From Iceland — Restaurant Review: Austur-Indíafjelagið—Trip To India In A Thali

Restaurant Review: Austur-Indíafjelagið—Trip To India In A Thali

Words by
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published April 22, 2015


Hverfisgata 56, 101 Reykjavík
Sun-Thu 18-22, Fri-Sat 18-23
What we think
Elegant Indian affair with top-notch service. Stray from the popularity contest, and go regional
Authentic Indian
Sets the bar for what excellent service should be
Price for 2
18,000 - 24,000 ISK

Any place that truly considers itself cosmopolitan today boasts a rich landscape of dining options. It is a testament to Reykjavík’s curiosity and inclusiveness that a restaurant like Austur-Indiafjelagið has not only survived, but thrived.

To celebrate Holi, the festival of colours, the restaurant offered a festive menu through March. At first glance, the menu looked far removed from a traditional Holi affair: I was looking forward to seeing ghujiyas and thandai, for instance. Nonetheless, good Indian food is hard to come by and we booked our tables well in advance for a weekday dinner and starved ourselves in anticipation.

The restaurant is celebrating its 20th year, and that is reflected in its luxurious new ambience. Rich, gleaming teak wood pillars, coffered wooden ceiling, classical music and plush brocade cushions set the tone. We started with a Holi cocktail of rum and ginger beer and my partner had a faultless mango lassi. I suspect they are made with good quality frozen or tinned Alphonso mangoes.

The menu cleverly juxtaposes popular classics with little-known regional gems. We chose accordingly and decided to try one festive Holi menu (6,990 ISK) along with a few dishes a la carte. We started with a superlative Tiger Shrimp dish, Kottayam style. Three luscious shrimps, on a little banana leaf-lined platter, redolent with the spices of the South—mustard, curry leaves and a touch of tamarind. Scrumptious. The Paneer tikka (2,095 ISK) took me right back to the streets of old Delhi, even though the paneer (fresh cottage cheese) could have been a touch softer. At that short a notice though, full marks to them for accommodating an off-menu request. It was also nice to try the two dishes side by side, each a representative of the distinct regional differences, the paneer from the North and the shrimp from the South.

The Boti kebabs were next. Cubes of succulent lamb, grilled over charcoal, cooked rare, served with mint chutney. The Murgh Lehsuni kebabs stole the show, though. Garlicky, smoky and tender, dipped into coriander chutney, and sublime.

The masala kulcha (625 ISK), a flatbread topped with chopped onions, coriander and cumin, and the garlic naan were the perfect tool to mop up the luscious coconut lamb Nariyal Ghosth (5,195 ISK) and Shahi Kurma (mixed vegetables). A refined version of the more robust and rustic Chettinad curries, the lamb curry was clearly shown some love. Full-fat coconut milk, simmered in an aromatic arsenal of bay leaves, fennel, star anise and curry leaves, this dish was delicate, nuanced, and packed a punch. To a South Indian, this was a pleasant ticket home in a bowl of curry goodness. The Shahi Kurma lived up to its royal tag and managed to erase those traumatic memories of buffets one is invariably subjected to growing up in India. Spicy, and in a tomato-based gravy, the vegetables were cooked just right.

By this point we were too full to eat any more. But Chandrika and her team checked on us regularly and the meal was peppered with delightful conversations offering a pleasant pause from the gluttony. A simple tadka dal, and rice was next. We asked for some pickles (825 ISK) to go with it, and we were graciously offered a pungent Gujarati chilli pickle and a fiery Andhra mango pickle. Moong dal cooked creamy, with a ghee tadka (tempering) of cumin, garlic and chillies—this is what one reaches for when one is longing for home, or just wants a food hug. Add a papad, and it is a satisfying meal on its own. DO NOT skip the pickles.

Dessert was a delectable coconut ginger crème brulee (1650 ISK) but the pistachio kulfi was a slight letdown. I was expecting a kulfi full of chunks of creamy malai (milk cream) and ground pistachios, but this was oversweet, with just a sprinkling of pistachios on top. Considering the symphony of dishes that preceded dessert, this was lacklustre. But then again, one seldom has any room for dessert at the end of an Indian meal.

The menu takes the diner on a journey through India, with no two dishes born from the same gravy boat. The use of fresh spices, and restraint with the ghee and masalas, are proof of an experienced kitchen. Add to that service that sets the bar very high and one begins to understand Austur-Indíafjelagið’s consistent success.

The prices are on the higher end, but this is no take-away balti place. The portions are generous, the meat cooked to a rareness one can seldom expect from Indian cuisine, possibly to accommodate the cutlery-wielding diner—an adaptation that, I think, is very clever. The festival menu is available until April 5, so you might just catch it in time. Book your tables in advance; a hearty, memorable meal awaits.

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