"Whilst there are many far superior curry houses in Manchester, bizaarely Rusholme has the biggest reputation thanks largely to the huge concentration of restaurants in such a small area. Sadly, most of these are little more than glorified fast food joints in need of a paint job, the money for which has been spent on the bright neon lights outside instead, or in a few small cases, the fines imposed by Environmental Health. Aimed solely at bargain hunters, students and drunken late night revellers, they do battle with offers of free drinks and poppadums, normally of which somehow find themselves back on the final bill, with diners so drunk they don't notice.
Of course, there are exceptions, I was once told, you could tell the better restaurants on the Curry Mile by the fact their neon lights were less garish and their opening hours more restricted, the superior Spicy Mint being a case in point. This rule certainly applies to Lal Qila, without doubt the brightest, busiest and closest to 24 hour dining you'll find in Rusholme. The late night opening times have meant that we've sat alongside drunken students and loud post-clubbers many times over the past 15 years or so, and nearly always enjoyed the same experience. Although 'enjoy' should probably read 'endure'.
The staff are obviously used to dealing with a clientelle that is made up largely of drunken jovial parties on their way back from a night out in town. Regardless of any religion's attitude to alcohol, this has obviously had a knock on effect with the level of service you can expect to receive. From the moment you walk through the door, you are almost instantly treated like you are also too worse for wear, regardless of whether or not you've been drinking or not. I once visited Lal Qila at tea time with a party of Muslim friends and also received the abrupt short-shrift, happy-for-your-money-but-not-your-custom approach to service. In a way, it's understandable and our last visit, at 2am on a busy Christmas Sunday, highlighted the drunken approach to Indian restaurant dining, with us being perhaps the only sober people in there. Unfortunately our soberity was still greeted with an aggressive approach, albeit for one excellent waiter who remained friendly and courteous despite all that was going on around him.
The presumably free popadoms were quick to arrive, somewhat greasy but accompanied by a good variety of sauces. The waiter virtually demanded our order despite one of our party being in the dreadfully unclean toilets. On her return he aggressively asked 'and for you, lady?' before she could even sit down and look at the menu.
The food, whilst reasonably priced, was also unimpressive, generous enough portions of bland dishes literally thrown onto the table, greasy in texture and nothing to write home about. The Lamb Pasanda were seriously unidentifyable from versions enjoyed elsewhere, both in colour and taste. And that may be the problem, a fact you could aim at most restaurants on the Curry Mile. The food is great if you're not a regular at more upmarket Indian restaurants, however if you've been to Akbars, EastZEast, Lights Of India, Shimla Pinks or many of the superb curry houses in the mill towns around Lancashire and Greater Manchester, you are unlikely to be a visitor to Rusholme - sober or before 11pm at least!
The waiters were so quick in removing the plates from the table, one of our party literally had to spoon the sauce from his plate with his greasy Naan bread whilst his plate was piled high in the waiter's arms above everybody else's unfinished plates. By this time, there were four waiters clearing up the table, one delivering the bill before we could even ask for it. And whilst the bill came complete with Vimto lollies (nice touch), it was hard to work out if we'd been overcharged or even made to pay for all the 'free' extras. Something gave us the impression we had been overcharged but that would be unfair to translate the waiter's unfriendly attitude as being dishonest. Then again, they had also incorrectly translated our late visit as being a drunken one. And maybe that's the problem with Rusholme, and especially Lal Qila with it's late opening times - they provide a quick no frills meal for a largely drunken crowd who show no respect to their hosts, whilst having to deal with this on a regular basis, the restaurant has learned to almost resent the custom. That said, despite all of this, you know we'll end up returning at some point. Rusholme, don't you just love it!" - Restaurants Of Manchester 29/12/08 (visited on a Sun, after 11pm)