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Indian fit for any royal

THERE is an increasing interest in the fascinating foods of the great sub-continent of India, where almost half a billion people speak over a dozen major languages which are localised by more than 1500 dialects. Fifty different races make up the massive population.

A growing awareness by this city shows in the ever-increasing quantity of restaurants specialising in Indian-Pakistani cuisine.

Like the languages, the food styles are very regionalised and like many ancient populations, have been influenced by unwelcome visitors. Invited or not, these invaders left their mark in the cooking of India, forever altering (and improving) the culture and cuisine.

One of the most significant influences was in the north, when the Persians forcefully came to visit and decided to stay a while.

Now, I believe it is the northern style of cuisine that is the most memorable out of the myriad available and that is why I find myself dining at the Royal India Restaurant in West Perth.

It is important to remember that this cuisine is more, much more, than simply a curry. Forget the spoonful of bright yellow, turmeric-filled curry powder chucked into the left-overs of the night before.

Be prepared to go on a taste adventure into the world of pungency, exotic aromas and stunning, sometimes sweet and sour and often savoury flavours. Also be prepared to go home reeking of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and more.

The restaurant is operated by two enterprising Sheikh brothers, Parli and Jindah Chouhan.

Indian cooks always have their personal Masala, which alludes to a private recipe of spices for each dish. It is unlikely that the same two dishes from different cooks will taste the same, so you could be eating a Melbourne Cup winner (Roganjosh) in one place and the same lamb/mutton dish will differ elsewhere.

The dishes of the north, with their strong Moghlai influence, are creamy concoctions with yogurt-filled sauces.

Ghee, or clarified butter, is a major cooking component and the traditional clay oven, the Tandoor, is all important.

Tandoori cooking is the giver of succulence. These clay lined ovens cook in a most gentle way and in many cases the food – chicken, quails and pigeons, even minced meatballs flavoured with ground almonds – in these ovens on skewers.

Often the ingredients are marinated for lengthy periods before cooking. These are not chili-hot dishes, they have a certain zest, but even a chili-wimp would be safe.

Food at the Royal India is as fine as you will taste in Perth and in my opinion authentic, but if you are an Indian food novice, don’t hesitate to ask for guidance with the menu, as it can be a baffling document if you don’t know your way.

One of the most confusing, yet essential to your meal ingredients, are the various rotis or breads, which are freshly cooked with each meal.

The mark of a good Indian restaurant is the breads and the Royal India earns a healthy 8 out of 10. Of course, the breads are generally unleavened and should be used to eat your food.

The bread to have with the menu that I am going to suggest is Bherwa Kulcha. This is a delicious naan cooked on the clay wall of the Tandoor. Flat and unleavened, it comes as an envelope stuffed with onion, potato, green chilies and coriander leaves ($4 will serve four).

Next is the essential rice. Go for the Pilau Rice, which is a dish in its own right. The Indians use a long grain, low starch Basmati, where the grains separate cleanly. They flavour the aromatic saffron rice with nuts, sultanas and vegetables (small $6.75, large $9.50).

The wine to choose is a Brown Brothers Gewurtztraminer ($25.20). This spicy white is perfect with the exotic flavours of the Royal India meal. But, be warned, you may want something less spiced once the meal is complete. Try a Swanbrook Chardonnay ($26) or an Evans and Tate Two Vineyards Chardonnay ($28).

Keep the entrée small, because the food is very filling. I suggest Chicken Tikha, boneless, marinated chicken pieces cooked in the clay oven ($7.25).

Add a Prawn Malai, which is sautéed with cashews, coconut and cream ($13.50) and perhaps some deep fried onion rings in a dhal batter ($8.50).

In the main courses, there are four lamb dishes to choose from, but I recommend Roganjosh ($18).

These are lamb chunks cooked in tomato, onions and yogurt.

The other which is a very mild dish is a combination of lamb and spinach, called Palak Gosht ($18.50).

Your banquet may benefit from the speciality, a goat curry on the bone, ($21) – another mellow dish in tomatoes and yogurt. Goat is a perfect meat to cook in this manner.

From the seafood selection, consider Goan Fish Curry ($21.50).

This features the sweet and sour flavour of the Tamarind and is spiced with chilies and a creamy sauce.

Spice up your feast with a dish from the south of India with a beef or chicken Vindaloo ($22).

Either of these dishes will awaken your senses and provide a chili fix.

Of course this is only a guide through a menu of many selections. As a vegetable dish, try the Brinjal Baigan ($13.25) – a delicious, well textured, curry based around eggplant.

Ask about a raita with your meal, which acts as another dimension and coolant to the chili heat.

Of course there are banquets available that begin at $28.50 per person, to $32 per person and finally the deluxe version at $35.50. Don’t ignore the Indian desserts – they are delicious.

Royal India service is a high standard, the small winelist is well designed and management will always find a special vintage red if you enquire. The L shaped upstairs and downstairs restaurant has long been promised a make-over by the Chouhans and, hopefully, it will happen soon

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