Imperial Lounge 4.4/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
VENUE & ATMOSPHERE: 4.3/5
NOTE: ALL MEAT IS HALAL. ALCOHOL IS SERVED ON THE PREMISES.
It was the last weekend before we embarked on the amazing spiritual journey of Hajj. Soon we would be in 47 degree Saudi heat, bowing our heads in submission along with 3 million other people at God’s house, SubhanAllah. I can’t wait. On the other hand, it was time to get in those final food cravings before waving goodbye to the UK for 3 weeks, as I really had no idea what to expect food wise when we got to Saudi!
I was doing my rounds, visiting my friends and family, where I sought forgiveness for all I had done to wrong them throughout my life. Given our shared love for Indo-Chinese food, when I visited one of my besties Pakora, I thought it most appropriate to seek forgiveness over a plate of chili paneer.
We decided to ‘treat ourselves’, and so we found ourselves on this Friday evening in one of our favourite restaurants, Imperial Lounge, which is just a stone’s throw away from my parent’s house in Croydon. Indo-Chinese eateries seem to be somewhat of a growing fad in South London, with the likes of Crown and Pepper, and Spice and Ice. Imperial Lounge is relatively new on the scene in comparison, opening just a couple of years ago, but it has already proven popular among the local Asian community.
Pakora and I had both visited several times before, and both agreed that the starters were way more satisfying than the mains. We were both verging on hangry, so dived straight into ordering!
‘Play it safe’ Pakora ordered her Virgin Mojito whereas I opted for the Virgin Fresh Berries Mojito with raspberries, blackberries, mint and lime.
We ordered an array of starters from both the Indian and Chinese sections of the menu: pepper chili paneer, crispy salt and pepper okra, shredded chili lamb, crispy pepper garlic prawns, papdi chaat and barra lamb chops (phew). After reading out our mammoth starters order, the gobsmacked waitress asked if we would also like to order our mains, and had a look of relief when we politely declined.
Within a few minutes, our drinks and food arrived in short succession. My berry mojito was pleasantly refreshing with a sour kick. But it was the food I was patiently waiting for, and I was drooling already! The salt and pepper okra when you visit Imperial Lounge is a must, and I can’t ever visit without ordering it. It’s crispy and tasty, with the added touch of sauteed garlic, pepper and red chilies for flavour. Likewise, if you fancy a break from all the meat dishes, the chili paneer is never a disappointment, and at Imperial, comes with a subtle peppery twist.
I was new to the crispy pepper garlic prawns and the shredded chili lamb. I must admit, for the price (£11.25), I wasn’t overly blown away by the prawn starter. Although the prawns were juicy and were coated in a garlic and pepper batter (similar to the Okra), the batter lacked taste and the flavour didn’t work overly well with the prawns. The Oriental shredded chili lamb on the other hand, blew me away! The lamb was cut into thin strips which were shockingly tender, and these meaty slices were stir fired with shallots and green chilies. The portion was generous, and the lamb was smothered in a flavoursome, black, peppery, Indo-Chinese sauce. It was the first time I ordered this dish (Pakora’s recommendation), and I was so impressed that I can’t wait to indulge in this again next time.
Now onto the 2 remaining Indian starters. The papdi chaat was presented beautifully, with the chickpeas topped in yoghurt and chutneys, encased in a crispy wheat shell and topped in pomegranate. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of crunch considering that this was a papdi chaat, and despite the presence of chutneys I felt the overall taste was lacking, which would have been accentuated with a drizzle of tamarind sauce.
Saving the best until last, the lamb chops stole the show for me. Although you only get 2 chops in a portion for a whopping £8.95, these were not normal lamb chops. No. These were New Zealand prime lamb chops, marinated overnight with raw papaya, ginger, garlic and a combination of the chefs special spices. The chops were beautifully meaty. I can’t even describe how tender the meat was, other than by saying that each bite melted in my mouth and the meat just fell right off the bone. The combination of masala and spice was perfectly pleasing to the palette. I had certainly saved the best until last!
The bill came to around £65 for a total of 6 starters and 2 mocktails. Not terrible considering the quality of food, service, presentation, and classy vibe of the restaurant. Imperial Lounge can be a little hard on the pocket, especially if you indulge in the mains too. For this reason, I usually reserve Imperial Lounge for special occasions, however when I do visit, I always leave feeling like it was truly worth every penny, and consequently I would never say no to a meal here. I should probably also mention that the menu is vast and the vegetarian dishes are just as tasty as the non-vegetarian meals …so there’s a lot for me to get through in the future. I can’t wait to visit again and sample more of what Imperial Lounge has to offer (strictly for review purposes of course!).