Basmati: Homey Indian and Nepali (8.0)

As a child I was always fond of curries of all sorts as my mother liked it. Curried meats and seafood were always welcome on our table. I knew about the subtle differences between curries before I knew their names. Since I began mindful eating about seven years ago (with a diagnosis of IBS) I also grew to like Nepali food because cream and sugar rarely feature in Nepali cooking and that works much better for my tummy without any compromise flavor-wise. In fact, Nepali food is every bit as delicious and aromatic because you taste the herbs and spices even more. Plus, Nepali food is less flour heavy. You get the best of both worlds at Basmati, where they do both Indian and Nepalese dishes.

Basmati’s owner Prem was born in India to Nepalese parents and some of his family members served as Gurkhas, but he himself has settled in Hong Kong for nearly three decades. Prem is an avid cook himself and speaking of his favorite dishes they were all classics like punjabi pakoras (deep-fried veggie nibbles) and paneer momos (dumplings). His exposure to multiple cultures have inspired his cooking to reflect culinary methods from various regions—whether you like a sizzling hot plate of biryani (fried rice), a hearty pot of masala curry, or spiced vegetarian dishes, Basmati’s menu has it all. I spot interesting dishes like gobi manchurian (veggie “balls”) and sizzling paneer (grilled cheese), as well as a good range of curries including masala, korma, saag, vindaloo and madras. Tandooris include chicken, lamb, prawn, salmon and fresh thread-fin fish, all looking quite promising—especially for the prawns and fish where they serve them whole. The menu says that MSG is not used and diners can pick the level of spiciness that suits them.

I appreciate that there are vast culinary differences across different regions even within a country itself, and as an outsider I really can’t comment on authenticity, but I do have an opinion as to whether or not I like something. Basmati was one of those places that really ticked all the boxes for me, and for everyone I invited—most weren’t even fans of Indian or Nepali styled cooking—all agreed that it was a splendid meal. From the pumpkin soup and crunchy nibbles to the lamb leg tandoori, almost everything went above expectation. To be sure, Basmati is not one of those hip places like New Punjab Club or Chaiwala. It’s a humble business—spacious and comfortable enough but not luxurious or trendy by any stretch of imagination. But that is precisely why guests can get to have a scrumptious meal without having to pay a hefty price tag for expensive staff and décor. If you are quite simply looking for some solid Indian/ Nepali food without consideration for an upscale-looking setting, I would recommend Basmati without reservation.

For disclosure of interests, I was invited by the restaurant on this occasion to offer my feedback on their food, and the meal was complimentary. There was no agreement or request for anything else in return, whether in the form of a public review or otherwise.

Food Rundown

Samosas, $52
The brittle crust blends with creamy, spiced potatoes—hearty, comfort food at its best.

Pani puri, $88
Pani puri is a popular Indian street food with mashed potatoes inside the crunchy shells and a sweet/sour juice for a tangy twist—if you like this kind of thing then this version here wouldn’t disappoint either. It’s a bit spicy here, too. Do try to take it down in one mouthful!

Pumpkin soup, $38
Quite a seasonal choice and it made a good start to the meal.

Lamb leg tandoori, $688
As you can see from the photograph this was a huge portion. The lamb leg came chilled from New Zealand. We all know that tandoori meat is marinated in yogurt and spices before being roasted in a clay oven, but it’s not always the case that the meat ends up moist and tasty. This lamb here was really spot on—tender, flavorful, not gamey and the best part—not fatty. Prem isn’t the flashy kind who cares too much about aesthetics but he’s made an effort to up the visuals by doing an alcohol flame in front of diners, which I thought was quite gimmicky and nice. We loved the slightly burnt edges, which added so much aroma.
I think this serves about eight guests on a normal day, but if you don’t order much of anything else I suppose two men could finish it over lots of beer.

Grilled fish masala, $149
Often times fish masalas are just masala as a dumping ground for deep-fried fish or frozen fish pieces, but here they try to use fresh thread-fin fish. I can’t tell whether it was fresh or frozen, but at least it was a whole fish, head and tail with bones, grilled in the tandoor. The flesh was flakey and the masala was moreish. We picked this so that we can pair the curry with our naan.

Spring rolls and papadum / Garlic naan, $26
Garlic naan was quite savory on its own. Didn’t really need to pair it with curry to enjoy it. Crackers and spring rolls were standard and quite filling—go easy on this if you have a 6 pound lamb leg coming.

Mango lassi, $36
Yogurt and sweet mangoes are always a great match. They make it super tasty here, too.

Semolina Dessert
Semolina is a coarse flour ground from hard durum wheat—if you chew it slowly enough the nutty flavors become quite obvious. This version is cooked in some milk and then sweetened. It’s not too sweet and make for an interesting dessert. We also had some hot coffee ($25) which turned out to be more than decent.

Basmati (Taste of India)
1/F, San Toi Building, 137-139 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
$, Indian