Taj - The flavour of India

The Taj Mahal is almost the universal symbol of everything that is Indian. The Taj Restaurant even has a painting of the Taj Mahal on one wall, just as a small reminder (if one needed one) that the Taj is Chiang Mai’s newest Indian restaurant.

The brain-child of international restaurateur Abdulla Kabir, the Taj is in the Chiang Mai Pavilion (upstairs and above the Golden Arches hamburger franchise) and has an enclosed air-conditioned main dining area, plus another section outside where those who enjoy cigarettes can eat and blow smoke in each other’s eyes with impunity.

We chose the air-con area, which is very cheerfully decked out with bright coloured tablecloths, contrasting with the pale cream walls. Having been only opened four months ago by the Chiang Mai governor, the sign proclaiming the event is still proudly adherent to the far wall.

The menu is extensive enough without being the usual multi-paged Indian menu of 4,000 items that takes hours to read. The 60 or so choices at the Taj are adequately representative of the cuisine of the Indian sub-continent regions.

It begins with Starters covering different styles of pakoras (B. 95-130), and then moves into Raitas (B. 60-80), a couple of salads and then into 12 Tandoori choices, some of which come with accompanying nan bread. These range in price between B. 140-290, with the top priced item being for four pieces of tandoori chicken and nan.

Southern Indian Dosas (B. 60-250) are followed by items called “Gravy” (around B. 150) then sections with mutton, beef, fish and vegetarian items, with the vast majority under B. 150.

Rices, breads, desserts, soft drinks and lassi round out the menu.

Before we began the meal, owner Abdulla appraised us of the style of his Asian kitchen. The chef is an Indian trained Bangladeshi, and the required spices are all imported from India. They make their own yoghurt and each dish is cooked to order, and is not pre-prepared and reheated.

We began with a vegetable pakora, eaten with the luminescent green mint sauce and we were immediately impressed. An excellent starter.

Following the pakoras we had a plate of hot cheese nan and then into four very different dishes - a chicken reshmi kebab, a prawn malaikari and a chicken tikka masala (which Abdulla referred to as the ‘Birmingham Special’ - a reference to the fact that Indian food is now the most favoured cuisine in England, and forget the bangers and mash) and a chana masala vegetarian item.

The Reshmi kebab was one that I had not experienced before, but is kept overnight in a marinade of 19 different spices before going into the tandoor for cooking. It was a universal and immediate ‘hit’ on our table.

The Birmingham Special demonstrated very well why chicken tikka masala is just so popular - good solid chunks of chicken and very flavoursome.

The chana masala is based on chick peas and was another dish full of flavour, but my choice of the evening was the prawn malaikari. A wonderfully filling dish with aromatic spices (but watch out for prawn tails that are left on).

Abdulla Kabir is to be congratulated in bringing high quality Indian cuisine (northern and southern as well as Bangladeshi - and the ‘Birmingham Special’) to Chiang Mai, and judging by his comments book has already begun to carve a niche for his restaurant. We all thought the food was excellent, though the lack of any alcohol for sale was a surprise; however, Abdulla assured me that patrons were welcome to bring their own - something to remember for those who enjoy wine with their food (an Evans and Tate Gnangara red would go well with this cuisine).

Definitely worth the trip to the bustling Anusarn area, especially if you are a fan of Indian food. “The flavour of India” is the promise. It lives up to it. By the way, they will also do takeaways.

Taj, Chiang Mai Pavilion, 145 Changklan Road, telephone 04 001 4920. Parking available at Anusarn Night Market. Open seven days, lunch 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. (but closed for lunch on Fridays), and dinner 5.30 p.m. until 11.30 p.m. every day.