The menu might leave you chuckling merrily but the dishes might wipe it off soon – the taste isn’t quite right for the price tag. The prawns and the spinach kofta make Alvin Thomas and his family smile softly, though.
There are three key features an Indian restaurant must possess for it to prosper in the market: the food must be unerringly priced and taste exceptional; the ambience must be right – the lighting dim and the music lax; and the service must be up to the mark.
It is something Indian restaurants in the Sultanate have been doing right for decades, if not longer. But the Yellow Chilli at the Panorama Mall in Baushar somehow fails to capture the true essence of dining in an Indian restaurant – albeit I am jumping the gun here.
It all started when I headed to the restaurant for a spot of dinner with my family; the setting looked on point for a casual Friday evening dine out. The restaurant also boasts of culinary delights crafted by the legendary Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor – a man I grew up watching on daytime television.
The overall aura of the restaurant is quite rustic, if a bit sophisticated and chic, for a mall. It wasn’t the first time that I had been to a restaurant of such stature, but The Mumtaz Mahal (that sits atop the mountain in Qurum) and the Passage to India in Wadi Adai are both superior in terms of ambience.
Nevertheless, we jumped straight into the menu.
My mum opted for a serving of makhanwala paneer (widely known as paneer butter masala) and a serving on butter naan, while my father and I decided to go desi with two servings of dumgosht biriyani (lamb biriyani), a side of prawn kurkurikadai and lambrogan josh. We then collectively ordered a plate of shaamsavera – a dish marked with a golden star on the menu.
Glancing at the menu, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the names of some of the foods. I can only imagine that there was a meeting – at some point – wherein members of the restaurant came together to give foods the hardest and most unconceivable names possible.
In any case, our waiter Laxman was incredibly kind and professional – often painting a description of the dishes so that we knew what we were ordering.
Our dishes – all of them – arrived in a mere 20 minutes. They were freshly prepared as I deduced from the steam arising from the bowls. We dug into the dishes immediately.
From the expression on my mum’s face I could realise that she wasn’t impressed with the makhanwala paneer. The dish – which is essentially cottage cheese doused in a rich tomato sauce base and accentuated with fenugreek – looked fabulous but failed to justify its price tag.
“The base is fresh and the paneer soft,” she told me. “But I really don’t think it is worth RO4.500.” She did, however, commend the suppleness of the naan.
I found the biriyani to be quite flavoursome, if a little too strong with the smell of saffron. But the caramelised onions on top gave the dish its neutral flavour, while the spices and the well-marinated mutton slices added to the overall piquancy of the dish.
It was delightful but, after a hard thought, I realised that it was no better than the biriyani served at Mauryas in Azaiba, or even Begums in Al Khuwair. Both restaurants also serve biriyani for a fraction of the cost, per plate.
On its own, the prawn kurkurikadai was the star of the evening. It is prepared with a base comprising of ground spices and bell peppers, and is topped with fried prawns.
It was amazing to see such modest ingredients make way for a succulent dish. Au contraire, the mutton rogan josh was a disaster. The gravy was too inconsistent and oily, and the spice was exceedingly overpowering. It’s not a dish I would ever write home about, or even ask for again (!)
Thankfully, the spinach koftas, which were filled with cottage cheese and served on a velvety tomato butter gravy, took my mind away from the disappointment. The portion was lovely and the presentation superb.
Still, our experience was hindered by the fact that the dishes were not extraordinarily exceptional for the money that we paid.
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Overpriced Indian food served with diligence.