Max hasn’t been back to his home town of Surbiton in over 25 years. He’s been living in France all this time and had come back to visit Surbiton and see what has changed since he’s been gone. He told me about the Lamb Inn where he used to drink and watch football games with friends, and then he pointed to a place on the other side of Brighton Road.
“See that place over there? They have the best curry in all London.”
That’s quite a bold statement to make, especially after having been gone from the area so long, so of course I had to put his statement to the test.
The Red Rose of Surbiton was a new restaurant when Max last lived here, it opened in 1985, and much has changed about both the town of Surbiton and how and what people eat. To still be in business after 28 years, even with the posh Joy Indian restaurant located almost directly across the street, means they must be doing something right at the Red Rose, but what?
What they do right starts with the menu. There is an enormous variety of Indian cuisine available here; everyone can find something they’ll like here, whether you prefer spicy, sweet, tangy or bland food. Most items on the menu are described well enough that someone who has no experience with Indian food can choose the correct meal for themselves. The Lamb Pathia is described as “A rich and thick tomato sauce, fairly hot with a sweet and sour finish.” As you read the menu, items are described as “fairly hot”, “hot”, “very hot”, “slightly hot”, “sweet” and “mild”, making it easier to choose the correct level of spice to suit your taste buds. I settled on the Mughlai Chicken, definitely categorized as “sweet”, described as “diced chicken cooked with egg and fresh cream with nuts.”
I’d never heard of Mughlai Checken before so I knew I was taking a chance on it, but the dish arrived exactly as the menu had described it. The approximately 8-ounce portion was suitable for the £5.75 price. It was served hot at a decent temperature, but the metal dish it was served in cooled and within 15 minutes, my main dish food could have used a warm-up.
I chose egg fried rice and paratha as my side dishes and was not disappointed. The egg fried rice also cooled off quickly, served in the same metal dish, but was otherwise great, not over- or undercooked and rich with mild spices and eggs. The paratha was served whole, but because it was just me eating, my waiter offered to take it back and have it sliced without me having to ask.
The wait staff overall were quite pleasant. It was a slow time at the Red Rose and many of the staff said hello to me as they walked by even though they were not serving me. The waiters who did serve me, there were several, were attentive and were somewhat helpful in helping me choose what to order. They seem to know the menu very well but could not add any further description than what was already listed on the menu. I did not order from the wine list, but noticed it was quite extensive.
The décor of the restaurant is very minimalist, a few plants in select places and pale beige walls that require little artificial lighting. Mirrors on the walls allow you to see the whole restaurant wherever you’re sitting, but they’re not distracting. You’ll feel comfortable going here on a date if you intend to impress your date with your frugality and simple taste.
So what has kept the Red Rose of Surbiton in business so long? A menu of such wide variety that any individual taste can be satisfied here with descriptions that make it nearly impossible to order something you won’t like. The restaurant has a takeaway menu that is just as descriptive and offers home delivery.
But is it the “best curry in all London” as Max had described it to me? Maybe. I would need to visit the restaurant a few more times to really get a feel for what all it has to offer before I could verify such a statement. The few flaws the Red Rose has are certainly not significant enough to knock it out of the running for that title and the things it does well are significant enough to make it worth your time to visit and test for yourself and to justify over 25 years in business.