When I heard about Gandhi I immediately welcomed the idea even before looking at the menu. Reykjavík only has one proper Indian restaurant, the wonderful Austur-Indíafjelagið, which focuses mostly on the northwestern part of India (with a honourable mention going to the lovely Pakistani restaurant Shalimar). Gandhi’s emphasis is on Kerala cuisine (Southwest India) and the price range is somewhere between Shalimar and Austur-Indíafjelagið.
Kerala is an Indian state, formerly part of the feudal kingdom of Travancore (I just had to include that as it has to be the coolest name of a kingdom ever). Traditionally known for their spice production, they produce loads and loads of black pepper, vanilla and cardamom.
South-Indian cuisine can be divided up a bit like a boy band. Andhra is the spicy one, Karnataka is the sweet one, Kerala is the nutty one and Tamil is…eh… Justin Timberlake (?). Kerala cuisine is nutty both in the sense that it uses coconuts with wild abandon and in that its influences are maddeningly diverse as the region boasts a reasonably large (mostly) non-vegetarian Christian and Muslim community while the surrounding regions are mostly Hindu and/or vegetarian. As a result Kerala people have a balanced diet high in vegetables and fish. The Kerala people eat really well without abandoning taste or freaking out over fibres and antioxidants. Basically, they will have something for everyone, but rice, fish, pickles and coconut feature prominently.
The head chef bears a passing resemblance to Ving Rhames (a resemblance that grew stronger as the mixture of curry and beer proceeded to “go medieval on my ass” the following morning). And according to their website, Tobba Marínós, blogger, local celebrity and avid Grapevine-reader is a big fan of their cooking. Two notches already and we still haven’t had a bite to eat.
The menu at Gandhi is a perfect size for an Indian restaurant. As much as I agree with Gordon Ramsey about the simple two page menus, it simply doesn’t apply here. No one in their right mind goes to India for minimalism. India invented OTT. The menu is a solid three-pager, which is perfect for anxiety cases like myself who start chewing on the curtains whenever they’re provided with more than three choices. The selection is about two-thirds Kerala and one-third generic Indian (which is fine by me).
I’ve been on a huge chutney binge at home, putting chutney-coconut milk sauces on everything from roasted vegetables to fried fish. So I started out with the most perfect naan (390 ISK) that I have had in a while (puffy, crispy, not too oily) with a mild mango chutney on the side (495 ISK).
For the first course my date had a beautiful turmeric-coloured Masala grilled fish (1590 ISK), which collapsed on the fork and she immediately claimed it was one of the better fish dishes she had had here (wouldn’t go quite that far, but definitely an excellent dish). I had the mushroom fry (1560 ISK), which was deep-fried button mushrooms—simple little nuggets of ginger, garlic and awesome.
For the main course my date had the Mutton Malli Perala (3990 ISK), a delicious boneless rack of lamb heavy on onion and coriander and I picked the Malabar Fish Curry (2990 ISK), which is quite a traditional Kerala dish by all accounts. I think the mutton should please any meat-eater, but I’d heavily recommend the fish dishes even if you’re not a big fan of fish.
Simply dubbed “Indian dessert” (1050 ISK) was some variation on gajar ka halwa (at least this time around). A spicy carrot pudding with raisins and almonds served with ice cream and a slice of French chocolate cake. Maybe they figured that “carrot pudding” wouldn’t sound appetising to Icelanders. But fussy eaters, trust me, this is a really tasty dessert. But I would have liked to see more traditional dessert options such as a sambharam ginger buttermilk drink or vada donuts.
The only downsides I can think of are that I would have liked more strictly regional choices and more vegetarian options. But other than that, Gandhi offers an all-around great dining experience.
Valare upakaram, Gandhi!
What We Think: Delicious and a welcome variety to the Icelandic restaurant flora.
Flavour: Indian/Kerala. Think Indian meets Indonesian. Coconut, fish, coriander, lamb. Piquant rather than simply spicy.
Ambiance: Cosy, romantic.
Service: A little erratic but special praise for Lloyd the waiter for friendly service bravery in the line of fire during a packed restaurant on a weekday.
Price: (2 people): 13-15.000 ISK (with wine)