A Little Bit of India, In My Life…
By Jaco Lotriet
The name Ashoka hails from an ancient Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost the entire Indian sub-continent around 250 BC. Throughout his reign, his utterances rang of frankness and sincerity. In this spirit, a new Indian restaurant opened its doors at Time Square in Pretoria, embracing the Indian culture in all its richness and splendour.
A most welcoming staff contingent greeted us at the entrance during the official launch, whereafter we slipped away to the balcony to sip on a pomegranate cocktail, whilst enjoying a breath taking view of the hills behind Lynwood Park. The spa-like entrance of Ashoka welcomes you to an interior that is minimal for an Indian themed restaurant. Elegant ceiling fans are reminiscent of those found in its Mumbai counterparts, sans the expected gold framed pictures or velvet chairs – just understated elegance abound. A cordoned-off area within the restaurant space caters for private groups.
The ambiance of a dining experience serves merely as a decoration towards the culinary experience intended for any establishment. The food of Ashoka, digs deeply into the essence of Indian Cuisine, full of spice, flavours, and that spirit you can only find within the Indian Culture.
The vegetarian platter consists of Mixed Vegetable Tikkis, Paneer Tikka and Cocktail Punjabi Samoosas. The Mixed Vegetable Tikkis are deep fried potato and vegetable patties with a lovely spice blend which warmed the palate. The Paneer Tikka are skewered small pieces of paneer cheese and vegetables. The taste supplemented even more so when eaten with the subtle yoghurt and mint dipping sauce. Potato and pee pyramid shaped Punjabi Samoosas are not common in South Africa very often, but exclusively in European Indian restaurants where our familiar triangle shaped samoosas are notably absent . In Europe, these individual samoosas presents itself as a large single serving. The bite sized delights served at Ashoka were however heavenly – the dough perfectly crispy and the filling sublimely rounded.
The meat platter has a variety of Chicken Malai Tikka, Lamb Sheekh Kebabs and Cocktail Chicken Samoosas. The Chicken Malai Tikka is perfectly tender pieces of chicken in a cashew nut and cream sauce. The Lamb Sheekh Kebabs remind me of cabarnossi sausages in both colour and texture, albeit with a spicy flavour. Reigning supreme on the this menu were perfectly crisp little chicken samoosas, with a satisfyingly balanced chicken filling. Elevated by a piquant tamarind chutney dipping sauce, we secretly hope Ashoka will bottle this and make available to their patrons for purchase…
The main courses are old familiar favourites – Butter Chicken, Lamb Roganjosh and Dhal Makhni and Muttar Mushroom, with the latter being a vegetarian option. All of these are served with fluffy basmati rice and dreamy Butter Naan. I personally judge the quality of an Indian restaurant’s fare by their naan bread, and Ashoka’s offering is to die for – crispy, chewy and soft. One would not ordinarily use these three words together in one description, but so apt in describing their Indian flat breads!
Ashoka’s Butter Chicken is butter chicken elevated. The spice is set in perfect balance as it sung beautiful culinary hymns in my mouth. The Lamb Roganjosh was no less appealing, with tender pieces of tandoori-cooked lamb in a not too spicy sauce to suit all types of palates. The vegetarian curries, especially the dhal, was tender and melted in the mouth. The sauce of the Muttar Mushroom curry was so tasty, we were satisfied to mop up all the curry sauce with the naan.
Carrot Halwa Samoosas served with Coconut Ice Cream, can end any Indian feast, as Ashoka‘s desert option. Carrot Halwa is a paste of carrot, milk, sugar, complimenting the coconut icecream. Complete with big chunks of coconut in the creamy ice cream, the combination of all this dish’s elements, is a treat for any sweet tooth. It is also quite light after a heavy curry dinner.
Food, like most things in life, are better judged when trying it yourself. Service delivery was simply splendid. The samoosas and tamarind chutney in particular, is well worth a revisit on its own, as it is still lingering in our memories and our taste buds… Ahoka is situated in Time Square, 209 Aramist Avenue, Menlyn, Pretoria, and is cooking from noon to 22:00 daily.