DIL RAJ

MOHAMMED Rahman is on the blower pitching why I should visit his Dil Raj restaurant because everybody who's anybody eats there.

"Darren Gough signed his contract (as skipper of Yorkshire) and came right down here to celebrate. We've had Mick McCarthy and Arthur Scargill - he's a regular," he says.

Now this page is always open to suggestions and Mr Rahman is selling himself rather well so we'll put him down on the short list.

"When will you be coming?" he asks. Not telling. "Soon?" It depends. "Just one thing, don't come on Monday," he says as a parting shot.

A month later on a Friday we pull into the Dil Raj's ample car park at Dodworth, near Barnsley. It was obviously once a pub, the Horse and Jockey, and is part of a little thicket of eateries including Brooklands, with its famous Barnsley chop, Jade City and the Curry Mahal.

It's only just 8pm and already the place which seats 90 is almost full so we wait for a table.

We learn later that we've missed another celebrity, Simon Hurst from Galaxy Radio, just dropping in for a takeaway.

My wife orders a gin and tonic. "Here you are love," says the waiter, giving it a little stir with the swizzle stick.

The dining room is smartly done out and lit by chandeliers with LED lights. It's full of Barnsley couples and parties in their Friday night finest.

At first the menu overwhelms us with its seemingly endless list of food styles: Balti, Keema, Methi, Moyner, Ceylon, Chana, Madras, Dansak, Saag, Korma, Bhuna, Vindaloo, Pathia, Kashmiri, Biryani, Handi and (gasp) European.

For a second we contemplate the Dil Raj Gourmet Dinner for Two (17.95) until we realise it's chicken, chicken and chicken.

We begin the usual way with four good plain, crisp poppadoms and a pickle tray (4.80) before tucking into a Chingri sizzler (4.95), heaps of sizzling tiger prawns, and a particularly well-textured and meaty sheekh kebab (3.25). Mr Scargill likes to start with potato chaat.

This is good stuff in an Anglo-Indian way and it gets even better.

The lamb handi (6.95) is not cooked the traditional way, on the bone, but it's a particularly fine stew with tender meat and a delicious, reduced sauce sticking to it.

For my wife it's a toss up between the Indo-Kenyan pili-pili chicken or the Goan Murgh de Gama. She chooses the latter at 6.95, slices of marinated chicken, remarkably juicy and tender, in a methi (fenugreek) sauce.

It's Friday the 13th but we have struck lucky tonight. One of our waiters, a talkative type, wanders up to check we're all right.

He's worried about the date and senses something bad is going to happen. I tell him not to worry because it's also the Thai New Year which is lucky so they cancel each other out.

He frowns. "I'm not up on diversity issues."

We call for a second naan bread (1.90 each) because these are wonderful, light as a pancake and terribly moreish.

The tarka daal (2.95) is more of a puree, rather than having the lentils still firm, bit it's fine, that familiar burnt taste. The pullao rice is up to the mark.

Kitchen made desserts are not Dil Raj's thing but, as we wipe our hands with those little towels in bags, we reflect that this has been an excellent meal all round.

How many times have you longed for a curry and when you've had it the meal has not lived up to expectations? We can see why the Dil Raj is so busy.

Afterwards Mr Rahman tells us that the Dil Raj is now in its seventh year and means Heart of the Raj, and that Balti Chicken Tikka is one of his most popular dishes.

I'm curious to know why he didn't want us to come on Monday. "That's my day off," he says.

With drinks, including a couple of glasses of lassi and coffee, our bill came to 43.50. Couldn't fault it. We're with Arthur on this one!

Food review

DIL RAJ

8-12 High Street, Dodworth, Barnsley.

Tel: 01226 202 606 or 299 567. n Open all week 5.30-11pm. Website: www.dil-raj.com No smoking restaurant. Large car park.

My star ratings (out of five):

Food *****

Atmosphere ****

Service *****

Value *****

Indian restaurant category. Do not compare ratings between places of different style or price.