Saturday, 15 February 2014

Curry for lunch - in downtown Warsaw

Being born and raised in Britain, where Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish, it is evident that I would have a taste for curry. And the Taste of Raj being cosmopolitan, it is right and fitting that Indian food should make its way to Warsaw. Poland's capital has several Indian restaurants, some of which like the Arti (Moni's birthday meal venue of choice) or the Ganesh are excellent.

But today I'd like to focus on the institution of the city centre Indian business lunch, which offers Varsovians with a taste for the exotic the chance to eat an excellent Indian meal cheaply during the working day.

The idea of the business lunch is simple: the menu is short (two items - one being vegetarian, the other featuring chicken); the service is swift, the pricing is affordable. For the restaurant, where a full dinner can cost several times more than the lunch, the idea is to fill tables during what would otherwise be a quiet time.

A good vegetarian lunch should consist of a cheese dish (paneer - my favourite is with spinach or sag) and a dish with pulses (chick peas - chana - or lentils - dal), rice, bread and yogurt.

So then - on to my top three lunchtime picks...

The Tandoor Palace is an institution, set up many moons ago by the legendary Charanjit, a Sikh originally from Singapore. It is located on Al. Armii Krajowej, just off Marszałkowska. For years a second home for expats pining for a suburban Indian restaurant 'just like they have in Solihull'; now catering to a far wider clientele. A recent refit has seen the decor changing from flock wallpaper to a more modern, cosmopolitan appearance. A large screen TV shows top Bollywood song-n-dance sequences (though out of sync with the music being played from behind the bar). One that is amazing is shot on the roof of a moving steam train chugging across precipices in the Nilgiri hills - incredibly dangerous!

Anyway, onto the menu. For 25 złotys (just under £5) you get two main dishes (veg or chicken), a portion of rice, two naan breads, plain raita (yogurt) and mineral water or Pepsi.  The food is fresh, nicely spiced, not too garlicky (an important factor in the middle of the working day) and filling, served on one steel tray, thali style (raita separately in a small bowl). Although the vegetarian version does not give you the fuel needed if you cycle long distances into the city centre.

Rain by India Curry on Żurawia currently my nearest Indian lunch venue (the Tandoor Palace being three tram stops away). For the same 25 złotys, you get the same meal deal (two curries, rice, naan and raita, but without the drink. The portions are slightly larger, the food - dare I say it - a tad tastier, the naan bread is glazed with butter, there's fresh coriander sprinkled on the curry. Decor, after last summer's tasteful makeover, is upmarket (which reflects the normal evening pricing). One downside is the music; not properly Indian but some computer-generated New Age stuff, tediously repetitive and played a bit too loud for lunchtime.

The cheapest of the three is Buddha Indian Restaurant on the corner of Poznańska and Wilcza [update: closed spring 2014]; a lunch here is only 20zł (just under £4), though you get either chapati bread or rice, not both, so it's nowhere near as filling. There's something not quite right about the Buddha - the name for instance - less than 1% of the population of India are Buddhist - it's a bit like calling a restaurant purportedly serving English food 'Thor' or 'Jehovah'. And not an Indian to be seen among the staff. But what it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in price and speedy service. I suspect that the Buddha is not owned and run by people from the Subcontinent, but I won't hold that against the place.

Following a tip in the comments (below), I visited the Mandala (ul. Emilii Plater 9/11) for lunch (21zl). Like with Buddha, you either get bread or rice not both; I paid extra for a wholemeal naan, which was a bit of an exaggeration - too much carbohydrate. If two of you go, order one rice and one naan and share. What I liked - the vegetable curry sauce, fresh ginger grated into it; very tasty. But there was only one veg curry dish (albeit put into two dishes to make it look like, er, two dishes) for which the waitress apologised. The raita was runny, more milky than yogurty. Good music - classic Indian raaga, all sitar and tabla, rather than contemporary Bollywood. Atmosphere more of a cafe than a restaurant.

A place not to go for an Indian business lunch is the Saffron Spices on Pl. Konstytucji; no proper lunch deal. I chose a prawn noodle soup, what I got was a handful of tiny frozen shrimps thrown into a packet noodle soup. For 20zł not good value compared to the the Buddha. Advertised as an Indian and Thai restaurant it is neither. And while the Namaste India on ul. Nowogrodzka is a good place to eat a proper Indian meal, it does not do lunches. Coming here at lunchtime means over-ordering and getting just two meal elements (a curry and a rice or bread) and paying 35zł and eating far too much.

Does anyone know of any other Indian restaurants in Warsaw that do a proper business lunch for 20-30zł? I'd be keen to try some more!

This time last year:
Elliot Erwitt exhibition in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
The first heavy snow of winter

This time three years ago:
God's Dwelling Place - a short story

This time four years ago:
Beat this for a snowy winter!

This time five years ago:
Poland's most popular male outer-garment

This time six years ago:
The Frost Gods return


Anonymous said...

Try Mandala on Emilii Plater 9/11 - its really quite tricky to find it - tucked off the main road. Excellent value - circa PLN 25 for lunch and huge portions. I generally eat half and takeway the rest for dinner or the following day. Not heavily spiced but high on tasty content

Sigismundo said...

I don't know if Buddha is a chain, but there's one on Nowy Świat, near the Foksal southbound bus-stop (saw it on Saturday, 15th Feb).

Haven't been for meal there for a year or so, but it used to be staffed in part at least by Indians. Lunch was about 20-25 PLN for a goodly sized portion, though I found it a little mild for my tastes. Drinks of course were extra.

Bob said...

What about this one?

Very good venison, bear and rocky mountain oysters.

(couldn't resist)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ all

I shall attempt to visit all three in coming weeks!

Bob said...

Would probably eliminate my suggestion as it was tongue in cheek so to speak with the play on Indians - but it may be good - sounds more like a take on a TGIF type of motif. Let me know if you want to try it one day, I can meet you down there.

student SGH said...

Each month in my quirky corpo-world I observe more and more people giving up on eating lunches out and shifting towards packed lunches brought from home in plastic boxes (not in jars!). Up to 15 PLN for lunch (main course, no soup), totalling to some 300 PLN per month burns too big hole in budgets of people earning above or well above national average. Glad to see your well-being, even senior executives where I work would say 25 PLN is 'cheap'.

Or maybe you define 'business lunch' as the one eaten with a business partner and company-paid?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH

My lunches I pay for myself (can't remember the last time I was corporately wined and dined!)

Putting money into the local economy via restaurants is a good thing, especially when you tip at 10% (for good service of course).

This is money I save through not driving. 28 złotys is five litres of petrol, or one full day's parking in the city centre.

I very rarely eat 'al desco' considering lunchtime a sacred and civilised institution.

Sigismundo said...

Went yesterday to Buddha on Nowy Swiat.
20 zlots for two courses, "thai chicken soup", and if memory serves, vindaloo curry with rice or naan bread.
2 zlots extra if you want a Coke, 10 zlots for a beer. All in it was very good value all round.

They have a regular set menu, the same every day of the week.

The curry wasn't too mild, it was just right. The soup, thankfully, was quite tame enough for my 3 1/2 year old daughter.

All in a very good deal. I'd give it 3.5 stars out of 5 in terms of taste, 4.5 stars for value.

Buddha is apparently a chain. They have restaurants also in Katowice, and if I recall, Poznan, and a couple of other major cities. They've apparently just closed their second restaurant in Warsaw, so Michal, your earlier info may be out of date.

Sigismundo said...

Just to make it clear about Buddha on Nowy Swiat (near the southbound Foksal bus-stop) . It's a different meal every day of the week. Same meal every Tuesday for example.

And the place is run and staffed exclusively by Indians!

I'll be going back for sure...