At the end of 2014, the foodie darling Chutnify introduced southern Indian cuisine to Berlin via the “airspace” treatment: start cooking dishes from a sexy-sounding region, throw in a few vegan tweaks and Edison bulbs and you’re good to go. It was about time northern Indian food, which most of us just called “Indian food” before Chutnify turned dosas into a household name, followed suit. Enter Bahadur, opened at the end of last year by north Indian native Gaurav Sharma in an otherwise dull pocket of Wilmersdorf. The interior of his bright, buzzing restaurant somewhat resembles an Anthropologie catalogue, though it isn’t really Sharma’s fault that Hindi inspirational slogans painted on wooden planks have been so thoroughly co-opted these days.
Call it Mughal, call it Punjabi; the truth is, a significant part of Bahadur’s menu overlaps with that of your average Berlin Indian restaurant, you know, the one that sells €3.50 pina coladas and inexplicably puts corn on everything. But here’s the thing: it’s way better. In the hands of chef and Delhi transplant Bahadur Vir, an age-old yawner like tandoori chicken (€12.40) becomes a revelation. Even this avowed chicken sceptic had to appreciate the tender, yoghurt-marinated meat, smoke-kissed from the hot clay oven, served on a black slate alongside cucumber salad, chutney and garlicky naan bread. Similarly, the creamy lentil stew dal makhani (€8.70) transforms from a forgettable side dish to a star in its own right, thanks to a 12-hour cooking time that lends it a depth of flavour you won’t find elsewhere. None of it is that hot, but don’t cry authenticity foul; it just so happens that the cuisine from Sharma’s home region is India’s most German-friendly.
Ironically, the least convincing dish we tried was a rarer speciality, the shami kebab starter (€6.50) – the falafel-like lamb and lentil patties, served with mint and chilli chutneys, were a bit too dry. Better was the street snack chapati shakarkandi (€4.50), a monthly special comprising chunks of sweet potato and pomegranate seeds coated in salt and tangy powdered mango. And we’re intrigued by the weekend cooking experiments, which the restaurant tends to announce on Facebook a day or so in advance: stuff like the black chickpea curry kaale chane, Mumbai-style bhel puri or spicy chilli-marinated paneer cheese.
To drink, there’s the usual chai and lassi alongside the salty lemonade nimbu pani (€3.60, get it spiked with rum for €6.50). It comes in a cute glass carafe, as does the rooh-afza soda, made with a rose-infused syrup that’s apparently big among Muslim Indians. We’d never seen that one in Berlin before, but let’s be truly honest: we don’t actually care how novel Bahadur’s offerings are, or how stylishly they’re served for that matter. Like the crowds that have already started showing up at the restaurant – among them quite a few UK expats, from the sound of it – we’re just grateful to have some more decent Indian food in this town. — JS