Quite honestly, getting an invite to dine at the super exclusive India Club restaurant was a big deal for me.
Fine dining just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag? And it’s curry? I’d cancel my own wedding for this.
High-end Indian cuisine seemed an unusual prospect and I was curious to find out how it compares to the kind of no-frills curries I have grown up with. Is it going to be served in ridiculously fancy jewel-encrusted dishes? Will it meet the requirements of a curry-loving Brit? And do I have any clothes smart enough to get into this place? These were the kinds of questions I asked myself as I stepped inside the India Club, which backs out onto the Jewish memorial by the Brandenburger Tor.
Immediately you feel like you’re in for something special. It’s elegant, colourful and is decked out with colonial-style mahogany furniture. A lot of Indian restaurants go overboard with their decor, but the India Club’s cool colour scheme and warm lighting feels just right.
Manish Bahukhandi is the head chef at the India Club, and is famed for his ‘rustic’ approach to the cuisine. He specialises in North Indian dishes and has built his reputation cooking at some of the best restaurants in India. I’m honoured (and slightly bewildered) to be able to try his dishes.
So, what of the food?
First came a selection of homemade chutneys and poppadoms. Creamy mint sauce, a spicy tamarind dip and a mango chutney served with cone poppadoms. Does the quality of these initial offerings at curry houses bear any reflection on what’s to come? If so, then it’s at this stage that we knew we were in safe hands. There was a nutty quality to the tamarind dip and the mint sauce easily rivalled the kind I’m used to having with my leg of lamb back on Brexit Island. Dips in Indian restaurants usually serve to appease your appetite whilst you wait for the good stuff, but crikey this stuff was next level.
Curious to know what would be best beverage to accompany a curry (we just assumed it was beer), we asked our waiter for recommendations. He presented us with two lassies (drinks, not Scottish women) – one salted and one made from mango.
“Dal so rich and thick it could have been a meat broth”
Up next was a beautifully creamy black dal made with beluga lentils. This was something we hadn’t tried before. Dal so rich and thick it could have been a meat broth. We weren’t done with starters yet, and out came a selection of delicacies from straight out of the tandoor oven.
Cauliflower stuffed with cheese and succulent chunks of tandooried pineapple that were so juicy and spicy they gave me a choking fit (a sign of quality, I can assure you). The chicken tandoori was hands down the best I’ve ever tasted. It was cooked perfectly – juicy and delicate with a sweet spicy taste.
…and then out came the mains
We decided it’d be wise to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try stuff we wouldn’t normally try (or ever afford). We picked a delicious duck vindaloo, which was served in a Goan curry.
Unsurprisingly (we’re in the land of mild curries after all…), it wasn’t quite the hallucinatory experience of a British vindaloo, where you end up grabbing wildly at any liquid within reach in order to calm the inferno taking place in your mouth. It was very delicious though.
Chef Manish Bahukhandi cooks his butter chicken according to his family’s recipe, so we knew it was worth trying. Rich and smooth, I’m sure this is a real home comfort back in India. I could eat this every day.
You know you’re in somewhere swanky when…
It would have been rude of us not to try the lamb shank curry, which comes with huge shanks that have been braised for 18 hours. When you’re in a high-end eatery, act like you’re bloody in one, right? Our curry came topped with gold leaf, which I assume is normal around these parts.
I swiftly pocketed the gold (note to self: must go to the jewellers for a valuation). The curry? It was rich, comforting and delicately spiced. More a meat stew than the hot British curries I’m used to, but along with the saffron rice and a perfect naan bread it was a memorable little dish.
So you might be wondering how high-end Indian cuisine compares to more affordable curry options? Well, you can tell that the quality of ingredients is very high, and that Chef Manish is an exceptional cook.
Combined with great presentation and an exciting menu, you realise you’re getting something special coming here. It was the starters that really impressed me. I loved the selection of treats from the tandoori oven and I wonder when I’ll try a dal that tasty again. Would I come back? Yes – it’s possible to share a lot of the main courses and we saw a few groups of people doing just that. You can sample a wide selection of the menu without it leaving you destitute.
Want to really impress folks coming to visit you? Got a date with an ambassador and feeling the pressure to take them somewhere nice? You know where to go.
And on that note, I’m off to the jewellers…
India Club Berlin