On Wednesday, 13th July, my partner and I were treated to lunch at The Raj Constantia, in the popular Constantia Village Centre. Having lived in the area for most of my life, I must admit I have never had the pleasure of dining at The Raj. This was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the Indian cuisine, but also due to my fear of anything too hot and spicy!
We were fortunate enough to be hosted by the Group Chairman (who travels to Cape Town from Joburg regularly, to ensure that the high level of service is maintained throughout the stores) and the Cape Town General Manager, who has been in the industry for many years and is very proud of the Raj brand, as he should be.
The store opened just over 2 years ago and offers a cosy interior with a gorgeous suspended fireplace for wintry days and a pretty patio for warmer days. We were seated at a table on one side of the restaurant which meant we were able to appreciate the elegant Indian décor and gaze at the other patrons enjoying the Raj experience.
Instead of the traditional bread and olive oil snack on the table, Raj offers all their patrons Chickpea Poppadoms served with Mint and Coriander Raita (homemade yoghurt with fresh mint & coriander leaves) and a spicy tomato chutney, a great introduction to the Indian culture.
Seeing as we were unfamiliar with the cuisine, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our hosts had selected a range of dishes for us to try, each perfectly paired with wine selected from their large wine list. Each store has a slightly different wine list in order to celebrate the wine estates in the surrounding areas.
To start, we tucked in to Chicken Malai Tikka and Traditional Indian Samoosas. The mildly spiced chicken breast pieces were marinated in yoghurt, cream and cashew nuts and were incredibly tender. The dish was served with a tomato chutney which added a bit of a kick. The Samoosas were filled with pea and potato and were unlike the usual samoosas you buy at the corner shop; these were piping hot and generously stuffed, with a crunchy outer-layer and served with a Tamarind chutney which complemented the filling perfectly. Our starters were paired with a De Meye Chenin Blanc, an elegant wine with flavours of melon, citrus and dried apricot.
We were then taken into the kitchen to meet the chefs and to see the much talked about Tandoor Clay Oven. The Tandoor remains lit for long periods of time and can reach extreme temperatures well over 400 °C. This form of cooking means that food can be prepared quickly, while remaining soft & tender with all the flavour intact.
The masterchefs at all of the Raj stores are originally from India and go through plenty of training to ensure they are able to live up to the high standards that Raj expects from their staff.
The chef, in between posing for a photo or two, kindly showed us how the Tandoor oven works and demonstrated how to make Garlic Naan and Peshwari Naan as well as Ostrich & Springbok Tikka. We watched, fascinated, as soft dough was dipped into garlic, or stuffed with sultanas, cashews and Paneer (Indian cheese), flattened and placed gently on the walls of the Tandoor, where it bubbled and crisped to a golden hue, filling the kitchen with mouth-watering aromas.
Boneless pieces of Springbok and Ostrich were then marinated in yoghurt and spices and placed onto long metal skewers and grilled in the Tandoor. The Tikka dishes were served with a sweet fruit chutney and cumin caramelized onions and were paired with a choice of a Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, a fresh, crisp wine with tropical flavours, or the L’Avenir Merlot, a spicy wine with oak characters and a rich red berry flavour.
Curries were next on our specially designed tasting menu and were all served in beautiful copper dishes all the way from India. The dishes were practical too as the double metal layer (and a small tea-light candle) ensured that the curries remained hot. Tender Butter Chicken in a creamy tomato gravy was garnished with a touch of fresh cream, Black Lentils cooked overnight on a slow fire with herbs and sundried spices (Dahl Makhni) was finished with fresh cream and butter, and Homemade Cottage Cheese and Spinach was tempered with garlic and cumin (Palak Paneer). All were served with steamed Basmati rice. All curries at Raj are available from mild to hot so I had no need to worry. The curries were full of flavour and we were able to taste a variety of different spices, imported directly from India.
For dessert, we were served a traditional Indian treat – Gulab Jamun. This homemade dish is, essentially, a milk dumpling served in a rose and cardamom flavoured syrup. I would describe it as a mix between a warm, soft doughnut and a South African koeksister, dripping in syrupy goodness; the perfect dish to end the meal.
The Raj Group has 9 restaurants in total; 7 in Gauteng and 2 in Cape Town, more specifically in Constantia and Camps Bay. While all the stores offer traditional North Indian cuisine, visitors to the Constantia store are fortunate enough to be able to order a variety of sushi as well. A range of Raj Express stores are also available for home deliveries and takeaways.
Thank you to The Raj team for a culinary treat to remember!