When I write a review, I sometimes check out some of the online review sites to see if my views are in line with the experiences people are generally having. Like most people I tend to have favorites and I like to make sure that being a frequent guest doesn’t completely skew my opinion.
This week I decided to write about the ‘Star of India’ restaurant on Anderson Lane. I have been going to this restaurant with friends for the better part of two decades. It was the closest Indian restaurant to my home for many years and I have always found the food to be consistent and of good quality.
Although the overall online ratings are good, the reviews on one of the major sites were wildly mixed, many were complimentary, but some were nothing short of hateful. For some, I genuinely had to question the motives behind the “review”, the complaints being just too far from anything I had ever experienced.
I have been lucky enough to have had Indian food in London, Hong Kong and Singapore on many occasions (though not as of yet on the sub-continent). These three cities all have large Indian populations and long traditions of Indian cooking. I believe that with that experience, I have a credible idea of what constitutes good Indian food. (I have also on occasion ground my own spice masalas for Indian food at home.)
First off, Star of India is not a four alarm “Vindaloo Palace”, (some folks complained about mild “spices”). Secondly, it is not strictly vegetarian, though there are always many vegetarian selections. Oddly, they do serve beef, which I do like, but can understand some of the misgivings. Lastly, it is not strictly southern Indian style, which is not the only “authentic” style of Indian food. Milder creamy dished like Kormas (typically northern) and dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala (though the exact origin is debated) can usually be found on the buffet or can be ordered from the menu.
Star of India has been in business for about seventeen years under the ownership of Vir Singh who has been a successful restaurateur for over thirty two years. The restaurant offers an à la carte menu, but most people seem to prefer and enjoy the lunch and dinner buffets. There is usually a very good variety of vegetables and meats in addition to salads, soups, various appetizers and desserts.
I usually start with the yellow Lentil Soup if it is available. Though “Mulligatawny soup” as it is also known is considered “Anglo-Indian”, having been developed around the time of early British occupation, it has since joined the repertoire of most Indian restaurants around the world. Squeeze a lemon wedge or two into the soup and the taste for additional acidity will become a habit.
I am partial to the “Mixed Vegetable” curry (or Navrathan – Hindi for “nine jewels”) – it is usually a mixture of potato, carrot, cauliflower, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and eggplant in a spicy curry sauce.
Usually available on the buffet is what has become Britain’s unofficial “national dish”, Chicken Tikka Masala, chunks of white meat chicken cooked on skewers in a tandoor, then finished in a deeply flavored, creamy curry sauce.
My favorite dessert is the slightly caramelized-cream rice pudding called Kheer Badami. It has a few raisins and an unusually palate cooling spice called cardamom (the effect is similar to mint).
Plain Nan bread is always available on the buffet, but a side order, fresh from the tandoor is usually much better. (Various more interesting versions of Nan are also available to order.)
The regular iced tea is lightly spiced and excellent as is the sweet Chai Tea, but I like a good Indian beer like Kingfisher with dinner.
In Austin there are “spicier” Indian places (more liberal use of red chilies) and some where the décor is more modern, but for consistency of flavor, friendly service and convenience, Star of India is a great choice.
By Richard Arebalo
Austin Times Staff