The best thing about being a “nobody”, is that you can visit restaurants, take photos, analyse their ins and outs, and nobody else will bat an eyelid. Anonymity is, without a doubt, a food blogger’s greatest asset, as it paves the way for impartial reviews of a dining experience that is reflective of what any other patron would encounter. (It also makes me feel like an undercover spy on surveillance, even though I’m about as suave as a baked potato). So, when I received an invitation from one of the managers of Maida – a family-orientated Indian and Indochinese restaurant in Bethnal Green, I was apprehensive to accept. Would an overt visit be reflective of day-to-day standards? Would extra care be taken to perfect my food? Would I be able to remain impartial in my review? And above all, was I ready for my too-ugly-for-the-radio face to be associated with my untainted blog? The uncertainty behind these questions plagued my mind, and after going back and forth for a number of weeks, I decided to accept. It would be an interesting experience after all, and a rigorous test for both myself, and my objectivity. All the food here is halal and HMC-approved.
I visited Maida on a Saturday evening with Agent 47 and Casper – two of my dental school padawans – and promptly began proceedings with a murgh malai tikka. As I tucked in, I found the chicken pieces to be of an average quality, and all were cooked very inconsistently. Most pieces were moist and tender, with a subtle, alluring shade of pink, but a couple were grossly undercooked, and possessed a stiff and choppy texture. Those that had been cooked adequately didn’t fare much better, as they were surprisingly bland, and offered no hint of the garlic, ginger, coriander and cream marinade that had been promised. What’s more, the chicken was riddled with a strong, smokey essence, but with no flavours to support this essence, it turned into nothing more than a charred, metallic tone. Needless to say, it was an awful, and unfortunate start – like accidentally sneezing into someone’s face on the very first handshake.
Murgh malai tikka
For my main course, I had my eyes on the lamb raan, and delicate negotiations had to be made with the waiter to substitute the accompanying rice with garlic naan, (a combination which makes far more sense in my opinion). This “daily special” takes inspiration from the signature dish at Dishoom’s Shoreditch branch, and is braised overnight in a concoction of spices, garlic, chilli, and ginger, before being flame-grilled and dressed in lime. Unlike the disastrous murgh malai that preceded it, the lamb raan carried a strong set of background flavours and a strong hint of lime, all of which seeped into the tastebuds. Moreover, the lamb was extremely soft, easily compressed, and thankfully, was not overly dry. The accompanying coleslaw meanwhile, was surprisingly sharp and strong, and with its creamy and crunchy textures, it contrasted incredibly well with both the delicate shreds of lamb, and the soft, but firm pieces of garlic naan. All that was really needed from the coleslaw – was more of it, to see through the giant pile of lamb to the very end.
Casper meanwhile, had ordered a portion of crispy chicken tai pai and chilli prawns from the indochinese menu, and kindly offered some to me. Presumably because the thought of me leaving hungry struck fear into his heart. The chicken tai pei consisted of soft and tender chicken, encased within a crispy, subtly-sweet fried coating, whilst the chilli prawns were large, soft, and tender. Ultimately however, both items lacked a substantial amount of flavour. As I had expected, it would seem that the Indochinese section of the menu is a beta player in Maida’s armamentarium, acting simply as an underachieving space filler – like a second child or a younger sibling.
Chicken tai pai
Full and satisfied with what felt like an entire lamb inside my stomach, (sorry Mary), I suggested that we share a brownie sizzler for dessert. This consisted of a chocolate brownie that was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a handful of peanuts, and came bathed in a hot chocolate sauce that bubbled and frothed on its sizzling hot plate. The brownie was thick and dense, but slightly stodgy in texture, and was of an average quality – as was the ice cream, which was fairly crystalline when the dessert first arrived. Luckily, the hot, chocolate sauce soon softened up the brownie and thawed out the ice cream, and all three main components worked well together. Surprisingly, the peanuts were the highlight of the dessert, as they provided a pleasant, crunchy contrast in and amongst the other mushy components. Overall, it was a fairly satisfying meal that was well-founded in its theory, but needed much more refinement in its execution.
Value For Money: 3/5
The murgh malai came in at £5.50, whilst the lamb raan cost £18, and the brownie sizzler cost £6.70. Casper’s chicken tai pai meanwhile, cost £8.50, whilst the chilli prawns cost £11.50. Our total bill (for three people), amounted to £63.90, and of that, my meal amounted to £25.60. Zain, (the weekend manager and heir to the Maida throne), kindly applied a small discount, and the bill subsequently came to £54.31 and my final expenditure was £22.60.
With regards to the menu as a whole – maida’s special dishes range from £8.50 (for the pulled raan burger), to £79 (for a pre-ordered whole leg of lamb), whilst starters range from £5-£11 and mains cost between £6.50-£11. Sides meanwhile, range from £1.50-£4, drinks from £2-£4, and desserts cost between £3.50-£6.70. Generally, the pricing at Maida seems to be a little inconsistent. The quality of the food ranges from good to average, and whilst items from the indian menu and the dessert menu seem to be reasonably-priced, the indochinese portion of the menu is a little inflated in terms of its financial demands. The chicken tai pei and prawn chillis for example, were neither exceptional in quality or character, nor plentiful in their quantities, and failed to justify their price tags.
Given the overt nature of this visit, I had initially planned to omit this section of the review. However, on the day of our visit, we arrived well before Zain did, and were served by other members of staff who had no idea that my cyber-brain was analysing their every move. What’s more, after Zain arrived, he promptly got to work with other customers after just a brief conversation, and so, I’m confident that the service we received was no more special than that experienced by other patrons, (aside from the discounted bill). Generally, service at Maida is efficient and attentive, but lacks a personal touch, (which is often the case at most Indian restaurants in the East End). What’s more, our initial waiter seemed a little rushed and impatient in his mannerisms, which didn’t really make sense, given that the restaurant was fairly empty at the time. It’s clear then, that you can expect to be served – and served well – at Maida, but don’t expect to make any new friends. (Then again, if you’re looking to make friends in Bethnal Green, you’re probably looking in the wrong place anyway).
Maida is a medium-sized restaurant with a simple, but functional decor. Dark, wooden tables and chairs are the sole occupants of the main dining area, alongside a couple of decorative pieces that lie scattered around. There are also a few private dining areas hidden away towards the back of the restaurant. The layout is not overly spacious, and the decor is not spectacular or dazzling by any means, but the restaurant remains well suited to the setting of a family meal. Maida can be found a lengthy 15 minute walk away from Bethnal Green station, and parking spaces are relatively easy to find on nearby residential roads.
The environment within Maida is both comfortable and casual, but can also feel a little frantic once the number of patrons picks up. Either way, there isn’t anything particularly magnificent or unique about the ambience.
Whenever a restaurant tries to juggle between two different cuisines, the inevitable outcome is that one will be superior to the other, and in Maida’s case, their Indian identity seems to hold more weight than their Indochinese. Over the years, Maida have made a name for themselves amongst the South-Asian community, and enjoyed much popularity and success in the East End. They have taken steps to modernise their branding and their set-up, and their culinary theory is certainly sound, but they fail to invest enough focus and refinement into the execution of their food. Good execution is what distinguishes an exceptional restaurant from a good restaurant, and a good restaurant from an average restaurant, and as it stands, Maida sits well within the average mark. In a city where Indian restaurants are as plentiful as pigeons, Maida does well to fit in amongst the crowd, but not nearly enough to get ahead of it. Are they worth paying a visit? Perhaps. But no more so than any other Indian restaurant in London.
Disclaimer: I was invited to review this restaurant.
Address: 148-150 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 6DG
Telephone: 0207 739 2645