Few restaurants – at least in British ex-pat world – have elicited such divergent opinion as the Tandoor Palace. One of the original Indian restaurants in the city (the country, even), it was a pioneer, and their famous boast of being the best curry house in Poland was no word of a lie. But this venerable institution has not just had hiccups but big hefty belches.
The first blip in the system occurred around 2005, namely with the opening of a little hole-in-the-wall joint named Namaste. It changed the game. With prices approximately 40% lower than Tandoor Palace, Namaste demonstrated that Indian food wasn’t some luxury ex-pat whim served to those living in fantasy towers. The locals (and the ex-pats) loved it, and this wasn’t because of the prices alone. This was the best Indian food in the nation and the verdict was unanimous. Their quality demolished what had come before… In a month, my weight had ballooned to its current sorry state.
Over the next few years a rash of new curry houses opened, catering for the broadening tastes of the native palette. Some were good, some were atrocious, either way, they all served to illustrate that the Tandoor Palace was no longer an unchallenged champ. Looking increasingly weary, one got the idea it didn’t need to be pensioned off to an old peoples’ home, as much as it needed a fatal shot to the back of the head – BAM!
And, in a way, that’s what it’s had – Tandoor Palace is dead. Over. RIP. In its place is Tandoor. Gone are the pink lights outside, and gone are the glow-in-the-dark Taj Mahal’s. What was beginning to look like a storage space for surplus elephant figures has pared itself down. It looks smarter, more grown-up; it feels mature. In a way though, I find myself regretting the passing of the old look – there was something comforting about it: a faded familiarity that took me back to the high street curry houses of back home in Britain.
But don’t think Tandoor is bereft of warmth. It has that in ample portions, and that’s largely down to the presence of the proprietor: Charanjit to some, Tandoor Toni to others, here’s one of Warsaw’s great characters. Always on hand to engage customers with rotten jokes and football banter, Charanjit remains one of the most natural hosts in town. Clearly, he’s also a savvy restaurateur. Sensing dramatic steps were needed to resuscitate his restaurant, he’s made some bold moves – and not just on the visual front.
The menu has been reinvented, with the focus now falling on modern Indian cooking. That’s evidenced by the arrival of the pea and basil soup, an artsy looking creation that transpires to be a thick, warming broth. It looks delicate, but there’s a depth and a fire to it I hadn’t expected; already racked with the early stages of autumnal man-flu, it’s exactly what my frail and feeble frame requires.
But we’re not finished with starters. Arriving next are the vegetable cigarillos, cigar-shaped patties that utilize herbs, peas, cashews and spinach. Served with a pinch of mango chutney, it’s a dish that’s surprisingly complex in taste, and only surpassed by the other that appears: tandoori chicken that’s skillfully set alight in front of our eyes. It amazes, and not just via its theatrical execution.
Surprises continue with the mains, which for me mean the ‘murgh duo’: two glorious pieces of chicken served in a subtle sauce that’s fragrantly spiced. This is Indian food like I’ve never seen before – both in appearance and taste. But it’s not just about contemporary edge. Several stalwart classics have been retained on the menu, among them the chicken tikka butter masala – a staple for ex-pat curry addicts, Tandoor’s version is more boisterous than the competition. Velvet smooth, rich and riotous, it makes those found elsewhere pedestrian in taste.
I must confess, I entered Tandoor with reservations. Having spent years surveying the progress of Warsaw’s Indian restaurants, I had finally settled on a happy little schedule: for something posh, Rain by India Curry, for delivery, India Express, and for moments of volcanic combustion, then the chicken vindaloo at Bielany’s Curry House. This stands to change, and with immediate effect.
(Words & Photos: Alex Webber)
Tandoor ul. Marszalkowska 21/25, www.tandoor.com.pl