Our Gourmet: A new face for an old Indian favorite

May 02. 2017 11:14PM

Royal India
575 S. Willow St., Manchester; 641-8413
Hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday until 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9:30 p.m.
Cuisine: Indian.
Dinner pricing: Appetizers $5.50-$10.95; salads $5-$12; soups/salads $4.50-$7.95; breads $3.25-$4.95; entrees $10.95-$17.95; desserts $3.95.
The scores for Royal India
Atmosphere: 18/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 17/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 17/20
Total: 88/100

We’re constantly on the lookout for new dining spots when out driving around Manchester, and were excited recently when we thought we’d spotted a new Indian restaurant on South Willow Street in the space that formerly housed the Queen City’s old Indian standby, India Palace.

When we stopped in a few nights later, we were impressed with the look of Royal India, and surprised when our server told us that while the restaurant has been remodeled, it’s run by the same folks who ran it when it was called India Palace.

Royal India is larger than its predecessor, having expanded into in an adjoining storefront and resulting in a different, more open layout than was available when it was called India Palace. The door has been moved to the left side and opens into a dining room similar to the old one, but brighter, with lighter wood and colors. Additional seating is tucked in the back to the left, occupying the space of the other store front. A small bar is situated at the back as well, between the two dining rooms and separating the kitchen and bathroom entrances.

The menu at Royal India is as large as it ever was, though exceedingly simple in presentation, offered up as a typed list on printed sheets of paper. It offers a long list of appetizers, soups, salads and breads, as well as chicken, seafood, lamb and vegetarian entrees in a variety of Indian styles. We perused our options over a couple Kingfisher lager beers ($4.95 each) and a refreshing gin and tonic ($6.95).

We started with an order of Vegetable Pakora ($4.95), bites of minced potato, cauliflower, carrots and greens, lightly battered and fried. The Dining Companion described them as a veggie burger in a different shape. Swished through a dollop of the accompanying mint or plum sauce on the plate, they made for a mild, tasty opener, though the mint sauce lacked a certain freshness.

An order of garlic naan ($3.95) cooked to order — crispy in places, filled with minced garlic and glistening with melted butter — came a bit later and was enjoyed throughout the meal.

Expecting some difficulty pleasing the FussBudget’s finicky palate, we ordered him a cup of mulligatawny soup ($3.95) and the tandoori chicken ($12.95), mildly spiced. No surprise, the soup was a dud with the kid but was enjoyed by the DC, who finished off the light, fresh-tasting broth, augmented with cilantro and textured with creamy lentils.

The FB was happier with his chicken, though he needed help with the adult-sized portion and didn’t care for the bones. A pair of legs and thighs, marinated in yogurt and cooked in the tandoor oven, were tender and moist, served atop a sizzling bed of thinly sliced veggies. Once it was deboned, the FB enjoyed it.

Sticking as close as she could to a vegetarian meal, the DC opted for saag paneer ($11.95). Cubes of mild cheese came swimming in creamy, roughly chopped spinach, seasoned with cumin and garam masala. Plopped atop some of the fluffy basmati rice that came served in two ample dishes for the table, the DC dug in, not stopping until the last drop was wiped up with the last of the naan.

Our dinner guest this evening, Dining Companion 2 (DC2), was the most adventurous in our party, ordering the tandoori shrimp ($15.95). About a half dozen large shrimp, seasoned to a medium heat with fresh spices and herbs and grilled in the tandoor oven, were served sizzling on a bed of sliced veggies. Perhaps because he’d sampled a bit of everything brought to the table, DC2 was the only adult in our group to not finish his entrée, opting to bring home a couple of shrimp and some rice.

Our Gourmet is a fool for hot and spicy dishes, so we opted for the lamb vindaloo ($13.95), ordered medium to hot. The serving dish came brimming with chunks of tender lamb and potatoes, swimming in rich, dark red sauce tasting of cumin and chili and vinegar and curry. The spicy heat was something to be reckoned with — it only took a few bites before beads of sweat graced our brow. The dish is addictive. We cut the heat a bit by spooning the vindaloo over a pile of the basmati rice, washing it down with glugs of the FB’s Coke.

When our very attentive and polite waiter — who had made sure to ask each of us for our spicing preferences when taking our entrée order — returned to ask about dessert, most in our party raised eyebrows. They were already full.

OG was able to talk the FB into trying an order of kheer ($3.95), the traditional Indian rice pudding. Lucky for OG, the boy, true to his FussBudget nature, turned his nose up after a single taste, leaving OG to enjoy the dish. Grains of basmati rice had been cooked in milk, seasoned with cardamom and served with slivers of almond and plump, juicy golden raisins mixed in. A tad thinner than we’re used to, the dessert still was a light, sweet finish to an enjoyable meal.

There’s no doubt that Manchester’s ethnic culinary scene has been expanding, and we are heartened that the Queen City is now home to three Indian restaurants. We’re comforted, too, that one of its newest is also one of its oldest.

Our GourmetManchester

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