Friday, September 2, 2011

Taj Mahal, Parliament Street, Nassau

The Taj Mahal
When we lived in England, going for a curry was usually a group activity, a natural progression after a night in the pub. The Juggernaut and I were avid members of the Tooting Curry Club, which was basically an excuse to meet up with our mates every now and then and make our way round  the curry houses of London. Happy days. Our weekends would often end with a takeaway, if we couldn’t be arsed to cook on a Sunday night. As we hadn’t been for an Indian since arriving in Nassau, we weren't quite sure what to expect.Many of the people I’d asked about the Taj Mahal either hadn’t been there at all or hadn’t been in years. Those who had quite liked the food and ambience. The Taj Mahal is housed in a vibrantly coloured building, whose fa├žade I had always admired. I opened the door to a mild whiff of cumin and body odour. The familar smell of curry houses on Brick lane in East London. The dark low-ceilinged foyer looked just like an old man’s boozer in the provinces of Britain. A throwback from the colonial days of old. There were two doors; one led to the restaurant, one to the pub. Slightly baffled, I opened the former.
Inside it felt like an empty pub at Christmas time. Tables were laid with red and green, gold poinsettias and other garish decorations festooned the dining area. Happy Indian music was playing to add to the joy. The floor was fitted with an immaculate checked carpet; a brave choice for restaurant flooring I felt. There was a lone male diner. Other diners came and went throughout our dinner but didn’t linger long. I needn’t have booked a table for nine. J and I ordered a beer; the only drink to have with curry, and perused the weighty menu while we awaited the rest of our party.The appetisers included such staples as Meat Samosas ($10.95) and Onion Bhajis ($8.95). Curries included the usual Chicken Tikka Masala ($17.95); possibly the most popular dish in Britain, Butter chicken ($21.95), Lamb Jalfrezi ($27.95) , Dopiaza and Rogan Josh. Most dishes could be ordered mild, medium or hot, with the exception of the Vindaloo which just came one way; hot as hell. Each dish was served with steamed rice. I was surprised to see Beef dishes on the menu as cows are sacred in India. Eating beef is a huge taboo and killing a cow can even lead to imprisonment. I began to doubt the authenticity of this place. We decided to order a load of curries and share them, along with a variety of Naan breads; garlic, butter, cheese and my top choice, Peshwari. Ah, it really had been too long since I last had an Indian.
We ordered a load of Poppadums with Mango Chutney for the table. The Poppadums had a slightly fishy taste, maybe from the oil they were fried in. Despite this they were perfectly ok. The real problem was the so-called Mango Chutney. Watery, radioactive-red jam. It had never even so much as shaken hands with a mango. This didn’t bode well at all. Not long afterwards big warm plates were brought out in anticipation of our main courses. Stainless steel boats bearing steaming curries garnished with coriander were brought out on a tray. The moment of truth had arrived. My Chicken Jalfrezi tasted pretty good, although it’s heat was quite harsh, it got you at the back of the throat. The Chicken Tikka Masala was so brightly coloured you could have seen it from outer space. The Lamb Gosht Bhuna was a favourite, with it’s pungent, unctuous sauce which clung to the chunks of meat. The aromatic chickpea curry, whose name escapes me, was a winner. However, the Vindaloo was brutal; it was so fiery you could barely tell what meat it contained. I just remember downing beer fast after trying it. We desperately needed more beer on the table. The waitresses had a tendency to huddle around the corner whenever we wanted to order more drinks. The portions were generous; you easily could share a curry with some sides. Needless to say, everyone had a little pot for lunch the following day.
When offered dessert, nobody could recall ever having tried anything Indian before. We were always to full or too drunk at that stage to order it. Nevertheless, out of curiosity I had a peek at the menu. Rice pudding, Gajar ka Halwa; young sweet carrots grated and cooked in milk, sugar syrup and almonds and various exotic fruits with syrup. No thanks. All a bit sickly for my tastes. All in all, it was a lot of fun. A bit pricey for what we had. Of course I’ve had better. I’d come back again to go to the pub. Whenever I feel homesick, I could imagine I’m back in England and order a pint with my portion of chickpeas. You won’t catch me touching the mango chutney though.