EastEnders fans of a certain vintage may recall an Indian restaurant on the show called The Argee Bhajee.
The fictional restaurant was run by the Masood family in the 1990s before being transformed into an Italian trattoria.
The name clearly struck a chord with Bristol-born Mahfuzal Haque, who grew up in Easton before moving to London to work in the music business.
READ MORE: Owners of oldest pizzeria risk eviction “within days”
Son of Bristol restaurateurs – his father is one of the owners of The Old India in St Nicholas Street – Mahfuzul returned to town with his wife and daughter to set up his own restaurant.
The result is The Arjee Bhajee in Staple Hill, which was once Deb’s famous greasy spoon cafe.
Mahfuzul’s wife is from South London and they liked Cockney’s rhyming slang term “argy-bargy” (it basically means a feud) that they decided to protect their restaurant’s name.
It is certainly a striking name for a contemporary Indian restaurant, as is the branding and ethics of this new venture, which began at the start of the pandemic.
Since then, it has been run more like a take-out than a full-fledged restaurant, but that is starting to change.
A small restaurant that seats 26 diners, The Arjee Bhajee is BYO (bring your own booze) so I grabbed a cold bottle from a nearby store on Staple Hill High Street beforehand.
Bright with IKEA potted plants and comfy benches to one side, it’s a compact and user-friendly space.
Next to The Turnpike pub on Soundwell Road and surrounded by houses, this is truly a local restaurant.
I’ve been told that Mahfuzul wants The Arjee Bhajee to be seen as a community restaurant and he already has big plans to open more in local neighborhoods around Bristol.
But what about the food? Well the menu is pretty much your standard Indian choice and there aren’t too many dishes that you will never have encountered before.
Starters range from £ 3.50 onion bhajee to £ 6 for jhinga chaat – king prawns cooked in shallots, sweet awadi spices, cherry tomatoes and fresh cilantro.
Main courses start at £ 7.50 for a veggie biriyani and go up to £ 12.50 for the jugalbandi tandoori mixed plate (chicken tikka, sheesh kebab, tandoori chicken and lamb chops).
There are the “favorites of Arjees” like the machi ki salan (pan-fried salmon fillet cooked in a rich Bengali sauce) and the keema mutter (lean ground lamb with peas in a black pepper sauce), and the complete repertoire of curried house classics such as chicken vindaloo, lamb rogan and prawns dopiaza.
I started with the £ 8.50 sharing platter, which is advertised for two, but was also easily manageable for a hungry solo dinner.
The free-range chicken pieces had been marinated in yogurt, mint, garlic, ginger and a mixture of spices before being cooked in the scorching heat of the tandoor oven. They came out smoked, juicy and tender.
Both crispy, fat-free samosas were topped with lean lamb meat and fragrant spices. Two skewers of shredded lamb sheesh were meaty, spicy, and the perfect vehicle for the fresh mint yogurt dip.
For the main course, the karahi chicken (£ 7.95) arrived bubbly and still simmered in its bowl. There was a generous amount of chunky chicken pieces in the thick, rich sauce, which was heady with garlic and fresh ginger.
Hot steamed pulao rice (£ 2.50) and a really good saag bhaji (£ 3.50) which was not as fatty as many others I have had elsewhere, completed a main course at Breathtaking.
But what really stood out throughout this brilliant meal were the delicate and careful spices, which brought layers of flavor to each dish.
Contemporary, affordable and fun, The Arjee Bhajee is a breath of fresh air and the most exciting Indian restaurant to open in Bristol in years.
With more sights planned around town, it won’t be long before we can all enjoy one place in Arjee Bhajee.
Arjee Bhajee, 169 Soundwell Road, Staple Hill, Bristol, BS16 4RP. Phone. : 0117 9571111.
Want our best stories with fewer announcements and alerts when the biggest news falls? Download our app on iPhone Where Android