Navrang Mahal’s two branches are located in busy tourist hotspots (Karon and Patong) where restaurant managers constantly face the temptation to make things simpler to cater for mass-tourists’ tastes. This is one of the few dining venues that does not buckle under the pressure of the market, it stays true to its own colours, or rather to the colours of Tiranga, India’s national tricolour: saffron yellow, white and green.
Out of the two restaurants, my personal favourite is Navrang Mahal in Karon, where chef Uttam Singh runs the kitchen. A living manifestation of Indian hospitality, he is always happy to help you choose your dishes and adjust them to your taste, so don’t hesitate to ask. If you’re not as familiar with Indian cuisine, rest assured that you can rely on his recommendations completely, as I did during my most recent visit. If I relied on my own on my knowledge, I would have inevitably ordered things that are far from typical Indian food, but the dinner he served was a comprehensive introduction to Indian cuisine.
Navrang Mahal’s menu has lots of vegetarian options, but chef Singh suggested going straight to the meats and served me up some Chicken Achari Tikka, pieces of chicken first marinated in yoghurt with Indian spices, then grilled to juicy perfection and served on a bed of vegetables. The meat was incredibly tender thanks to the marinade and tasted just delicious on its own, but I decided complement it with some tangy chutney.
Choosing these traditional Indian condiments is all about picking the right balance, and Chef Singh has got a well-honed knack for it. Actually, he picked what I would likely have chosen myself: first, some mildly spicy fresh mint sauce for fragrance; second, some pickled onions for sourness; and last but not least, sweet and spicy jam-like fruit chutney.
At Navrang Mahal meat lovers can find an impressive variety, prepared in styles such as Tikka, Tandoori, and Kebab, but we limited ourselves to Chicken Achari Tikka and from there moved on to the curries, the cornerstone of Indian nutrition. Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani is a must-try dish here. If you think no-one can surprise you with this staple Indian dish, please, give chef Singh a chance. I’ve tried many in my life, but the one at Navrang Mahal is the creamiest, the smoothest and the richest by far.
Other curry options include hot and spicy Lamb Vindaloo and fiery Rogan Josh, mild Dal Makhni, succulent Prawn Masala and many more. Our special treat was Paneer Methi Malai, which I had never tried before but will definitely order again. As one can tell by the original Indian name, this is a cottage cheese (paneer) curry with fresh fenugreek leaves in a rich and creamy gravy. Perfect for those looking for a milder dish but who still want to sample the authentic taste of India.
Navrang Mahal’s curries go perfectly with basmati long-grained rice, but it would be an inexcusable mistake not to try some of the many breads, so we opted for ever-popular Garlic Naan and whole wheat Laccha Paratha, which I had never tried before. The latter turned out to be a layered North Indian flat bread brushed with ghee (clarified butter), crispy on the outside yet melting in your mouth. Plus the bread is easy to tear into bite-sized pieces.
Last but by no means least comes Raita, the renowned yoghurt dip. Some Indian dishes range in terms of spiciness from hot to extra hot, and that’s when having a dairy product on the table becomes crucial. Despite the widespread belief, neither water nor beer help when you accidentally have too much chili.
Capsaicin, which is an active component of chili peppers, is a hydrophobic compound, thus water-based liquids simply cannot extinguish the fire in your mouth. The cold and slightly sourish yoghurt is the first and only remedy, take good note of this before diving into the world of authentic spicy Indian cuisine. Or you can always ask Chef Singh to prepare your food a little less spicy.
Navrang Mahal, in Karon is located at Karon Sea Sands Resort and Spa. Visit NavrangMahal.com for directions and menu. For those who fancy a nice weekend retreat, Karon Sea Sands has attractive green-season promotional rates on accommodation. For more information, please call +66 (0)76 286 464.