Ajanta Indian Restaurant
Text John Ortega and Ram Kumar
Photos Denis Manko
Today I had a hankering for some good Indian food and I called Ram Kumar our Sales Manager at Passport Magazine for his suggestions. He didn’t hesitate to suggest Ajanta on Malaya Gruzinskaya, next to the Apelsin Club. The restaurant’s name is taken from the Indian Caves whose Buddhist paintings have survived thousands of years in the Sahyadri hills and tell the story of a rich and a glorious past. Moscow’s Ajanta is an Indian palace in the center of the city. Indian recipes that served the royal pleasure of the Mogul Emperors are brought to you for the fi rst time in Moscow. I called Sammy Kotwani of Imperial Tailoring and then Sandeep Nasa of Unique Pharma; gentlemen that I can trust for a confi rmation of Ram’s good taste. Our Russian lawyer, Timur Beslangurov joined us just to test the spiciness of the food.
We arrived at 14:00 on a Monday and found plenty of parking in the front. This place is huge and must have been a pre-revolutionary private mansion. The location is a good one in central Moscow in a free standing building highly decorated inside with Indian artifacts, with high ceilings and an attentive but unobtrusive staff dressed in ancient Indian uniforms. A wood carved doorway has been built around the entrance and the proprietors have constructed a stone stairway which leads up to a kind of discreet, Mogul like cigar room fi lled with the usual Hooka-Shisha pipes and bathrooms are quite chic lined completely with black tiles. It looks like no money was spared when building this eatery.
We were greeted by Mr. Kaushik, the manager who informed us that the owner is Mr. Shekhar Singh who lives in Los Angeles and directed the opening of the restaurant in August of 2007. The restaurant is run by Robert Arnopolsky who also manages the 5 Spices and Baan Thai. “Finally there is an Indian restaurant in Moscow, which is not in the basement and boasts elegant premises of its own!” says Sammy Kotwani of Imperial Tailoring.
Appetizers range from 330 Rubles to 1,200 rubles for mixed fresh vegetables with limejuice, vegetable samosas, mushroom tikka and Gosht Kati lamb with flat bread baked in the tandoor.
We ordered a House Kebab Platter prepared for 2-3 persons for 2,850 rubles, a Lamb Shrimp Chicken dish, a Salmon dish that was a bit expensive but large and tasty, and Dal Punjabi the famous Punjabi specialty of cooked yellow lentils. The lentils were absolutely my favorite; they had a very smoky flavor to them and very unique. Some of the other dishes on the menu include Tandoori Chop; baby lamb chops flavored with mild spices cooked in the tandoor oven, Makhamali Bakra; succulent pieces of baby lamb charcoal grilled to perfection; Tandoori Lobster marinated in rich Indian spices and baked in the tandoori oven; Murg Chat which is shredded chicken cooked in aromatic spices, served with tomatoes & cucumbers; Vegetable Samosas which are crispy fried pyramids stuffed with potatoes, carrot, green peas, fried cashew nuts and curry leaves while Keema Samosas are minced mutton versions cooked with Indian spices in the traditional crispy dough jackets.
When it comes to seafood, Ajanta knows what they are doing:
Ajwani Jhinga: Tiger prawns fl avored with ajwain cooked in the tandoor.
Saffrani Jhinga: Prawns seasoned with saffron in yoghurt marinade then grilled on charcoal.
Tawa Jhinga: Tiger prawns fried with traditional spices mughlai style.
Chatpati Jhinga: Deep fried prawns topped with spicy mango chutney.
Lahsooni Jhinga: Deep fried prawns in garlic sauce.
Crab Paratha or Jhinga Parantha: A south Indian entree with crab or prawn, fried in a sweet chili sauce with pieces of crispy parantha.
Goa Prawn Curry: Tiger prawns coastal style in a rich curry sauce.
They have Tandoori and Tikka dishes as well with The essential Naan, Paneer, Kulcha, Masala Kulcha, Roti, Lachha Parantha and Keema Kulcha. Deserts include the classic Rasmalai, an elegant milky dessert and Gulab Jamun the traditional dessert of coconut powder served with vanilla ice cream. Or you can try Daulate Bagicha the assorted fruits in a honey dressing with vanilla ice cream. Some of the more exotic ice creams available are Pineapple Gold, Green tea, Prune in Chocolate with cognac and Maple Walnut. Ajanta boasts a huge collection of wine, which is very un-Indian for restaurants from the sub-continent! Prices refl ect the usual upscale mark-up for imported wines. According to Sandeep Nasa of Unique Pharmaceuticals, “Ajanta is sure to become a premier Indian restaurant and may be among the best in Europe.” Everything here has an air of quiet refinement, the result, no doubt of an operation honed over several years of stewardship by the owners. The service is silky smooth, the dining room is full of personality and chef Rajpal’s food never disappoints. I must say that this is the most expensive Indian restaurant in Moscow but worth every kopek. Ajanta 23 Malaya Gruzinskaya Ul. 609-3925/3701 12:00 - midnight, Metro Belorusskaya, Metro Krasnopresnenskaya. http://www.ajanta.su/eng.html