Tandoor does subtle but succulent Indian

Those who know Indian cuisine know that Tandoor in HCMCity is the real thing, with a unique menu and style to boot. Jon Dillingham gives it two thumbs up for heavenly paneer and melt-in-your-mouth nan.
With an experienced Indian chef at the helm, delicate kebabs, tikkas and breads all thrive in Tandoor’s traditional north Indian clay oven.

That simple oven, called a tandoor, bakes breads of just the right consistency and seals in the nutrients of cooked meats and vegetables. The restaurant’s tandoor produces distinct paneer kebabs and a selection of Indian food that is both traditional and original.

At an out of the way location on Vo Van Tan Street (still only five minutes from the city centre), Tandoor lacks the pretensions and delusions of grandeur that plague so many fashionable downtown eateries. While the rich cooking demands the respect of white tablecloths, the setting is casual and the unassuming decor makes for relaxed dining. There is no showing off here, no fancy religious statues or faux-traditional art. The humble menu lets your tastebuds do the gloating.

tandoor

Tandoor serves mainly northern Indian dishes but you can find some southern treats both on and off the menu. Tandoor also serves several dishes that are difficult to find around Ho Chi Minh City, such as the hara bara kebabs, rich fried vegetable patties (VND32,000) – which were born as an experiment at a party – and the andhra chilli chicken, red-hot chicken, pan fried dry in chillies (VND60,000).

We began our meal by talking to Subhash, Tandoor’s owner, who navigated the menu for us when we asked him to give us whatever he thought was wonderful. Part of a family that operates three popular Indian restaurants in Ha Noi, Subhash is no stranger to successful Indian cooking. All we asked was that we have bread instead of rice, as we eat enough rice in Viet Nam as it is.

We started with the roasted papadam masala starter (VND10,000), a thin and crisp lentil cracker bread that is remarkably spicy when roasted, but mild when fried.

Alongside the papadam we had the hara seekh kebab, a minced vegetable combination like the hara bara, but with spinach and cottage cheese that was grilled in the tandoor (VND38,000).

We then took on the fiery Chicken 65 (VND50,000), a bright red dish as hot as they come. Subhash said that it’s one of the few dishes at Tandoor with some Chinese influence.

To keep from burning up, we then had the mixed raita, a splendid and refreshing yogurt, with tomatoes, onions and cucumbers (VND18,000), which cooled us off significantly. Stomachs sufficiently padded, we were ready to start the real meal.

For our first entree, we had the paneer tikka (VND48,000), delicate cubes of chargrilled mint cheese and vegetables on a skewer. Not only was it tasty, but it was one of the most beautiful looking dishes I’ve seen, with the white cheese stacked perfectly against the green and red vegetables. The soft and hot paneer coated the green peppers like a delicious cream.

As good as the tikka was, nothing could have prepared us for the ustani kebab chicken (VND60,000), made of unforgettable cheese cubes marinated in yogurt and cream, grilled on a kebab with chicken and spices in the tandoor. This kebab was an absolutely killer. The flavour of the tender chicken was sealed in by the spicy yoghurt glaze painted over the meat and cheese, singed slightly on the corners. The yoghurt brought the meat and strong buttery cheese together exquisitely. The result was a truly powerful and consummate food. An unadulterated delight, it was one of the best dishes I’ve had.

Next, we had the fish tikka (VND68,000), a fish fillet in yoghurt and garlic chargrilled on a skewer. The unique mustard sauce was one of the meal’s most well-seasoned gravies, but the fish was too fishy and a bit of a let down.

We were getting full, but soon began working on the khumb hara dhania, a hearty vegetarian curry with mushrooms and coriander (VND40,000). We cleaned this vegetarian treat up with butter nan (VND21,000) that melts in your mouth and the masala kulcha (potato-stuffed bread, VND24,000), which mops up thick curries beautifully. We also had the mutton roganjosh, a heavy blend of kashmiri masala spices, yogurt and saffron (VND68,000). There are no watery curries at Tandoor.

And last but not least, we had desert. The gulab jamun (VND10,000), a special deep fried milk-flour ball, tiny but bursting with sweetness, was a great capstone to a lovely meal. The dish’s powerful taste was surprising given its simplicity, which is often the case of Tandoor’s dishes.

To wash all this down, Tandoor’s lassis (fruit yogurt drinks) leave something to be desired, but you can opt for bottles of house red and white wine at VND200,000 a bottle, while 333 Beer goes for VND15,000 and Tiger and Heineken will run you VND20,000.

Tandoor also does set business lunches. The Monday/Thursday set gives you bread, tarka dal (lentils), aloo gobi mattar (potato curry), chicken masala, rice, raita and a papadam – a large meal for the reasonable price of VND65,000.

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