Indian cuisine seems to be the most underrated food in the city. Coming from India myself, I had been looking for an authentic Indian restaurant with a nice interior setting for quite some time but had no luck until some friends suggested Ista. It has a perfect location for a date night as it sits right smack in Central on Wyndham Street.
So, finally taking a break from parenting for one night, the hubby and I headed over to see if the restaurant lived up to our friends’ recommendations. Walking in, the first thing I noticed was the warm and cosy ambience of the restaurant, with many private corner seats for intimate dinner dates.
The menu boasts an impressive array of Indian specialties including street food, clay oven-roasted appetisers, curries, biryanis and breads. The head chef Bharat Negi makes his own spice mixtures and sources all the masalas from India so you know you’re getting the real deal! He’s also very happy to make your dishes with less oil or decrease the spice level according to diners’ palates.
Chef Bharat suggested we try the clay oven specialties for appetisers so we started off with the Chicken Tikka and the Lamb Seekh Kebabs. As they arrived, we could smell a distinct smoky aroma from the clay-baked oven. Both the dishes were aromatic and juicy with a perfect mix of masalas used. The Chicken Tikka especially had that perfect combination of garlic and spice while the Seekh Kebabs used the warm cumin beautifully.
Following the appetisers, we ordered Daal Makhani, Masaaledaar Jhinga (Jhinga is a Hindi word for prawns) and Kadhaai Chicken for the main course, all accompanied by warm roti bread. For those who are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, Daal makhani is basically black lentils cooked with spices and butter on a very slow heat; it is supposedly very rich in taste because of the use of butter, but this one was actually wonderful with a perfect balance of chili and butter. The Masaaledaar Jhinga came with giant tiger king prawns and a smooth, tomato-based masala gravy.
The Kadhaai Chicken was by far the best dish of the evening – one of the moistest pieces of chicken that I’ve ever had, it came with gravy mixed with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. All these dishes were soaked up by pieces of Tandoori Roti (again made in the clay oven) and Pudina (mint) Parantha, which is also a must-try for those new to Indian cuisine. While Indian can sometimes feel heavy and oily, all the dishes we sampled had a light and healthy take that left us feeling satisfied but not bogged down!
Our dessert was comprised of succulent pieces of gulaab jamun (dough balls soaked in sugar syrup with a hint of cardamom and rose water) and ras malaai (cottage cheese dumplings in saffron-infused cream). Both were totally authentic in taste and wonderfully executed.
Altogether, it was a perfect date night with food fit for royalty, a modern and intimate setting, and service which was warm and helpful.
Ista is open for lunch from 11am to 3pm and dinner from 6pm to 11pm. It also offers a mega buffet lunch (on weekdays) and a Sunday brunch, which features Indian street food and South Indian dishes. They also have a beautiful terrace space available for private parties.
Ista, 2/F, Onfem Tower , 29 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2530 5353; [email protected]