This Indian eatery leaves the spices inIt is an irony that the hottest foods ― or the spiciest, to be more accurate ―come from the hottest countries. That said, in the depths of a Korean mid-winter, what could be a finer prospect than shoving a hearty curry of the most volcanic variety down your neck?
Unfortunately, in Korea ― not a nation known for wimpish dining, generally speaking ― Indian grub is usually neutered to the point where a so-called “vindaloo” is as likely to singe your whiskers as Michael Moore is to vote Republican. I am not sure why this should be. Perhaps it has to do with Indian eateries being patronized by delicate, fashionable young maidens rather than the kind of gruff ajeossi who disdains even to sniff at a dish unless it’s spicy enough to merit a warning sign and comes with a complimentary bottle of soju.
But, relentless in our optimism, we live in hope. And it is hope that leads us to Apgujeong’s India Gate, a franchise that has outlets in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Dubai. No gate here, actually ― the restaurant is a second-floor walk-up above a “pan-Asian” establishment.
Inside, an effort has been made to impart an air of Indian-ness. There are lush sofas around the edge of the room, which is dominated by a display case holding colorful fabrics and brass ornaments. The LCDs showing raves seem out of place until, on closer look, we realize they are actually showing neo-Bollywood dance epics. Ah.
To business. The menu is an extensive document, offering the usual northern Indian fare. Disdaining appetizers, we get straight to the main event: chicken biryani (butter-boiled, long-grain rice with chicken: 6,000 won, roughly $5.75); paras tikka (saffron chicken breasts from the tandoor: 15,500 won); Hyderabad beef (beef in hot spices with coconut: 16,500 won); bhukhara gosht (lamb with hot spices and red chilis: 15,500 won), and sabji amritsar (vegetables in gravy: 15,500 won). Oh, and two orders of nan bread (2,000 won each).
The biryani is really something. Unlike most I have eaten, which were dry, this is a luxuriously moist mound of rice, hidden inside which, like treasures, are chunks of sweet tandoori chicken and whole green peppers. At the front of the mouth, it has a rich warmth; in the aftertaste, it is spiced well north of the average: Phew. Strongly recommended.
The paras tikka is lightly blackened, fresh from the oven and exceedingly tasty. Again, spicier than the norm; for wimps and maidens, it comes with yogurt and a zesty mint dip. Top drawer. The sabji amritsar is a tossing of vegetables: strips of white cabbage, button mushrooms, peas and cottage cheese. Nicely textured, though the gravy is rather lacking, which leads me to wonder whether this can truly be classed a curry. Still, not bad.
We harbor high hopes for the beef Hyderabad and bukhara gosht. These appear ominously red, and yes, the curries prove to be thick and heavy. The problem ― one problem, rather ― is taste. They are very similar, and if I am brutally frank, they taste as if they come from a base of canned tomato soup.
Portion is the second problem. The servings of meat in these curries are so miserly they would have left Gandhi himself demanding more (though a fellow diner disagreed: see box to the left). To mop it all up, the nan bread is a good ration, though a little wetter than usual.
There is a modest wine list, and a modest lager list. Our five-year-old ordered a strawberry lassi (3,500 won). This thick blend of yogurt and strawberry kept her quiet for about five minutes, and believe me, that is as good as it gets. Service was friendly and on the ball.
Executive chef Rajash Sharma, from Delhi ― who says his father cooked for none other than Indira Gandhi ― tells me he is planning frequent menu changes, and will be introducing southern Indian dishes and more kebab dishes. Sounds promising.
Verdict: When it is good, it is very, very good; when it is bad, it is awful. Prices are pretty steep, but that is an inescapable fact of foreign fare in Apgujeong. The good news is that lunch sets go for 10,000 won (but are not served Sundays). And this is a restaurant that doesn’t mind pouring the spices on, so if you plan on dining here, be sure to put that toilet roll in the refrigerator before you leave home.
English: Spoken, and on the menu.
Tel: (02) 511-1138.
Location: Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam district.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Dress: Come as you are.
Second opinion: “Nice and spicy, and the lamb curry was fabulous, but there are no samosas, which is tragic.” ― Terence Mercer, Canadian teacher
by Andrew Salmon