Taj Mahal Club
B4, 3/F, Block B, Chung King Mansion
36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 5454
There are some cuisines that for some reason or another just seem more conducive and better appreciated in a group environment. For me, Indian is one of those. Perhaps is the still relative niche-ness and lack of true understanding of the diversity of this country’s food culture by many North Americans that leads one to want to share with others – perhaps out of fear of making a disappointing decision while ordering the unknown. Others might suggest that its just simply wanting to try a little of everything on the usually large menus of such restaurants – which in and of itself is not a bad thing for someone that is continually trying to broaden their perspectives and knowledge.
While in Hong Kong recently, it dawned on me that there might be a hypothesis worth testing. Does the lack of great familiarity with Indian cuisine also work hand-in-hand when dining in a group where most people don’t know each other well? A double dose of hesitation, uncertainty and tentativeness so to speak. I decided to have an actual experiment and our group’s decision to share a meal together in a strange country (no native Hong Kongers in our posse), with non-native cuisine and in a location (the restaurant was inside an actual residential complex) that was slightly intimidating, even further complicated matters.
Located on the third floor, and with a group of ten members, we opted to take the stairs up to the Taj Mahal Club restaurant, despite the existence of an elevator. In hindsight, I am not sure that was the wisest decision, as the halls were darkly lit and dingy, with all sorts of local residents (all apparently Indians) sitting in the stairwell passing time with friends, and it felt like we were invading someone’s private space. I swear I also saw smears of red on the walls which did not look like paint at all, and made me think this place has a sketchy past. But once you get to the front door, you are welcomed by a brightly lit display, complete with press coverage dutifully collected and shown on the wall – including both local and foreign media.
Despite the relatively uneasy start to our night, the meal itself was an excellent example of the ability to get authentic ethnic cuisine in a country not native to that type of food. The various curries we ordered included some staple chicken and lamb for those more timid, as well as more pure vegetarian options (yes, those people still do exist!). The lamb version that I sampled had an ample amount of spice and was flavorful and the hot kick from it certainly made the bowl of rice and plates of fresh naan go all the more faster. The coconut milk-based curries on our table were a bit sweeter and thus satisfied those for whom high levels of spice was not appreciated. Simply put, our folks with various preferences meshed well with the curry menu and it enabled everyone to get at least one that they enjoyed, thus not leaving anyone out.
Tandoori chicken is always a catch-22 for me. As much as I enjoy it, too many times I’ve been let down by it being overcooked and a dry, flaky mess of meat. Thankfully, Taj Mahal Club does an amazing job with this. The meat was tender and juicy, and the marinade had held up incredibly well through the cooking process. An assortment of other dishes were on our table, but given the size of our row, I was unable to get other images. But judging from the loud conversations and general jovial mood and rapidly depleting plates and bowls, I could tell that things were just as tasty at other sections of our row.
So how would I conclude my tested idea? I would say that whenever great food can be had, it certainly helps to relax the mood on a night out with people who are meeting for the very first time. The diversity of Indian cuisine, even in just the well known curry dishes alone, work well to meet the personal tastes and needs of everyone at the table, from carnivores to vegetarians, lovers of spice and those who are not. When people are not really comfortable with a type of cuisine, I think that even works to help break the ice and enable those who are slightly more familiar to share what they know, and engage others in conversation. A sort of exploration as a team occurs, with everyone anxious to give their thoughts and opinions on each dish, knowing that its a safe environment with nobody really standing out as a true expert on the cuisine so their impressions won’t be smashed to smithereens.
I’m sure the cold pints of Kingfisher didn’t have anything to do with it either…