rani specials section, the most expensive of which come in at £12.90. Dishes such as bhunas and vindaloos from the Classic Curries section are priced at £6.90 or £7.90. All vegetable side dishes cost £3.90 but can be served as a main course for £5.90.
Rani offers an 'early bird special' (available between 5.30 - 8.00pm) for £12.95; this comprises a starter from a small selection, a choice from a fairly extensive list of main courses (chicken or lamb only however, or any vegetable dish), rice or nan bread and finally ice cream or coffee.
I wouldn't rush back to Rani (certainly not during cold weather); the food wasn't bad but it wasn't exciting or noteworthy. The service was rather detached and unfriendly with no attempt to engage with any customers that I noticed. Given the choice I'd splash out on a trip to Rasa, a southern Indian restaurant just round the corner but if you can't stretch to that Rani is just OK.
Rani Indian Restaurant, 2 Queen Street, Newcastle upon Tyne