Ashoka Restaurant, named for one of India’s most successful and benevolent rulers, has opened in the Times Square Casino, Menlyn Main, Pretoria.
I was present at a recent media dinner launch.
The decor is attractive and modern and there is a lovely patio just outside. Gas fires were burning and the evening was sufficiently mild for us not to be in a hurry to take our tables indoors. Ashoka is billed as five star, and nothing in the appearance belies this.
A mehendi (henna body art) artist painted our hands with simple patterns, a feature which will be one of the signatures of the new restaurant, much like the black and white facepaint of Moyo’s.
Our tasting started with vegetable and meat starter platters.
I particularly liked the vegetarian samoosas and the chicken. My partner found the chicken bland. I’m not sure what they did to the paneer, but it was pleasant. I usually don’t like it much. The portions were generous and the platters were replenished when empty.
For mains we had a choice between butter chicken, lamb rogenjosh and dal makhni and muttar mushrooms. I went for the lamb rogenjosh, while my partner opted for the vegetarian option. We all tasted everyone else’s and my partner decided that the butter chicken (which almost melted in the mouth) was nicest. I liked the muttar mushrooms a lot.
For dessert we we given carrot halwa samoosas and coconut kulfi (icecream). I am diabetic and declined mine, asking for a portion of muttar mushrooms in its place. A strange request which did not throw the kitchen.
I paired my food with the Devils Peak Craft Beer, a light beer which I enjoyed very much.
So, how was the food overall. One of the problems with Indian cuisine is that it is like mother’s cooking. Everyone prefers the taste of their local favourite. I like my dal makhni to be a heart attack in waiting on the plate – swimming in ghee and cream. I am not fond of butter chicken generally, finding it bland everywhere I have it (except when a friend makes it), and I like my lamb rogenjosh on the spicy side. What I got was pleasant and tailored to the taste of the majority. I realise that this was a media night with a great many meals coming out at once and it would be impossible to cater for the range of people who like their food hot/medium/mild, and I suspect that the meals tailored for individual palates would probably be considerably better.
Would I go back? Certainly if I lived locally or was visiting the casino for some specific reason.
All in all it was a very pleasant evening.