Usually you know what to expect from a restaurant that advertises itself as a “Cocktail Bar” first and an “Indischer Grill” second: another Germanised meal of bland, cream-reliant curries and toothache-inducing sugary drinks. Chances are, then, that you pass by Tandoori Nächte without noticing it’s busy, even at 4pm. You miss the fact that over half of the people dining there are Indian, drawn in by word of mouth about the Hyderabadi biryani. Most devastatingly, you miss out on the biryani itself.
Biryani is widespread across the Indian sub-continent, with a dizzying number of regional varieties. Arguably the most famous of them all comes from the southern city of Hyderabad, a historic trading centre where Mughlai, Persian and Arab influences combined to produce a golden-hued blend of rice, marinated meat, spices and fried onions. It’s prepared in dum style, meaning the ingredients are layered in a vessel that’s then tightly sealed with dough (or, these days, aluminium foil) and slow-cooked until the rice is thoroughly permeated with flavour.
Mughlai, Persian and Arab influences combined to produce a golden-hued blend of rice, marinated meat, spices and fried onions
At Tandoori Nächte, which opened at the unglamourous end of Ku’damm in autumn 2021, the dish is made with chicken or lamb and served in an overflowing copper pot alongside the traditional accompaniments, cucumber raita and the nutty gravy mirchi ka salan. The chicken version we ordered (€12.90) was incredibly well-spiced, redolent of saffron, garlic, ginger, mint, turmeric and a dozen other ingredients we couldn’t place. It’s the undisputed star of a menu that otherwise strays across the map, from southern prawn curry to Mumbai-style dahi puri, crisp dough balls filled with potatoes and drizzled in yoghurt and tangy sauces.
Other mains, like paneer jalfrezi and a vegan dal tadka, had a surprising depth thanks to the use of whole spices and dried chilis, even if the heat level felt muted. It seems that just as you may have made assumptions about Tandoori Nächte, so Tandoori Nächte makes assumptions about you and the amount of scharf you can tolerate. We’ll be back to earn their trust, and to try the namesake tandoori – maybe even on one of their spiffy new tabletop grills, which weren’t yet operational on our visit but ought to be soon.
You won’t find tandoori at The Indique, the subterranean restaurant that’s been nestled between hostels near the Friedrichstadt-Palast for almost exactly one year. Nor will you find palak paneer, chana masala or curries that other places, including Tandoori Nächte, serve as a matter of course. Instead, co-owners Aishwarya Singhal and Vinay Nair ditched their respective digital consultant and lawyer jobs for a chance to serve contemporary dishes rarely spotted outside their homeland (well, or London). They’re available à la carte or in a plethora of preset combinations, the most elaborate of which is the “Grand Menu” for two (€70, including five shareable courses, dessert and a couple of selections from the lengthy wine list).
Start with an updated version of gol guppe, where hollow, potato-filled puri balls are balanced atop shot glasses full of piquant minty water. Pour, chomp and slurp as fast as possible for the full, refreshing effect. Move on to the heftier raj kachori, a chutney-drenched UFO-shaped wheat flour shell, and then to Indo-Chinese fusion, a culinary category that’s insanely popular across India but virtually unheard of in Berlin. The Manchurian, a dish of deep-fried chicken or veggie fritters in a spicy, cornstarch-thickened sauce that truly does taste like Indian-accented Chinese takeout, will fill you in on what you’ve been missing.
These contemporary dishes rarely spotted outside their homeland (well, or London)
What of the Hyderabadi biryani? Unlike at Tandoori Nächte, where the dish is prepared in large batches, Indique chef Debashish Ghosh par-cooks rice with marinated chicken or vegetables until it’s about 75 percent done, then finishes each order in an individual cast-iron cocotte. It may be slightly more subtly spiced than its Charlottenburg counterpart, but the irresistible browned rice crust that forms on the bottom, plus that dramatic billow of steam you get when you open the lid, make it worth the extra €2.
Really, though, we loathe to make any comparisons. As hard as good Indian cuisine is to find in this city, and as off the foodie radar as both restaurants still remain, we’d instead encourage you to do as we did and patronise both. The Indique’s kathi rolls for lunch and Tandoori Nächte’s butter chicken for dinner? The former’s Kerala fish roast and the latter’s creamy dessert rasmalai? Or a weekend-long biryani bonanza? The possibilities are endless.
- Tandoori Nächte, Bornimer Str. 4, Charlottenburg, Tue-Sun 11-23
- The Indique, Ziegelstr. 29, Mitte, lunch Wed-Fri 12-15, dinner Wed-Sun 17-23