286 Duckworth St.
St. John’s, NL
Ph. (709) 753-6006
India Gate was closed for well over a year. That’s a long time to go without a vindaloo. At least the India Gate take-out operation was up and running quickly after the fire. Dining inside India Gate has always been the preferred option for me. So, it was with great anticipation that we returned to the venerable restaurant. Did you know it’s been around for 27 years? I had no idea until I was informed by co-owner, Nickie Sood. Although Dennis, our loquacious server, did tell us he’d been with the restaurant for 22 years.
“Fourteen months closed is a long time. It’s good to be back,” Dennis added with a broad smile.
You can eat or drink at the bar now if you like. India Gate’s makeover features a striking black and white theme. The restaurant’s central, large, round, load bearing post is encrusted with hundreds of dark, glittering tiles. A sleek, black, leather banquette snugs the east wall, which, like all the walls is painted black, with contrasting Indian inspired decorative panels.
Textured black ceiling tiles reign over dark carpeting, which rests under numerous tables and chairs. The chairs are elegant – wooden with upholstered seats the colour of browned spices. A rear wall with fireplace installation is covered in attractive faux wood tile. Gold draperies provide a needed splash of colour.
Much of the white in India Gate’s black and white theme is supplied by the tables. Each is double laid with white linen tablecloths, a rare sight in this time of ultra casual restaurants. (I welcome tablecloths as much for being very effective restaurant noise reducers, as for their aesthetic contribution.) India Gate delivers a refreshing, old fashioned dining experience, complete with an easy-on-the-ears soundtrack of Indian instrumental music. Nickie and Davinder Sood have decided to uphold the long-standing traditions and standards of fine dining.
It can’t be said enough that service is often the component that makes the difference between exceptional and average restaurants. India Gate’s servers have perfect pitch when it comes to knowing how to treat their customers. Here’s an example. A couple seated at a table behind us wasn’t particularly enjoying something they’d ordered. Their server immediately took the dish away and had it replaced with another. The couple apologized for the bother, to which the server replied, “No bother at all. If you’re not happy, then I’m not happy.” The customers obviously appreciated the server’s words.
As usual our meal began with a glass of beer and India Gate’s complimentary, ultra thin papadum. Some pieces had a plain, beaded white surface while others were flecked with cumin seeds. The papadum tasted fresh and crisp in the way newly bagged potato chips do. Dips of tamarind, sweet and sour, and minted yogurt accompanied.
The Mulligatawny soup came with or without chicken. With chicken, it would have been a meal unto itself. I had the lentils only version, which was filling enough. There is no single recipe for this soup – rather hundreds – so it’s impossible to say what is true Mulligatawny soup. Applying the pedestrian label, curry soup, is probably a better way of describing it.
India Gate has all new, white porcelain dinnerware, so the Mulligatawny soup came in a beautiful wide brimmed bowl, with brim decorated by a sprinkling of colourful spices and herbs. The red lentils gave extra eye appeal. Onions, fresh herbs and spices like cumin and coriander gave the soup aroma and flavour. The addition of cream made the soup delectable.
A wide selection of breads appeared on the menu: naan, paratha, kulcha and roti. We tried the onion kulcha and garlic naan. The naan was more straightforward, embedded with fresh garlic and cilantro. India Gate’s kulcha was thick with onions and spicy. Clearly a good dose of hot pepper had been employed. It was a delicious, moist, hot bread.
Chicken pakora is a wonderfully moreish snack. The basket of golden, boneless chicken chunks, coated in a light batter of chickpea flour – I think with a light chilli flavour – came with spicy carrot pickle and mango chutney. Indian cuisine features a plethora of pickles, relishes, chutneys and inventions like raita and kachumber. Indian cuisine simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable without these condiments. I thought the chutney and chicken pakora made a good match.
Bombay fish looked appetizing in a shiny, stainless serving bowl. It smelled good too. Pieces of cod had been cooked in a tamely spiced, bright, red sauce. Cod marries well with proud sauces. In this case, chilli, turmeric, tomatoes – and perhaps a touch of tamarind – were employed to make an impression, and did so.
Biryani – a fancy basmati rice dish – can be made with many different ingredients, lamb, goat, chicken et cetera. My favourite is prawn or shrimp biryani. India Gate’s prawn biryani, is a favourite. Basmati rice is cooked in fragrant boiling water. Sautéed, spiced shrimps are eventually mixed with it and the dish is finished off. This one included coconut, cooked egg white and cashews. It was excellent and the shrimps were large and very succulent.
Rashmi kebab at India Gate is made with ground lamb and ground chicken. The meat is seasoned with garam masala and various spices. Then the lamb is wrapped around a skewer, with the chicken being wrapped around the lamb. Finally, it’s lowered into a tandoor and cooked until brown. The result is a juicy delight, if you like your meats mixed.
If you want to make something taste exotic add cloves. I tasted cloves in India Gate’s lamb vindaloo, along with many other spices frequently used in Indian cuisine. The menu said, “rare spices.” It also included potatoes – not so rare – but some chefs like to add them. This vindaloo of braised lamb was exquisite. Only a reddish stain remained in the dish by the time we were done.
Within a few minutes of finishing our dinner, server Dennis arrived offering a small tray of steaming hot hand towels. The last time I experienced such luxury was on an Air Canada flight. We were bumped up to executive class. It was nice to leave India Gate with warm, clean hands but, for me, that final gesture really spoke to the kind of restaurant that India Gate has become, a dining room with class, one that’s serving some of the very best food in the province.
* Good * * Very good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Price Dinner for two with beer, tax and tip costs approximately $115.
Atmosphere Lots of positive energy from happy diners.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Monday to Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Credit cards All major.
Beverages Decent house wine is available in 5 oz. and 7 oz. pours or by the half litre. A few dozen popular, mass produced wines are sold by the bottle, including Champagne. Four cocktails appear on the menu: Black Russian, White Russian, Pina Colada and Martini. Bottled domestic and imported beers include choices like:
Molson Canadian, Budweiser, Corona, Stella, Guinness, Peroni and Kingfisher.
Best bets Onion kulcha, Mulligatawny soup, chicken pakora, prawn biryani and lamb vindaloo.
Gluten free options This restaurant is very accommodating. Please ask your server about options.
Wheelchair access No.