India Palace is squeezed between some of West Lake’s most popular restaurants. If you weren’t paying attention, you could easily walk right past the narrow, four-storey white building. Inside, pale peach-coated walls, dark wood trimmings and a couple of black-framed artworks challenge my ideas of what an Indian restaurant is supposed to look like.
What India Palace lacks in décor is made up for in the food. The menu is extensive, with a variety of starters, kebabs, rice, vegetarian curries, non-vegetarian curries, bread, juices, salads and desserts. Familiar dishes such as vegetable samosa (VND50,000), chicken tikka kebabs (VND115,000), mixed vegetable curry (VND85,000) and mutton vindaloo (VND139,000) are on the menu. But there are also many items that are less familiar, including aloo tikki (VND60,000), dhaba da gosht (VND139,000) and lacha paratha (VND49,000). Short descriptions in the menu explain that many of these are northern and southern Indian specialities.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Get
A menu like this can be overwhelming for someone who isn’t very familiar with Indian food. For me, having to risk choosing something new and regretting it later was too stressful. My answer was to ask the waitress for a recommendation.
“Do you like hot or mild,” she asked. “Do you want meat or are you a vegetarian?” A good place to start. I settled on the gobi manchurian (VND70,000) as a starter and the chicken kesar badam (VND119,000) with plain pilau (VND69,000) as a main and a glass of house red wine (VND95,000) to wash it all down.
The starter, an Indian-Chinese dish, consisted of fried cauliflower florets covered in a spicy red sauce and was served with a mint-yogurt side. It was hot. The kind of hot that makes your lips feel numb — in my opinion, the best kind of hot. There was more than enough to share and it paired well with the (cold but good) house red wine. The only problem was that the mains came soon afterwards so there wasn’t much time to enjoy the dish properly.
Going from spicy to mild was not the best idea. After the gobi manchurian, it was difficult to taste the saffron-flavoured cashew and almond sauce of my chicken kesar badam. I’m sure that with a milder starter, the main would have been appreciated more, but my taste buds were far too fired up. My friend’s chicken tikka masala (VND119,000) with garlic naan (VND40,000) on the other hand was a far better follow-up. The creamy tomato and spicy masala worked well with the crispy and salty garlic naan. The chicken in both dishes was moist and tender, but the masala sauce was the winner.
Dessert choices included gulab jamum (a milk-solid based dessert with cardamom and saffron flavoured syrup, VND55,000), kulfi (Indian home made ice cream, VND55,000) and carrot halwa (a dessert made from grated carrots, sugar, milk, nuts and ghee, VND55,000). I chose the carrot halwa and was happy with it. It was small enough to enjoy after a big meal yet large enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. And who can feel guilty for eating a dessert that has carrots as its main ingredient?
Overall, I think India Palace is a good restaurant. The service is good and so is the food. What’s missing is the ambience. The “traditional Indian culture with warm and soothing interiors to the classical Indian tunes” mentioned on the website was absent. It was a Wednesday evening and we were the only people in the restaurant. So perhaps that had something to do with it.
It’s a pity but it also speaks to India Palace’s potential. The most important part of any restaurant is the food and India Palace has that well covered. With a décor face lift and perhaps some incense, this could become my favourite Indian restaurant.
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals