NAAN INDIAN BISTRO & TANDOOR
12 Majoribanks St
Ph: 385 1068
Fully licensed and BYO
Open lunch Thur-Fri 11.30am- 2pm; dinner Mon-Sun 5.30pm- late
Price range of mains: $14 -$17
Wine list: 3/5
Cost: $64 for two (excluding wine)
"Under new management", read the sign on the door of Naan Indian Bistro & Tandoor.
That's a bit of a worry for a restaurant that has existed for less than a year, I reflected as we went in.
Once inside, our hearts sank even further with the realisation that my daughter Rea and I were the only customers.
Still, this was the restaurant I'd selected, being relatively new and never before reviewed, so down we sat and asked the inevitable question - why were we the only punters?
For a start, we decided the serried rows of high-backed, black leather chairs make the place look too buttoned-up and corporate. This may be thought suitable for Mt Victoria, but hey, not even the suits of this well-heeled hood want to revisit their boardroom when they go out to relax over an Indian after a long stressful day at the office.
We concurred that if this were our Indian restaurant, we would take out all the furniture, post a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, introduce floor seating and encourage eating the food with one's right hand.
The Bollywood movies on Naan's big screen would stay, however.
As we ate and talked about Rea's recent Indian odyssey, I got so wrapped up with her story about her and Jack being the only Europeans on Majuli island in the middle of a lake in Assam, that my attention was drawn from the movie screen entirely. But this didn't matter, since the movie had no plot.
We simply had to glance up occasionally to monitor the rake's progress, as this all-dancing, all-singing suitor pursued his teasing Eve round and round the shrubbery of Brindavan Gardens, then up and down the decks of a luxury yacht in Mumbai harbour. The finale had him stalking her up a mountain top.
For two hours solid the couple twisted, gyrated and writhed around each other like gymnastic pythons - without once touching. It was almost as sizzling as our curries.
When asked how we would like our vegetarian curries, Rea had bravely replied "hot".
By "hot", I'm not sure whether we got what the menu described as "Kiwi hot" or "Indian hot".
But what I do know is that whenever I seriously over-dose on chilli, I begin dramatic, violent hiccupping - long, drawn-out and embarrassingly loud.
After partial asphyxiation I managed to drink a glass of water, gasp, and then croak out the words "I suppose it's our fault for ordering it hot", whereupon Rea protested that nowhere in India had she encountered food this hot.
Unfortunately, the blanketing of napalm was so systematic that no other flavours really had a chance to shine through in our vegetarian curries, so we had to go on texture.
In Indian cuisine, vegetables get cooked for a long, long time, so defects and staleness can be easily covered up.
While I cannot speculate on the freshness of Naan's vegetables, both the potatoes and the cauliflower of the aloo gobi methi did seem very, very tired and limp.
The kadai paneer, too, was mushy, where both Rea and I prefer it firm.
Hoping for relief from the chilli holocaust, I ordered the lamb shahi korma, this time specifying mild. Just as I suspected, when you order mild, you get bland. The cubes of lamb had clearly not been cooked with this curry sauce, which was overly sweet, runny and creamy. As for the promised thickening with "freshly ground cashew nut" I felt the few token shards of cashew were bordering upon deceit.
And the naan of Naan? Sorry, but it wasn't served hot, and was altogether too stingy and thin.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Onion bhaji can be ordered as a separate entree, but we enjoyed it as the saving grace of an otherwise weird vegetarian platter for two, which they changed on us, giving us deep-fried mini-spring rolls in place of the pakora, plus a samosa fried to a deep mahogany frazzle.
- The Dominion Post