There are several reasons why Tandoor in HCM City has become the place of choice for Indian food, but it stands out from its peers in how it invites you in and makes you feel you are in for a treat, writes Hari Chathrattil.
Stephen Tauyatswala had a no-nonsense manner as he walked in sat at the table he was ushered to.
He did not need to look at the menu. He placed his order with the air of a man who clearly knew what he wanted.
This intrigued me, just don’t ask me why. No space here for apologizing for making stereotypical assumptions, and that too, before learning his name, which sounded Parsi to me (all names that end in “wala” sound Parsi to me).
A beer arrived at Stephen’s table in minutes, and soon after, a plate of naans and a creamy curry that I learnt later was mutton shahi korma (boneless lamb pieces cooked in a nutty cream gravy) .
This is the dish he orders every time, everywhere, Stephen said. Safe to assume he knew this dish well. How was it, I asked? The best in town, was the immediate, confident reply. He replied in the affirmative when I asked if he’d tried out a few other prominent Indian restaurants in HCM City.
Then came the caveat: “This is good, but not the best I’ve had, which is in South Africa.”
Overhearing this conversation, Balaji, visiting Vietnam with his family from Coimbatore, a town known for great food in South India, chimed in: “We’ve had one the best Indian meals today, although we ordered North Indian dishes.”
Another customer at another table nodded. “The sambhar is superb, better than what I get in Dubai,” he offered. (High praise for the cooks, who learnt to make the spicy tamarind-juice based curry after coming to Viet Nam).
All this while, I was enjoying an Aloo 65, a potato dish with a fresh, spicy tomato gravy that was superb. It was so good that I decided to ignore the fact that all “65” dishes are supposed to be a dry dish, crisp and deep-fried. My own staples, Kichidi (rice, lentils and spices) with dahi bhindi (orka cooked in a creamy, yoghurt gravy) were just the way I liked it.
All conversations about food in Tandoor in HCM City hover between “good” and “superb.”
In my book, however, what parks the restaurant in the “outstanding” category is the ambience, the décor and the service.
I have been to hundreds of Indian restaurants abroad (outside India), but never I have stepped in because one looked attractive and inviting. The aromas of spices can draw one in, but the template that most Indian restaurants seem to follow, and this includes upscale establishments, is typically kitschy and unimaginative.
Tandoor in HCM City stands out.
An architect or interior decorator can do it more justice in words, but from the ornately carved arches, the beautiful Shivaling with its constant abhishekam (holy bath) of water, to a copy of an MF Hussain masterpiece, the place screams sophisticated elegance.
The best ambience for an Indian restaurant in Vietnam by far, consistently good food that is attractively plated, unfailingly courteous service and great value for money –
Tandoor HCM City is one place where a fine dining experience cannot go wrong.