Inconspicuously tucked away opposite Sainsbury's in the Hub Maaya Indian Kitchen and Bar is a gem in the Milton Keynes restaurant scene.
Too often you come away from a restaurant and the experience is instantly forgettable, the atmosphere isn’t great or the food not up to scratch.
But not at Maaya. The first thing that struck me was just how busy Maaya was. This was a cold, rainy Thursday night and the restaurant was packed. That always bodes well and as it turns out it was with good reason. As a result the restaurant was abuzz and the atmosphere excellent.
If you haven't eaten at Maaya you will undoubtedly have heard about it.
I've nothing against restaurant chains per se but there are so many examples where standards are inconsistent, particularly amongst the larger operations. It is the independent restaurants where you often find the best dining experience, though. And Maaya ticks that box being the Hub's first and only independent Indian restaurant.
Maaya is a multi award-winning venue and this is proudly trumpeted on the walls of the restaurant, the decor of which is unmistakably and authentically Indian with a contemporary twist.
And why not after being named the best Indian restaurant in the entire South East in the latest prestigious English Curry Awards. Some accolade.
It comes after Maaya also won the LUX Best Indian Restaurant in Milton Keynes Award in 2018 as well as the highly acclaimed ‘Shortlisted’ award at the British Curry Awards in 2017.
Well I can tell you it is worthy of the recognition.
With attentive but not overly intrusive service and staff who clearly do their homework on the menus and their offering you can’t help but be impressed. That is testament to manager and owner Mo Abdul, who has just announced ambitious plans to move to the former Gourmet Burger Kitchen unit on the central square of The Hub, offering a bigger and more prominent location for his popular restaurant bar.
But we weren't here to look at the awards or the interior design. We were here to eat and eat we did. A group of friends - we call ourselves the Curry Avengers (because we're sad like that) - who have eaten at some of the best curry houses in Bucks and beyond assembled to see what all the fuss was about.
The menu is vast and varied. According to Maaya each dish has been carefully created from generations of traditional family cooking and travel across the bustling street bazaars of India.
As part of the 'Street Snacks' menu you won't go far wrong with the Spicy Chilli Chicken. And the Punjabi Samosas were rather eloquently described as 'banging' by our very own Ian Wallace making his namesake, Masterchef's Greg Wallace, look like a certified poet.
If you like seafood as part of your Indian the Konkan Kegda is a solid choice. Soft shell crabs dipped in a ajwain and kashmiri chilli batter with devonshire crab, peas and potatoe cake. This was actually inspired by the winning fish course on BBC's Great British Menu so well worth a try.
If lamb is your bag don't look much further than the Kosha Mangsho for your main dish. Slow cooked lamb in its own juices with aromatic hot spices and caramelised onion and ginger tastes every bit as good as it sounds. Be warned though this one is pretty hot.
The jewel in the crown on the Maaya menu, though, has to be the Banquet which serves a minimum of two - although it was more than plenty for three of our group.
You will be presented with 11 (yes ELEVEN) individual dishes and it all costs just £19.95. It is the standout offering with all the items presented across the table, so that all guests are able to share and taste each and every dish. And it gets even better still as you can eat as much you like and Maaya will happily refill the main course.
Starting with poppadoms and delicious condiments you then get Onion Garam Pakora, Vegetable Samosas, Murgh Malai (chicken) Tikka and the Tulsi Sheekh lamb kebabs for starters.
Then comes the main course of Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Rogan Josh, Garlic Chilli Chicken and Bombay Potatoes Potatoes with a Mushroom and Vegetable Jalfrezi, Basmati pulao rice and assorted bread basket to boot.
It is staggeringly good and even better value given the quality of the cuisine.
There is a wide selection of drinks to wash it all down from signature cocktails to hand-picked wines and Cobra beer. Our group stuck to the King Cobras - and a couple of Cobra Zeros - but the less said about the non-alcoholic version the better. You are better off getting a taxi and getting on the real stuff to round off a perfect evening. Because that's what Maaya is, pretty much as close to the perfect Indian as you will find, as the awards testify.
If the Hub is the heart of the MK restaurant scene, Maaya is the soul.
Reviewed: March 2019
Website: Maaya Kitchen and Bar Milton Keynes