On Sunday evening, our party of five decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We quickly settled on Shezan as our destination, which claims to be Oxford’s only genuine Indian and Balti restaurant. This grade II listed venue, used as a dining hall since 1915, is tucked away on the high street above Reiss, just past the alleyway that leads down to the Chequers pub. Shezan has been a firm favourite of mine since I moved to Oxford and I’ve been there for many an occasion, including end of term dinners with tutors, 21st birthday parties, and boozy reunions with friends visiting the city.
Shezan’s décor is characterful and admirably put together, retaining a sense of individuality throughout the restaurant without being overwhelming or overdone. When we arrived we were quickly seated and opted for a bottle of the house white and a selection of papadums (they have different flavours!) while we worked out what to order. Our waiter was attentive throughout the meal; overall the service of food was quick without being rushed.
No one was in the mood for anything particularly hot so we decided to order a variety of milder dishes including the Murg Hyderabadi, deliciously tender chicken cooked in coconut milk with a selection of herbs, spices and freshly chopped coriander; Saag Paneer, fresh spinach cooked with cubes of paneer cheese, and a Prawn Masala Goa Style, a dish of shrimps delicately spiced and cooked in a coconut sauce with green herbs. However, the table’s firm favourite was the classic Lamb Rogan Josh, which we were informed by the menu was the best example of Mughal Cuisine, Shezan’s speciality.
We decided to keep it simple with our sides, ordering 3 pilau rice portions and 3 garlic naans between five of us, which ended up being more than enough to go around. The portion sizes at Shezan are generous and definitely made for sharing. The naans were light and flavourful, and the rice was perfectly cooked and topped with very finely chopped, delicately fried onion, which raised the side from standard curry-house fare to something a bit more special.
My original choice of main had been the Khybari Chana Aloo, a dish of spiced chick peas and potatoes mixed in a tamarind sauce, but I was told that no potato dishes were available, so I opted instead for the Turka Daal; slow cooked lentils simmered in onion, ginger and golden fried garlic. Because I had to change my order on the spot, I went for the Daal as a safe option, but was somewhat disappointed with the consistency and flavour of the dish – it was quite bland, especially compared to dishes I had ordered at Shezan in the past, and had a very thin texture. That being said, my slight dissatisfaction was not at all representative of the rest of the table’s experience, all of whom greatly enjoyed the dishes they selected as mains, as well as their tastes of everyone else’s orders.
What makes Shezan one of the best Indian restaurants in Oxford is their elevation of standard dishes. It may be a bit pricier than most curry houses in Oxford, but you definitely get what you pay for.