Published October 3, 2018
If there is one good thing to be said about colonialism, it is that food from the Indo-Pak region is now ubiquitous the world over. Even this distant little island is not immune to the charms of fresh naan dipped into a fragrant korma. Shalimar has been treating Icelanders to a taste of Pakistan since 2001. While there was a serious blip in quality in recent memory—the reason I kept away for around three years—Shalimar has found its stride again.
Dragged into Shalimar on a blustery autumn evening a year ago, I tried to avoid the buffet style ‘hot station.’ Resistance, however, was futile. I was struck by the absence of regular offenders at desi restaurants—there was no garish butter chicken, and no “mild” Madras curry in sight (although they do feature on the menu). Instead, bright red fresh beets in a fresh ground masala jostled next to a smoky aubergine and potato dish. It was a reminder of all that’s wholesome, delicious and underrated about this cuisine.
I’ve returned several times for their thali. This daily rotation of homely, seasonal vegetables, lentils and meat dishes, often in the North Indian, Punjabi influenced Lahori tradition, is served for lunch and dinner on weekdays, priced at 2,590-2,890 ISK. The tandoori chicken is a marinated on-the-bone thigh, cooked to perfection; the last brush of ghee an essential finishing touch. I’m partial to the vegetarian thali (also vegan and halal), and theirs is unequivocally the best in town.
One of the joys of dining in restaurants such as Shalimar is the homely, comfortable vibe. Long before “family-style dining” was even a term, Asian cultures were perfecting sit-down meals based around sharing multiple steaming dishes of food, with diners helping themselves to the rice and vegetables in various consistencies, temperatures and textures at their leisure. So don’t hoard that ‘curry’ alone—it’s meant to be shared.
At a recent dinner, we kicked things off with a textbook Onion Bhajia (1,590 ISK), followed by Channa Masala (3090 ISK), and a sublime Saag Aloo Paneer (3,290 ISK). Think velvety greens, ground and cooked skillfully to retain that verdant colour, their delicate spicing a joy. A gingery Punjabi Kheema Karahi (3,890 ISK), spicy lamb mince with fresh peas, was mopped up with naans (490 ISK).
Remember that balanced thali from before? That is really what your a la carte order should emulate—a starter of meat and/or vegetables, a couple of vegetarian wet dishes, a meat curry and some breads and rice to finish. The main courses can veer towards the oily, but it’s a satisfying affair that doesn’t leave you with sweats. The naans are baked in the tandoor; softer and fluffier than Indian naans, they’re the perfect vessel for the spicy sauces.
One Kheer to rule them all
The kheer (1,290 ISK) is a painstakingly slow-cooked, rice-based dessert, with slivers of almonds, pistachios and sometimes ground coconut. It’s a creamy, dreamy finale, and not to be missed.
Curries might be synonymous with Pakistani-Indian cuisine, with North Indian-Punjabi fare often the first and only introduction most non-natives will have to this cuisine. Shalimar is firmly in this category, but what they do best—and what I’d like to see more of—is lesser-known Pakistani fare like kaliyas, niharis and kebabs. Until we see more regional cuisine taking centre stage, Shalimar does a fine job of paving the way forward.