A few pints down on Lark lane on a Friday night, an empty belly – a curry is the only sensible course of action. But where? Not Red Fort after our vow to go on ‘a break’. We’ve been casually seeing other curry houses ever since.
Realistically there’s only one eat-in restaurant within walking distance – and it’s open at 11.30pm halfway down Aigburth Road; the Light of Bengal, one of those classically gaudy effort with pictures of tigers on the wall and something a little bit faded about it all.
The menu is vast and has every staple going. You may as well forego the menu and ask for a dish at random – they will probably have anything you can think of within the menu that nears 200 items.
A poppadom is first up, free of charge with a fearsome collection of dips that put other curry houses to shame. There’s some yoghurty stuff, some fiery chilli sauce, mango chutney (everyone’s favourite surely?) and some of that soft, sweet almondy stuff – plus two raw onion efforts. Six chutneys! They do not appear on the menu.
Our partner goes for onion bhaji to start and finds them crisp and dry. We forego a starter, choosing a side of sag paneer instead.
Our friend, as ever, goes for a vegetarian vindaloo. This example is seriously hot if that’s your thing but has a selection of lesser-spotted veg in it, including some okra.
Are there any cuisines as appealing to vegetarians as Indian? The Light of Bengal has no less than around 30 veggie dishes on the menu – a reflection of the fact that that meat is not as readily available on the Asian subcontinent as it is in Liverpool suburbia.
But meat-eaters are well-catered for. To prove the point there is Akbori Masala, a mild dish with a rich mince-based gravy. And a vast amount of grilled chicken with some crunch on the outside but tender inside. In fact, a lot of chicken. Too much with the mushroom pilau and sweet, light peshwari naan.
There’s also a boiled egg incongruously balanced on top. It seems as out of place as Herbert Howe in a mayoral election, but the meaty sauce tastes pleasantly rich and fatty (see if you can concoct a simile in the same vein around that phrase).
The one disappointment is the sag paneer. The cheese hasn’t been fried or grilled so there’s no bite to the texture. But the rest is good, so good that the stuff we can’t manage goes into a doggy bag and makes for a filling meal the next day (though the collision of boiled egg, sag paneer, veg vindaloo and mushroom rice is a challenging one).
We’ve never had a bad meal in the Light of Bengal – and we’ve never heard of anyone else who has. There are a few specialties, but the Goan Green Chicken is excellent. Beyond that there are your usual Indian restaurant dishes; nothing particularly eye-opening.
But it’s always good, it’s all cheap (only king prawn dishes go for over a tenner) and the service is brisk and polite. If it were on (the startlingly overrated) Brick Lane people would rave about it. What’s more it’s one of the few curry houses to stay open in South Liverpool until midnight, making it an important stop after a few beers.
The Light of Bengal is our new local. And, without fuss, it’s one of the best Indian restaurants in the city.
Light of Bengal