An over-excited Indian who grew up in England, a tired American who had just survived two months in India and I, a foodie who had also visited the South Asian country, walked into the newly relocated Tandoor (39A – 39B Ngo Duc Ke, D1) to once again explore our fascination with Indian cuisine. As we sat down we noticed the decor was a seamless blend of Islamic touches like arched windows along with statues of Hindu gods and goddess. Another thing we observed was, despite the restaurant’s high-end appearance, their prices were reasonable. Take advantage of their set lunch that includes two starters, two mains, bread, rice and salad for VND145,000 (Monday – Friday; 11am – 2:30pm).
My friend Narinder, a proud Indian whose family hailed from Punjab, insisted that the only way to test a restaurant’s culinary skills with his motherland’s cuisine is to taste their chicken tikka masala (VND169,000), which we happily obliged. To my surprise it may have been the best chicken tikka masala I’ve eaten. The chicken was so tender it seemed to melt in my mouth, perfectly seasoned with tikka, probably my favorite Indian spice, doused in a wonderful tomato, butter and masala gravy – this was the winning star at Tandoor. Together with the Kashmiri music serenading us we were transfixed in time and place on this nostalgic food journey through one of the richest and most complex cuisines on the planet. Where in the West we rely on salt and pepper to season a dish, Indian cuisine is layered with many spicy inventions, taking one’s taste buds on a roller coaster ride never to be forgotten. Tandoor does what most Indian restaurants outside of India reluctantly must do – tone it down – however, Tandoor toes the line between originality and necessity extremely well, even leaving my Punjabi friend satisfied.
I must preface by adding that prior to our dishes arriving, the friendly staff brought out two sauces – tamarind and green chutney – that set the tone for our meal. The green chutney was a spectacular add- on when drizzled on most anything. My companions and I devoured the large mixed platter (VND169,000) of fried delicacies that included vegetarian samosa, vegetarian pakora, and egg pakora with abandonment, smothering the pieces unceremoniously with green chutney a must. Usually not a fan of samosa, I have to admit this was one of the best I’ve encountered: a mix of crunchy fried shell with coriander- filled potato stuffing – a great first taste along with the pakoras (different mixes of vegetables, spiced, dipped in batter and deep fried). All were satisfying in a way most deep fried comfort food are. Our second appetizer, another one of Narinder’s insistence, was a new experience for me, the shami kebab (VND169,000). The dish originates from Punjab and is essentially meat patties perfectly grilled in a tandoori oven infused with various spices and served with an onion salad.
Of course I couldn’t leave without ordering one of my favorite dishes – the Goa fish curry (VND139,000). Unlike most Indian curries, the Goan style comes with coconut milk. The fish was white and flaky, cooked well and the curry sauce was a wonderful mix of spices with a creamy texture left by the coconut milk. I could have gone on eating it for days on end. The Goan fish curry and chicken tikka masala had a gleam to them, which as explained by Narinder, is due to just the right amount of butter added to both sauces – butter being another reason why Indian food is so heavenly.
As we sipped our refreshing mango lassi (VND65,000), a yogurt-based shake found throughout India, we ordered breads baked in the restaurant’s in-house tandoori oven – fluffy butter garlic naan (VND45,000) and the phenomenal aloo paratha (VND55,000). Bread is something India does exceedingly well along with France, Italy, Germany and most countries in the Middle East. The naan, if done correctly, has the consistency of airy, light pizza dough covered in roasted garlic and dripping with butter and Tandoor does it well. The aloo paratha is a splendid mix of unleavened dough and spice-infused mashed potatoes baked with plenty of butter. Doused in either green chutney or tamarind sauce, you will be screaming for more. Finally satiated, this was where our culinary ride back to India ended.