For the last few years, one of mine and my hubby's favourite Indian restaurants to dine at in the North East has been Le Raaj in Chester Le Street; the curry is to die for.
When I heard that Le Raaj were opening a second restaurant in Sedgefield, I couldn't wait to go. As both of our schedules tend to be quite full on, we were unable to find an evening where we were both free to go and so we decided to book in for their Lunch Menu instead.
In all our years of visiting the Chester Le Street restaurant, we did not realise that they had a lunchtime service too. Now that this is available in both this restaurant and the new Le Raaj in Sedgefield, as well as the evening service, we feel spoilt for choice and for two people with conflicting schedules like we do, this option is ideal as it gives us the chance to have a date day if we can't quite manage a date night!
The Le Raaj restaurant in Sedgefield is very easy to find as its right next to a roundabout, just off from two main roads. This makes it so easy to access not only from nearby places such as Bishop Auckland, Wynyard, Wolviston and Billingham but from all over the North East too.
The restaurant looked so grand as we drove up to it. There's ample car parking which is shared with the hotel opposite, making it an ideal spot for dinner if you're ever staying at the Travelodge in Sedgefield.
Upon entering Le Raaj, theres a short corridor and another set of doors to walk through before you get into the actual restaurant which is warm, friendly and inviting.
This might seem like a strange thing to pick up on but I've sat in so many restaurants where the tables and chairs are right next to the entrance which means that you either have to put up with the commotion of people coming and going from the restaurant, cigarette smoke drifting in from outside or the cold air causing a terrible draft, that I have really started to appreciate the design and layout of a building!
The first thing that immediately sprang to mind when I first saw Le Raaj Sedgefield was, wow this place is stylish. The feel is very modern, contemporary and opulent. Yet it doesn't feel pretentious.
It is clear that A LOT of money has been spent on the refit of the building to turn it into Le Raaj and the attention to detail is absolutely superb; even the toilets are beautiful! A local company, TCL at Home, carried out all works on the building and it is clear to see how skilled they are; Le Raaj really chose the best of the best to create their restaurant.
Aesthetically, my favourite part of this restaurant is the way that it has been designed. With the use of partitions, the restaurant has been divided up to create different areas; on the right of the reception space, theres a waiting area with small tables and plenty of seats where customers can enjoy a drink before being seated. Theres also another dining room to the right of the reception area. On the left, theres a full bar, along with the toilets and the larger of the two dining areas. You'll find booth seats as well as tables large and small here, all set looking simplistic yet classy.
The great thing about there being two different dining areas is that if you have a large party, you could actually ask to be seated in a particular area and this would give you more of a private dining feel. I don't believe they charge extra for this either. Its a great idea, especially if you're coming with a large party to celebrate a birthday, family reunion or something similar.
We were seated to the far left of the restaurant by the polite and friendly waiter who had welcomed us to the restaurant. He gave us our menus and took our drinks order; a diet coke for me and a sparkling water for my guest, as you can probably guess, we're not very rock and roll these days. The drinks arrived in record time and the order was complete and correct; I had asked for mine without ice and its usually hit or miss as to whether the drink arrives as requested but at Le Raaj, it did!
The seats we were on were very comfortable and had a great view of the spacious restaurant and out of the huge windows behind and to the side which made the restaurant feel light and airy. My hubby and I loved the decor, especially the giant elephants, and both agreed that it felt very sophisticated and classy; definitely somewhere we would like to visit at night.
At lunchtime, Le Raaj Sedgefield offer their full a la carte menu as well as their four course lunch menu which is fantastic value at only £8.95 per person. This was the option that we went for as usually lunchtime or happy hour menus come with smaller portions and we thought that would be more than adequate for lunchtime.
The selection on the lunchtime menu was more than plentiful. We could pick from a selection of starters, a main course curry each (chicken or vegetable but you could pay £1 extra to change to a different meat), a basmati rice or nan bread each (plain, but they give you the option of upgrading to one of the other flavoured options for £1 extra) and a choice of ice cream or coffee to finish.
When dining from the lunchtime menu, customers do have the choice of adding anything else that they would like from the regular menu if they would like to. However we stuck to the lunch menu with one exception... papadoms and pickles!
Of course, no Indian meal is complete without papadoms so we added one each with a pickle tray to our order.
It arrived quickly and the papadoms tasted fresh and crispy and not greasy in the slightest. The pickle tray that accompanied them came with lime pickle, mango chutney, onion salad and raita. The mango chutney is always my favourite and this one was lovely; sweet with just the right amount of tangy flavour to it!
For our starters, we chose Sheek Kebab, which is lightly spiced minced meat in a sausage shape and the classic Onion Bhaji, which is a total classic; lightly spiced onion savoury balls that are deep friend in gram flour.
Both dishes came with a side salad and raita for pouring. As you can see, the presentation is impeccable. When food looks as good as this did, we could only hope that it would taste as great and it certainly did. The Sheek Kebab had a really delicate flavour while the Onion Bhaji was crispier than I have had in the past and definitely my favourite of the two.
Naturally, we decided to split them half and half so that we could enjoy both delicious tastes. We always do this when we're in a restaurant regardless of where it is, sharing is caring after all!
After we had finished, our table was promptly cleared and it wasn't long until the main event arrived...
When choosing which curries to go for, we really were spoilt for choice as all of the popular favourites are on the lunchtime menu, from pChicken Korma and Madras to Biryani and Rogan.
In the end we decided to go for one fail safe bet and one that we hadn't tried before.
Chicken Tikka Masala is always an easy option for either of us when we go to an Indian restaurant as we usually find that we always like it. However the dish that we had at Le Raaj was without a doubt, the best Chicken Tikka Masala I had ever tasted.
This dish is a special tikka chicken that is barbecued in tandoor and then cooked with fresh coconut and almond together with a mixture of medium spices. The result is a unique taste and a richly flavoured curry with flaked almonds on top for a crunchy texture. I loved how bold and sweet this curry tasted.
My hubby's favourite dish was the second main course that we picked; Chicken Bhuna which is a medium dry curry thats made from chicken with garlic, tomatoes, onion and freshly ground spices.
It was packed full of flavour and like the rest of the food that we enjoyed, it was fresh and delicious and not oily at all.
We definitely picked well as both were absolutely delicious.
The Nan Bread was light, fluffy and packed full of flavour; the keema meat inside was plentiful and had just the right amount of spice. The keema pilau was so tasty and miles better than the one that we had had the month before at another indian restaurant; we had a takeaway from Akbars in Newcastle for a friends birthday and the rice was that oily we couldn't eat it!
Again, we decided to share all of our main dishes between the two of us so that we could try everything. There was so much to go around and we just kept helping ourselves until we were full.
I was a little unsure as to how curry for lunch would work as I thought a meal like this would be far too heavy for lunchtime but I was wrong. The portions were just right and we both finished our meal feeling comfortably full.
After a little bit of a rest, we decided that we did have a little room left for dessert (I'm sure someone once told me that we all have a separate stomach for pudding...!).
I picked the ice cream while my hubby opted to go for the coffee as he had a long drive for work to look forward to. The coffee was strong and the ice cream sweet, just how we like it!
Over the time that we were in there, it became surprisingly busy for a lunch time which is a great sign given that the restaurant only opened in February this year. There was a man dining alone as he was staying at the Travelodge on business, a family of 8 celebrating a birthday, a young couple presumably on a day date like we were and then two other couples, one elderly and one more middle aged, all of which looked to be thoroughly enjoying their food. This just goes to show how Le Raaj is a place that everyone can enjoy.
I cannot speak more highly of this restaurant. The food is simply out of this world and it made a lovely change going out for lunch for a curry rather than keeping that for a date night. After our plates were cleared away, we left with full tummies and huge smiles after having such a lovely time.
You can find this Le Raaj restaurant just off the A689/A177 roundabout, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, TS21 2JX.
It is open Saturday to Thursday 11.30-1.30pm for lunch and every night from 6-11pm. Tables can be booked by calling 01740 623 030 and you can order take away for collection on that number too. You can visit their website and check out the menu here.
You can follow Le Raaj on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook where they regularly post photos of their delicious food, events and great moments at the restaurant, news and offers. They're currently holding a competition here where the lucky winner will receive a night out at Le Raaj!
Everything at Le Raaj was absolutely faultless from the location and decor to the service and food. We simply cannot wait to go back!