Compared to the no-frills suggestion of a high school friend, Ahbi’s is in many ways on the opposite end of the dining spectrum. Take the ambiance illustrated in the first shot. There is an air of high class and intimacy that would require the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes to uncover at the down-to-earth Janani. However in saying that, it is still by and large a suburban restaurant. There is no need for a fancy three piece or the transformer-like LBD set to “evening elegance” mode.
Actually it was a bit of a surprise as the pictures on their website would indicate a more casual dining atmosphere.
Orientation of evening meal begin with side dish trinity. Grammar issue aside, the dishes consist of (clockwise from the top) cucumber raita, mango chutney and tomato and onion ‘kachumber’. The sides are nice, though not particularly special in any way. However, they do go well with the complementary pappadams.
These wafer-thin rounds made from lentil flour are a textbook example of how pappadams should be. Light, crisp, flavourful and not the least bit greasy. They’re great for stimulating the appetite until the rest of the entrees arrive.
The masala dosai is a wonderful semi-crisp pancake encompassing a core of spiced potatoes and onion. In order to experience the dish as intended, the soup like consistency of the lentil sambar (top) and the spicy coconut chutney (not the top) were to be incorporated with the potato filling prior to consumption. A lesson learned from the gentleman and scholar that was our waiter for the evening. This was my favourite of the night. A+
The K12 peak that is the palak patta chat consisted of spinach battered in lentil flour which is deep-fried to a wonderful crunch. This is dressed with a superb melange of sauces including chili, date, mint, tamarind and yogurt.
This dish was real nice, though one I found difficult to eat with a knife and fork. The tines would either not give way to the crunchy crust or would charge through, splitting the lentil casing and leave nothing in its wake to grasp. Given the fine dining ambiance, I’d resisted the otherwise strong urge to eat with the hands as you may with other Indian delights. On the plus side, the tines allowed for excessive sauce to drain away.
With the entrees consumed and a brief recess, the principal staple in the form a Kashmini rice pilau arrived to the table. The cashew nuts and sultanas were a fine accompaniment to the basmati rice and worked well with the mains to soon follow.
If restaurant staff had ducked out and purchased the garlic naan from an Indian takeaway at a local shopping centre food court, I would have been naan the wiser. I felt that this was somewhat of a let down as it was a little dry and lacked a certain elasticity I would have expected from a good naan straight out of the tandoor. By no means a fail. More like a conceded pass.
Aside from the chana masala aka chickpea curry, I’m not really a big fan of vegetable curries. However the ennai kathrikai, one of the primary mains, is fine as vegetable curries go. The baby eggplants are delicate in texture and bold in flavour, with a rich curry of cashew, peanut, sesame and coconut.
The chicken makhni is a wonderful curry consisting of chicken tandoori pieces in a mild sauce of fenugreek, tomatoes and cream. It is also a study in how excess tandoori chicken may be repurposed in an effective and delicious manner, minimising waste. Crafty little Indians :)
The taste? Well, pretty much as it looks. It’s something like a butter chicken but with a little more spice.
The tertiary and final course of the evening was a chai tea and complementary chocolate. Though quite aromatic and reasonably flavourful, this was not the best chai tea I’ve ever had. Ironically, the best chai tea was not really a chai tea, at least in the traditional sense of how it’s meant to be prepared.
Overall, Ahbi’s was a great place to dine for Indian food, with prices that weren’t too unreasonable. I’ll certainly make my way back there sometime to try out other appetising items on their menu.