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Eat My Words: We visited Shozna in Maidstone Road, Rochester, for three-curry taster

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It's won awards and is an integral part of the Rochester food scene.

But how did the Shozna Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant fare when visited for Eat My Words by colleagues from the Medway Messenger?

The Shozna restaurant in Rochester
The Shozna restaurant in Rochester

With ominous Omicron set to decimate the Christmas party season, the decision to hold our festive frolics early this year proved to be a wise and lucky decision.

Like most workplaces we imagine, getting everyone together in one place at one time is like herding cats, but last Friday night we finally managed it.

And what better place to enjoy an evening of good food, drink and intelligent conversation (well, conversation) than one of the county's award-winning restaurants?

In October, Shozna in Maidstone Road, Rochester, was declared the nation's best curry house at the Curry Life Awards held at London's Royal Lancaster Hotel.

Three of our team – Matt Ramsden, Matt Leclere and Sean Delaney – decided to take part in a taste challenge, choosing the same three dishes to sample and rate.

From left: Sean Delaney, Matt Leclere and Matt Ramsden at the Shozna restaurant in Rochester
From left: Sean Delaney, Matt Leclere and Matt Ramsden at the Shozna restaurant in Rochester

In theory this should have been pretty simple and straightforward but it took a 40-minute debate (argument) to agree what to eat (see above for herding cats).

The taste-test trio eventually settled upon Bombay Kazana (chicken), Mouchak chicken (chicken, obvs) and chicken Vindaloo, although Matt R had lamb to be awkward.

The Shozna is a two-floored restaurant, a five-minute walk from the historic town centre which was bustling with Friday night drinkers and diners.

Although it's not on the main drag, this clearly doesn't matter as it was filling up rapidly with customers – many regulars it seemed – as we arrived just after 7pm. By 8pm it was packed out.

Visitors are welcomed at the entrance and shown to their tables by a host of waiters, smartly dressed in golden uniforms. Our party of seven was seated on the spacious first floor at the front of the building, which was once the Kings Arms pub. But enough about that, what about the food?

Bombay Kazana at the Shozna in Rochester
Bombay Kazana at the Shozna in Rochester

Bombay Kazana £15.90

Chicken cooked in Bombay-style spices flavoured with garlic and green chillies. Madras hot

Matt R: "It came with pilau rice which I would have chosen anyway, and was a lovely flavoursome curry, but nowhere near as hot as I expected it to be. Lovely garlic flavours and plenty of meat. It was very nice and I am glad I tried it, but not sure I would go for it again." Rating out of 5: ***½

Matt L: "A complete unknown quantity other than being 'Madras hot' which is a familiar level for me. It was aromatic with a tasty blend of herbs and spices and a tomato-base sauce with a strong garlic punch and hit from chilli giving bags of flavour. Perhaps it was hot, but maybe that was toned down having already had some of the Vindaloo already. A brilliant middle ground between the super hot and the delicious mild and sweet dishes we also tried. Rating: ****

Sean: "I'm a lover of all things spice but I'm no curry connoisseur and tend to opt for more milder spinach and coconut offerings as a creature of habit. The Kazana, however, was a nice introduction to the fusion menu with enough flavours in there to rattle my tastebuds and the sauce was mopped up nicely with a generous helping of peshwari naan. However, I was expecting more of a chilli kick for a Madras. Rating: ***

Mouchak Chicken at the Shozna in Rochester
Mouchak Chicken at the Shozna in Rochester

Mouchak Chicken £13.50

Breast pieces of spring chicken simmered in a satin smooth gravy made from honey and mild spices

Matt R: "Possibly the most surprising thing to happen to me in an Indian restaurant since my older brother Chris offered to pay for the meal in October 1997 (he still bangs on about it). I am not usually a fan of sweet savoury food, but this was nothing short of exceptional. The chicken was perfectly cooked and its honey taste incredible. Rather than compare to say a Thai green curry, it was more like those crunchy peanut sweets you used to get as a kid. That might sound weird for a curry, but trust me, it was very unexpected and very tasty. Plenty of sauce but not too much as to overpower the chicken. My only complaint is that I had to share it with the other two. I had it with pilau rice. Rating: *****

Matt L: "Selecting this from the menu was a stroke of genius. As someone who pores over the menu at any Indian restaurant and still selects my regular go-to, choosing a honey-based curry was somewhat of a gamble. I needn't have worried. The perfectly-cooked chicken mixed with a sweet but not overpoweringly so and creamy sauce was one of the tastiest dishes I've ever had. Luckily for me, I still had a bit of appetite left when the other two had had their fill so delving back into the dish for the final delicious mouthfuls and dip the last of my naan into the sauce was the perfect end to the meal. Rating: *****

Sean: "When I first glanced at the menu and read the word 'gravy' next to this entry I couldn't help but feel a hint of trepidation and wasn't too sure what I was in for. Having said that, I was majorly impressed by this dish which manages to combine the sweetness of honey without being too rich. The chicken was succulent and you could really smell the turmeric and other spices in every taste. I'm not sure I would have it as a main as despite its lovely texture, it became a touch too much after one too many bites and I tended to opt back and forth between the other dishes. Rating: ****½

Lamb vindaloo at the Shozna in Rochester
Lamb vindaloo at the Shozna in Rochester

Vindaloo £12.10

Vindaloo dishes are blended with very hot chilli sauce

Matt R: I love a vindaloo but in my mind, it's got to be lamb. Not sure what evidence I have, but surely chicken doesn't pack the same punch, does it? While the other two went for the poultry option, I stuck to my usual path and wasn't disappointed. It was tasty and punchy but had a surprise up its sleeve in that there was quite a delay to the burning sensation. You know you're dealing with most vindaloos as soon as you start eating them, but this one allowed you a couple of seconds to savour before the heat hit home. Perfectly-sized portion, enjoyed with pilau rice. Rating: ****

Matt L: As the only 'Vindaloo virgin' in the trio I had no idea what to expect from this most famous of curries. Having been tempted on numerous occasions to take the plunge, it was finally the day. I dived straight in to give it a try before trying any of the others. The initial build up is slow and there's a hint of spices coming through before the punch... and it is quite a punch. Within a few mouthfuls, there were tears in my eyes and a heat in my mouth I've never experienced from a curry before. But in saying that it was not unpleasant to eat or too hot to handle and I kept going back in for more as the heat died down with the help from my pint of Cobra or a bite of naan. Saying that, I probably couldn't manage a whole one to myself! Rating: ****

Sean: "I opted for the chicken version of the Shozna vindaloo and held back some mint yoghurt from the poppadoms in preparation for any volcanic intervention on my tonsils. Two warm mouthfuls into the main event and my nasal passages were running clearer than the water feature behind me. After a brief interlude I was ready to tuck straight back in and whilst I found the chicken to be packing flavourful heats it was not so overwhelming so as to be unenjoyable. Rating ***½

Sean and Matt L trying the vindaloo

The Shozna's upstairs dining area
The Shozna's upstairs dining area

Overall impressions:

Matt R: "Seriously impressed by the Shozna, I couldn't fault it all. The service was friendly and efficient but not too intrusive like some places where you spend half the evening saying 'yes, it's fine thanks'. We all had the applicable poppadoms and pickles to start with and with my curries, I drank ice-cold Cobra beer and enjoyed the best garlic naan (£4.10) I have had anywhere. I'll definitely be back."

Matt L: "This is by far one of the best curry restaurants I've been to in Kent – and I'll be honest, I've gone to a few! The food was excellent, service was quick and friendly without being overbearing. Fortunately, they were very prompt to bring out that refill of Cobra when it was needed! Would definitely return and be confident in ordering anything from the menu and knowing it will be really good."

Sean: "The Shozna is more than your traditional high street Tandoori house with its subtle Indian and Bangladeshi fused dining experience providing a wealth of new options to indulge your palate. Staff were warm and attentive without being overbearing and dishes were served promptly and to the correct temperature with generous helpings of sides and Cobra on tap. There was even a Ferrero Rocher ice cream to indulge my sweet tooth for afters. Well worth the visit and will be back soon."


Ratings out of five

Food: By far one of the best curry restaurants in Kent *****

Drink: Ice-cold Cobra with our curry was perfect ****

Decor: It's modern and comfortable but tables are rather close together ****

Staff: Service was quick and friendly without being overbearing *****

Price: It's a little on the expensive side, but definitely worth it ****

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