Shropshire Star

Food review: I enjoyed a delicious meal at restaurant I hadn't intended to go to

I had no intention of visiting Raza’s Pizza and Curry House. Spring is here and I’d intended to eat seasonal stuff, like local asparagus, somewhere else.

Chicken curry with rice

And so I tried calling the restaurant in question, but couldn’t get through. So instead, I popped in and asked if they’d got a table for one.

The dining room had seated two guests and there were three front of house staff – I was pretty sure my luck would be in.

“We’ll just have a look,” said the youthful waiter, though having ‘looked’ at an empty dining room, I was pretty sure that unless they’d got a table of 50 due in the next 60 minutes, I’d be okay.

A waitress took over, beckoned me to the desk – as though I was checking into a hotel, rather than hoping to eat asparagus – and led me to the dining room.

“There’s a table there,” she said, pointing beyond the only other couple in the dining room, before turning on her heels and retreating to the desk where the machine featured a sea of empty tables.

First impressions count – and the one at the first restaurant could have been a lot better.

They brought a menu, but offered no drinks. And so I waited. Ten minutes passed. I counted them. And I started to feel a little uncomfortable.

Three staff were just around the corner, nattering, while a should-be-paying guest was treated to a lack of hospitality.

The youthful waiter appeared. He ferried fish and chips to the table next to me.

‘Great,’ I thought. ‘I’ll be able to get a drink and place an order.’ I didn’t. He walked off. Another five minutes passed. He reappeared. ‘Is everything okay with your fish and chips?’ He asked the neighbouring table.

And then he disappeared as the woman nearby told her husband how attentive the nice young chap was.

Except, of course, he wasn’t, and aAs the clock ticked down, I weighed up the options: leaving was the best.

So the walk-in became a walk-out. I’d sat unattended for 18 minutes, and, eating somewhere else, where the staff actually talk to their guests, seemed a more appealing proposition.

Raza’s, at Craven Arms, couldn’t have been more different.

A salt-of-the-earth restaurant with staff who were engaged, friendly, and infinitely more welcoming.

Raza’s covers both Indian and Bangladeshi food, as well as pizzas

And while the first place had two remaining guests when I left, Raza’s, on a wet Wednesday evening, had 17. Now, I wonder why that might be?

The décor was minimal. It looked like someone had climbed on a set of stair ladders and plastered floor tiles on the ceiling. There was little in the way of further ornamentation.

But there was something far more valuable than all of the whistles and bells that restaurateurs wrongly imagine are important – it was this: soul.

The two guys working the floor were genuinely engaged.

‘Was everything okay?’, ‘Would you like a chat about this?’, ‘Shall I get you a takeout box for that?’, ‘This tastes a bit hot and spicy’…

Eager to please – and able to do so – they provided a quality dining experience by doing the most important thing of all: just being nice.

Mind you, it wasn’t just the warmth and humanity that proved endearing.

The food was decent, too. I started with the obligatory poppadoms which were still warm, having just come from the fryer. They were served with three sides; a chilli sauce, mint sauce, and red onion dressing.

I started with poppadoms and dips

Oh, and to digress for a moment, could anyone tell me why they’re called red onions, when the onions in question are clearly purple?

Next up was a chicken chaat. The roti was still hot and soft, the chicken chaat was deliciously spiced, there was a smidgen of side salad and it made for happy eating.

Chicken chaat and roti

Throughout the dining room, couples, families, solo travellers, and other locals were relaxed and happy.

The atmosphere was conducive to good times and people letting their hair down.

My main course was a ginger chicken, which featured a generous portion of tenderly-cooked chicken in a rich, tomato-based curry sauce, with plenty of ginger alongside cooling strands of cucumber.

Ginger chicken with strands of cucumber

It was served with a side of pilau rice and when the waiter knocked a little on to the table, he was polite and apologetic as he rushed to make amends.

The rice spillage didn’t matter, of course, the signal he wanted to do well was far, far more important.

The restaurant owner hovered throughout the evening.

Talking to regulars, keeping an eye on the dining room, making sure the evening was running well and people were comfortable; he was on top of the brief throughout.

Raza’s doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Its staff don’t have ideas above their station, and care about the people who walk through the door.

Interesting decor at the restaurant

The food is decent – in a three-horse town, there’s a chip shop, a Chinese take-away, and then Raza’s, which covers both Indian and Bangladeshi food, as well as pizzas.

The food was delicious. Simple, delicious, appetising, and well-seasoned, it ticked all the boxes.

Most importantly of all, the guys running the joint made sure people felt included and welcome. And that’s why they score a nearly-top-four-and-a-half stars out of five, for doing the basic things well.