It is not often that one gets to explore the flavours of a restaurant that invoke a myriad of the fondest childhood memories. Upon entering Cape Town’s Jewel of India, I was pleasantly surprised with the rare aroma that should be interchangeable with every Indian eatery, but I’ve sadly grown to find lacking in the Western Cape. It’s almost like the atmosphere sets the tone for great things to come in this little two-year-old ‘gem’ of Green Point, and true to my expectations thereof, I was not disappointed.
The restaurant belongs to the Jewel of India Group and boasts a sublime offering of South Africa’s favourite Indian cuisine imports (plus some menu options that seem to diverge from the usual – much to my delight!). My visit to the establishment was gratified by a hearty conversation shared with respected restaurateur and owner, Mr Ajit Kanakia’s hospitable daughter, Amishi. She assured me that being 20 years in the restaurant business had posed many obstacles for her father, but all was overcome with a single working aspiration: To bring to South Africa an authentic Indian experience culminated by high-quality, bona fide Indian ingredients, knowledgable waiters and a broad spectrum of services such as catering and serving alike. On this note, may I point out that the Group has catered for events and functions among the likes of the Indian Premier League, Dare to Dance, Fear Factor India, and even some movies?! I requested that Amishi shared with you her recommendations on what to pick from the menu: “I am always recommending to customers that they should try something different and unusual. My favourites are the lamb bhunna and the chicken chettinand is quite popular, too. If you enjoy a dish that is unique, then you are going to remember it more than the same old choices you make at every typical Indian restaurant.” A lady after my own heart!
Other highlights of my visit:
My experience was complemented by an eager and attentive waiter named Larry, who ushered me and my company through the door, and had us seated accordingly. It was at this point that I noticed the restaurant (and its staff) are welcoming and there is clever use of space for seating. The restaurant is not very big, but it exudes a cosy comfort of sorts – kind of like you are dining with family who are accommodating to your needs. We were then treated to a great deal of complimentary dipping sauces – traditionally known as chutneys – along with poppadoms (papad) and a generous helping of papdi chaat. These are all traditional Indian snacks that are generally served as appetisers. Of course, I knew this already, being a South African Indian myself, although I did find it quite amusing that Larry tried to explain to me that some people refer to papdi chaat as “Indian nachos”. I thoroughly enjoyed these little treats, even to the extent at which I had to save myself from spoiling my appetite!
I think I seriously ordered a lot of food at this restaurant. You could say that I went a bit crazy. The smell of food that reminds you of home can do this to a person, I guess. I didn’t really go for starters. My modus operandi at Indian restaurants is to order from the Tandoor menu and count this as my ‘starter’. Tsk, tsk, I know… We ended up ordering a whole bunch of things and sharing:
Mixed Kebab Platter
Tandoori Lamb Chops
Hot Gulab Jamuns – for dessert – with Masala Chai
The malai tikka kebab was delicious – I loved the infusion of the subtle, creamy marinade with the smokiness of the oven that rested on those tender chicken pieces. The kadhai prawns were cooked in a spicy, tomato-based gravy that was really rich and complex. Honestly, the prawns were succulent and juicy – I couldn’t have been happier with this dish! My favourite dish was by far the chicken korma. I have undoubtedly never encountered such a decadent chicken korma before. My tastebuds practically melted around the velvety cashew nut layers of bliss. I love rice more than the flat breads, so I would definitely recommend that you pair your dishes with the jheera rice. I am certain that I tasted either warm butter or ghee, which had been generously stirred through the rice. Nobody goes through such an effort these days, and it’s kind of really important for Indian cuisine to have dollops of ghee thrown into almost everything… It’s these little/big details that count. Take it from an Indian who loves food.
The kitchen whipped up a smooth mango lassi for me before I was about to burst from over-eating. Very luscious flavours, and with just the right consistency – I hate those watery substitutes – I should’ve just stopped right there, but I felt it would be unbecoming to write a review without having sampled dessert. On this regard, I was a little disappointed to not be able to try some of the kheer (my favourite Indian dessert after halwa). Authentic Indian gulab jamun is a little different to South African-style gulab jamun, but I did like the soft, pillowy texture of the dough and its hot syrup. I ordered ice cream to balance out the sweet syrup, and I just had a sip of the masala chai – which was wonderful and rang true to India’s essential flavours of masala tea.
There are many different morals to this story, but I’ll just summarise them briefly: