Offers eye-watering tandoor lamb chops
Traffic hurtles past the busy throughfare that is the Maidstone Road. If motorists knew that a culinary delight was located here, they might slow down. Maybe even take a pit stop and sample some of the glorious food on offer here.
The historic town of Rochester draws in many visitors from overseas, with a roaring tourist trade. Unlike many holiday hotspots, the cuisine of Rochester has not suffered. Usually, tourist fare is a quick, tasteless and bland affair. Nothing could be further from the truth about Shozna, a veteran of some eleven years in the county of Kent.
This Indian eaterie does not have an easy task. Their challenge is to appeal to loyal locals as well as the tourist trade, who are often just after a quick bite to eat before jetting off on trains, planes or automobiles.
Chef Jamal Uddin Ahmed and his brother pride themselves on pushing the boundaries of Indian cuisine. Sure, they cater to the chicken tikka masala crowd, but also to those with a discerning palate. As a seasoned eater in the best restaurants that the UK capital has to offer, I have to say that Shozna’s lamb chop, ample and tender, puts to shame some of the more famous London restaurants, with their steaming, eye-watering tandoor lamb chops, piled high on large metal salvers.
Here, the lamb shank chettinad was a generous portion of meat, and the animal it came from must have been born from a herd of giants. It sat plump and inviting, surrounded by a glistening sauce which hits you with a Marmite-like tang. The meat is tenderised to perfection by grating raw papaya skin, which is made into a paste and then added to the marinade.
The upstairs restaurant is for fine dining, booked by couples, family or friends wanting a special night out. Recently decorated, three sparkling, huge glass chandeliers glitter spectacularly from the ceiling, giving off a nightclub vibe enhanced by the subtle pink under lighting of the bar. The décor is lifted by the addition of well-chosen Indian antiques.
Mirrors with wooden frames which were once part of grand palaces and temples now grace the walls. Figures of female deities strike graceful dancing poses from niches set above well-upholstered banquettes and tables. Only the timber frames attached to the ceiling remind us that we are in an olde-worlde part of England, in the former King’s Arms pubs.
For me, the starters are the stars of the menu. The nimbuwali jhinga is not to be missed. The huge king prawns marinated in lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon grass, yoghurt, honey and garlic, brings out the marine taste of the seafood rather than overpowers it. Particularly pleasant were the shells, burnt black to give a charcoal crunch. A bite of mango offers a juicy palate cleanser.
Best presentation goes to the murgh tiranga, a triumphant trio of chicken tikka – two of breast meat – one of thigh. The latter was a meaty pleasure, with a powerful earthy flavour. A treat to the eye with its reddish-pink curls of onion adorning the chicken.
The coriander fish is a light, engaging dish, made with green chillies, garam masala, coconut milk – and no surprise here – coriander. Excellent accompaniments are phaldhari naan, packed with fruit and nut, so adding a crunchy sweet contrast to the tender fish. Specially created is the Shozna naan, a good choice for pizza lovers as it has a lavish layer of sun-dried tomato and basil. Many of the dishes are mild, so you won’t get a curry so hot it blows your head off, unless you specifically ask for it.
You can feel the passion, excitement and dedication that the brothers bring to the table. I would say it’s one of Kent’s best-kept dining secret, but it’s not. People come from miles away to eat here. If you want to sample these wonderful dishes, do book a table early.
153 Maidstone Road,
Rochester ME1 1RR,
Kent Tel: 01634 847847