Reassuring Continuity at Maharaja
Text by John Bonar
Photos by Liza Azarova
Maharaja restaurant was the first of the modern Indian restaurants in Moscow, opening its doors in 1994 at the location it still occupies today at Starosadskiy Per. 1, just off Pokrovka ulitsa. When it opened it received rave reviews from curry lovers starved for a choice of restaurants with an international standard of service. Maharaja fulfilled the demands then, and still maintains its high standards of both cuisine and service under the watchful eye of the restaurant director, Rawat, who has run the restaurant for the last ten years and is familiar with most of the long-term businessmen here.
For a ‘return to Maharaja’ dinner one Tuesday evening I invited Michael Bedford, who formerly ran Cafe des Artistes until 1998 when he forsook Moscow for Hong Kong. We reminisced nostalgically about the old days, but found it reassuring that while the menu has been updated and Indian movies now play (silently) on the flat screen TV’s that adorn its walls, Maharajah still serves what is possubly the best curry west of Dubai and east of London, ambassadorial residences always excepted.
“From the reassuringly high proportion of Indians on its waiting staff, you just have to believe there’s an Indian in the kitchen too,” commented Michael as we demolished the complimentary plate of papadums that came with mixed chutney, sauces and chopped onions. It was a touch that while customary in all Indian restaurants we have eaten in around the world, is sadly often neglected by many Indian restaurants in Moscow.
Sarwat was an attentive host, and at his recommendation, we had a starter of mixed kebabs with the Maharaja Kebab Platter (745 Rubles) consisting of Tandoori Chicken (chicken prepared by marinating for hours and gently roasted in the Tandoor clay oven); Shesh Kebab of minced mutton flavoured with coriander and herbs; Malai Kebab, (delicately spiced chicken coated with cream and cheese); Machli Tikka (a type of sturgeon marinated in ginger and garlic, spices and lemon) and Paneer Tikka (cottage cheese laced with spices and topped with a slice of green sweet pepper).
The flavours were delicate and complementary. This is definitely the way to sample all the clay oven appetizers.
To follow, we shared a combination of Mutton Vindalloo, prepared with onion and potato in a red tomato laced chile sauce (530 Rubles); Chicken Tikka Masala, tandoor roasted chicken cooked in a spicy curry sauce (570 Rubles); Hyderabadi Alloo a recent spicy addition to the menu of diced potatoes cooked with spices and red chili peppers (270 Rubles) and steamed white Basmati rice (170 Rubles); all accompanied by fine Garlic Naan bread (80 Rubles)
The Hyderabadi Alloo while dry was not as spicy as we had been led to believe. The Mutton Vindaloo was spicy hot, but not at first taste. It took a couple of moments before the full power of the spices hit the palate, and even then they were not overpowering. The spiciest item on the table had been the chutney served with papadums at the every beginning, which brought tears to my eyes, but cleared my sinuses wonderfully. The Masala dish was, as we both agreed, truly excellent.
We washed the whole down with draught Budweiser (190 Rubles for 0.5L). As Michael told Ratwan, “When God invented beer, I truly believe he meant it as the natural accompaniment to curry.”
To round off the meal, Ratwan insisted we try the Coconut Burfi, squares of the most exquisitely flavored sweet, a sort of Indian version of Turkish delight (180 Rubles).
By the end of the leisurely meal the restaurant was full and looking around us we spotted several Indians hosting their Russian business contacts at a traditional meal. “Always a good mark of an ethnic restaurant,” commented Michael. “When you see their own people here, it means the cooking is as good as home.”