After 3 months and 52 curries, 55 garlic naans, 16 tandori chickens, 1 Afghani chicken, 14 jeera rice, 1 pani puri and 1 samosa chat, 100+ cans of Kingfishers and 15 mango lassis, Project i2k (India to Korea food review tour) is finished for 2018.
In ordering the food, one of the prime criteria was ordering two different curries that we knew should be made with different spices and curries. Tenderness and the masala spice of the tandoori chicken were examined. Was fresh garlic used in the garlic naan? Was basmati rice used in the jeera rice?
Scoring Methodology: The overall score was on a weighted scale of 1 – 10 based on the following criteria.
70% = Taste
10% = Service
10% = Value of meal
10% = Interior
With respect to Taste, here is how each rating was defined.
10 As good perhaps better than what you would find in India
9 Authentic. Accurate flavors and taste all-around in every single dish.
8 Achieves true authenicty in a lot of dishes but not all.
7 A number of delicious dishes on the menu
6 Tastes good but not authentic
5 Decent introduction to Indian food for first-timers who have never tried Indian food
4 Only go if it’s the only option
3 Don’t go
Here is the Project i2k Top 10 List:
1. Taj – Myeongdong (8.2)
2. Otsal – Seoul National University (7.9)
3. Bombay Bräu – Pangyo (7.7)
4. Chakraa – Hannam (7.4)
5. Jyoti – Sinchon / Jonggak (7.2)
6. Yeti – Hongdae (7.1)
7. Agra – Lotte World Tower / Jamsil (7.0)
7. Ganga – Lotte World Tower / Jamsil (7.0)
9. Kali – Jongro (6.3)
10. Rinchen – Korean Foreign Lang Univ (6.0)
Only the Top 8 restaurants we feel are worthy of a repeat visit or recommendation – the Elite Eight.
Food was super tasty, out of the world not too spicy as madness hot: but yes every spice explodes in your mouth as you start delighting the feast, it’s a treat, definitely the most tastiest Indian dishes we have tasted in Seoul – as you start eating, you can but only appreciate the fact that ones serving food are completely aware of when and what to serve you don’t get your entire order brought to the table at once! They bring items to the table at the right moment, just when you need it any more importantly piping hot and yummy!
See SFP Review of Taj
Tandoori Chicken: Chicken was tender, juicy and well cooked. It was brought fresh out of the tandoor and plated direct from the skewer right at the table. Perfect mix of herbs and spices to the tandoor masala ensured that the chicken had the flavors reach all the way till the bone. It is served with fresh salad, mint chutney, mayonnaise and sweet ginger pickle. The chicken itself is soo very well balances with spices that one would not actually need any of the side chutneys – do try the sweet ginger chutney (red pickle: it’s got a unique flavor, something that we have not yet had in Seoul, I would call this one straight out of India). Strongly recommend for taste and experience.
See SFP Review of Otsal
Madras Curry (Chicken): This was my favorite, full of flavors – a little bit on the salty side, yes that is how most of Indian curries are – definitely more saltier that Korean cuisine, we also use hearty portions of lime / lemon to enhance the flavors. These will facilitate explosion of flavors as soon as you taste it, and like most south Indian curries Asafetida and curry leaves add an aromatic delight. All these ingredients ensure the right balance of flavors and taste. Strongly recommend it for flavor. Goes well with Roti / Naan and / or plan rice or zeera rice.
Butter Masala (SeaFood): Short of words – must try, the best butter masala curry I have had in Seoul so-far. Would recommend to try it with seafood (shrimp) since that will ensure you are able to enjoy the flavors of this curry more than any other meat item.
3. Bombay Bräu
Curries were flavorful and super spicy. The lamb curry was my favorite. The prices tend to be on the higher end side of the spectrum but there is a reason. Quality ingredients and solid execution. This is an Indian restaurant operated by Indian that stay true to the traditional preparation. Jeera rice was well cooked and overall portion sizes were very hearty and almost 20-25% more than any other restaurants.
Bombay Brau is not in Seoul but rather in an outlying suburb that is about 30-40 minutes out. It’s in an area where a lot of tech and gaming firms are (i.e., Naver, Kakao, Nexon, etc). If you happen to be in the area, it’s an Indian restaurant you will want to check out if you need your curry and naan.
4. Jyoti (Jongak Branch)
Pani Puri was perfect. Must order and try for everyone who visits this place. It was amazing and instantly took me back onto Indian streets.
Samosa chat as a preparation style was more north Indian – sweet dahi based than the typical samosa chole chat, still tasty and well prepared. Must try – super jummy. Only restaurant in Seoul that serves this dish.
Masala Papad – we call it pizza papad Papad with toppings of diced onions, tomato, green chillies, coriander, pinch of salt, red pepper and a hearty portion of lemon. It’s a prefect condiment with any alcoholic beverage, order for these and beer as soon as you get into the restaurant, start off with these as you order the food – starters and main course. Will kill the waiting time with ease.
Chicken Koorma – the most authentic Koorma curry we had Seoul – fresh coconut paste perfect balance between flavors infused by correct usages of spices. Again, it cannot get any more authentic than this.
We tried the weekend buffet on offer at Chakraa during weekends. Food flavors are more from South Indian dominant, needless to mention – Sambar & Dosa on the menu, and the best part is the running supply of hot dosa’s onto your table right out of the pan to your plate!
Everything tasted exactly how it should and would back home! since they have their own grocery store catering to Indian species and ingredients enthusiasts. You find all the spices which were otherwise missing in of the other restaurants (curry leaves).
Chicken Tandoori was juicy fresh, full of masalas and flavors, while tandoori chicken is not on the buffet counter – they bring these fresh out of the tandoor as you settle in with starters on your table. Naan, roti, Dosa’s keep coming every 5 – 7 minutes till you say no.
Go there specifically for the food – it’s location in the basement, you don’t get a bright feel as you walk in, I have been here a couple of times, never seen more than 3 tables being occupied – you don’t have any other beverages on offer as a part of the buffet, beverages are priced a bit on the higher side. I don’t recollect seeing Sambar or Dosa on offer in any other restaurant across Seoul – highly recommended.
Absolute value for money – taste and quality are well maintained, special mention is their naan bread: these are epic soft and are an absolute delight to dig into along with the curries!
Go for the set menu options they have – all of these come with unlimited supply of naan breads – and these are not normal sized bread – these are monster naan breads. Do not order any other type of naan breads here – their breads are all monster sized, just go with the set menu, chose your choice of curries, order a couple of Kingfisher Premium beers, dig in – the background music and ambience take you on a culinary delight. These don’t taste authentic Indian food but yet tasty and well made. A perfect Introduction for Indian food, raises the bar with the Naan bread!
See SFP Review of Yeti
7. (Tie) Agra / Ganga
Been to a couple of Agra’s in Jamsil – COEX, Lotte World and Lotte Tower. Ambience wise – each of these are super aesthetically built, lot of collectables / lanterns / chandlers – you instantly get the feel of entering into a king’s palace / darbar – while there are lot of Agra’s around in Seoul, they all do not maintain the same price point. Its more basis location and restaurant size. This review is specific to Jamsil Lotto Tower, the one on 6th floor.
The Tandoori chicken was a little on the drier side, masala took care of keeping the balance though. All items tasted good, nothing authentic, nothing special.
With a little less focus on interiors and to that extent revised pricing – at a similar taste / quality and service factor is Ganga.
Recommendation for Agra and Ganga is ask for “Desi” (or traditional Indian) style. Hopefully, that will stop the chefs from Koreanizing it and making the curries sweet.
This is not part of the Elite Eight. It’s ok but not worth making a special drive to get here. It’s in Jongno near SKK University in Daehangno – a neighborhood in Seoul popular for its hip student bars and cafes, and artsy hangouts like Marronnier Park, with outdoor musical and theater performances.
Reached this place on a weekday evening – we were pretty much the only 4 that were in the restaurant as we got it. We were greeted by the owner himself who also doubles up as the chef. Apparently, he also owns a Korean restaurant in the Himalayan region of India where he hails from. His brother is running the Korean restaurant in India, and he is running an Indian restaurant in Korea. Cross restaurant pollination well defined.
Onto the food now:
We ordered: Chicken Tandoori, Lamb Rogan Josh, Dal Makhani, Palak Paneer, Lamb Masala, Butter naan and Jera Rice. We could not order Dal and garlic naan – since they ran out of stock with Garlic and Lentil. We were quite thrilled looking at the menu – prices were probably the cheapest Indian food you would get in Seoul. They also have a preset meal option (Thali) – which seems to be quite popular with collage students.
Chicken Tandoori: Well spiced-up chicken, chicken felt tad a bit dry, wasn’t juice enough. While it had the punch spice wise, it’s the chicken bite that we missed the most!
Lamb Rogan Gosh: This was our favorite, tasty, spicy and had the right balance of all the various flavors you would expect from LRJ. I challenge you to have it with Butter nan, no one can eat just one ?.
Palak Paneer: Certain key spices that are to be in palak paneer were missing, palak paste was way too thick – overall Palak Panner was bland and not appetizing enough. Cottage cheese (Paneer) had a bite to it, definitely not fresh.
Dal Makhani: Trend from Palak Paneer continues into Dal Makhani as well – this one is 3 notches mellow downed versions of the actual dal makhana. One would notice kidney bean being used in the preparation – looks like the whole black lentil was omitted out of the preparation – bringing this an altogether new flavor, while taste wise it was tasty in itself – don’t expect it to taste like the authentic Punjabi dal makhana with Rajma & Urad dal.
Jera Rice: Biggest let down in view of localization – rice was neither basmati nor sona masuri, I think they used Korean rice – while extra care was taken to keep it less sticky. You don’t quite get the right flavors of the rice and jera (cumin) fusion flavor. Again, a different version of jera rice, with key ingredients missing.
Verdict: Do visit this place if you are in Korea Foreign Language University area, taste wise – for what you pay, you get great tasting food, not ideally the actual taste of authentic Indian cuisine, however definitely not a let-down, as almost all the items tasted good.
The Other Candidates
The other six Indian restaurants reviewed but did not crack the Top 10 are as follows:
Lucky India (Hapjeong);
Luna Asia (COEX);
Utsav (Hongdae); Dafhe (Sangsu Station – Hongdae); and
As you get into the basement of this up class modern India restaurant, you will appreciate the visuals, elegant color theme, roomy and airy positioning of tables – you don’t feel cramped in this restaurant at all, per general Korean Restaurant standards, they could fit in at least 5 to 7 more tables into this space. Special attraction – Bollywood songs projected onto a big screen to provide you a visual kick intro for Bollywood stars dancing.. with lyrics in English as subtitles (video only no audio – you are not attending a Bollywood concert anyway). The other end of the restaurant leads into small lawn, with a couple of tables laid out – this is where the tobacco friendly would thrive in the open air.
You have mild fusion music playing in the background, not over powering, just the right level to kill that awkward silence on a second date. Perfect place to unwind with a group of friends or loved ones.
With Lucky present at the restaurant personally, he adds a personal charm to this place with his persona – giving special attention to every guest at the restaurant, you would appreciate the well curated gourmet meal you are in for.
Onto the food now:
We ordered: Chicken Tikka, Lamb kadai, butter chicken and . Plain naan, garlic naan and Lamb biryani.
Chicken Tikka: Well spiced-up chicken, chicken was juicy enough, definitely not dry, you could feel most of the spices in every bit of chicken… I wanted more….
Butter Chicken: mildly or you could argue blandly flavored, a little on the sweeter side. Definitely creamy, was missing the flavorful punch that explodes in your mouth… I wanted more……
At this point – I asked for addition green chilly and Lemon! Vola – that did the trick, suddenly you could get all the flavors out of the tikka, kill the blandness of curries… it is then that I realized what I wanted more of?
Biryani (Lamb): Amazing presentation… like most of the biryanis around Seoul, this one also tasted more like tawa pulav than biryani – we will not be calling pulav as biryani and our quest for that perfectly cooked biryani continues… excellent presentation of the Biryani like any other dish – looks just do not translate into taste though!
Verdict: Must visit for experience, hospitality. Perfect place to introduce Indian cuisine. Be prepared to pay a premium price, for the premium you get best in call ambience & experience, hygienic and quality food. Just not worth the price for the food alone, you have to consider the entire package.
Luna Asia (COEX)
Best value for money in terms of what $ 10 can buy you in Seoul. If you like Indian food for its spices, roti and a little bit of ambiance + assuming you are around Coex area, SFP would strongly recommend this place.
Get there before lunch time or allow for 20-25 minutes waiting time. This place gets really busy during lunch time (weekdays and weekends alike). As you get a table, the restaurant layout – kitchen and serving platforms represent typical dhaba layout which are very common on national highways across India, this one is a little more cosmopolitan though. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhaba)
We were working on a very tight schedule as we had only 1 hour timeslot (since we got to this place on a weekday instead of weekend – as we have a fulltime day job, 2 PM was the best time we could work with, hence we went to this place at 2 PM to avoid peak time rush.
For $10 you get –
- Healthy portion main course curry
- ‘I wish I had more’ portion of vegetable curry
- ‘good enough to taste’ amount of corn soup
- ‘glad I had greens & veggies’ amount of salad
- Korean Rich – don’t expect Basmati or Sona Masoori for $ 10.
- 2 Tandoori rotis
I would strongly recommend against ordering anything apart from the set-menu’s. Its just not work the price, it’s a one medicine for all patients type of restaurant: they use a standard gravy for all curries, same is the case with Roti / Naan – they use the same dough! You order garlic naan and don’t expect freshly minced garlic being used for the naan. They run a mean and cost effective kitchen – when we asked the cook in kitchen about gravy in hindi. His response ‘Itna busy time mei itna kafi hei’ this is good enough for this busy time’.
SFP and I have enjoy our food and we generally have 1.5 normal size Korean portions. The Thali (set menu) got our lunch quota well filled.
The tick to make the best value for your money is choosing the right set menu option – prefer Palak, dal based curry in vegetable option to avoid the ‘pre mixed’ curry base. Point to note, they provide very hearty portion of main course curry. Mutton / Lamb curry was spicy and was well cooked – not typical Indian curry, but it definitely tastes Indian.
Let me summarize the results for you – NOT Worth The Hype. We had such high expectations. For the longest time, people would associate good Indian food in Seoul with Everest. This was in 2010-11. I guess they have become complacent and lost their focus.
We ordered: Papad, Chicken Tandoori, Paneer Butter Masala, Chicken Tikka Masala, Mutton Masala Everest Special, Everest Garlic Naan and Jeera Rice – since we had a couple of our friends from USA, we asked for all the items to be ‘medium spice’.
Papad: under cooked, it was most probably roasted in the microwave – needs to be in MW for 15 seconds more, we can do this better at home!!
Chicken Tandoori – Chicken was DRY, flavors went towards Mt Everest for a walk… neither the chicken was dripping fat nor masala. We had to order 2 more rounds of beer to gulp those 2 Tandoori chicken’s in.
Chicken Tikka Masala & Mutton Masala Everest Special – we ordered our curries to be specifically mild and not hot, we felt these two curries were made using similar gravy and spice wise – they were HOT, like Mt. Everest level hot. Our friends for whom we specifically ordered medium ended up ordering 3 more mango lassies each. Apart from heat these two curries tasted similar, mutton tasted gamey – definitely missed the required level of treatment.
Paneer Butter Masala (PBM) – we were happy we ordered this one, for this helped all our friends immensely to offset the hot curries – PBM was sweet – like kheer level sweet! That summarizes the taste part as well. Nothing more to mention here.
Jeera Rice – Missing Jeera and had turmeric in it! I had to check the bill if we were served Jeera rice of any other rice.. it was indeed Jeera Rice – Cummins went on a long walk to Mt. Everest – they were missing in the preparation!!
Will not waste any more time on this review. In case anyone of you would still like to try this restaurant, try them on a weekend, some of the restaurants hire better chefs for weekends, since those days tend to be busy with tourists flocking in – basis online reviews.
The interiors of this place are an absolute visual treat – be prepared to get used to people walking around just to take selfies and pictures of the location. A well-lit, well planned and well decorated layout – they have a mini pond right in the center of the restaurant, which blends very well into the overall interiors of the restaurant. With very old interiors reminiscent of ethnic Indian Art, you will find some Ellora carvings right next to the mini artificial pond – many heavy wood / teak doors – that have been decorated on the walls all around the restaurant – these were definitely imported from a Southern Indian state, an absolute visual delight. It takes a good 30 minutes for one to just get a feel of the entire surroundings. The one downside being – the background music: its loud and club music – all you need is nature theme music… soothing and relaxing: One would just pay these guys just to spend an hour in peace and tranquility.
Now to the more serious topic – here’s the little secret that SFP brings to you – Utsav also serves a buffet lunch during weekdays. That’s an absolute ‘pysa vasool’ (absolute value for money in hindi ?) you get close to 40 varieties including salads, soft drinks (lassi included), 2 vegetarian and 2 non vegetarian options – rotis, rice items and an Kheer!
At what price: KRW 13500!!! – this by-far is the best Indian buffet lunch you can get under KRW 15,000 across Seoul! Did I mention they have an espresso machine as well included in the buffet price? Yup.. that’s included in it aswell.
Only downside, it’s a weekday affair not something you can try over weekend, well – a good reason to day a half day off ? : Gist: Highly recommended, must try.
Dafhe (Sangsu Station, Mapo)
Dafhe is run by a Napelese chef and his Korean wife. Service was fantastic and very friendly but at the end of the day, the quality of the food was lacking. The curries seemed so-so. When I asked for some green cilantro chutney, they didn’t have it. They gave us as “service” a bowl of mushroom soup. It’s been open for a year but I honestly don’t know how much longer they can last.
Pak India (Itaewon)
Technically, PakIndia is a Pakistani restaurant. The Pakistani couple had partnered with a Korean partner who suggested that India be part of the name. After the partner left, the Pakistani couple wanted to change the name and remove India but realized that there would be out-of-pocket costs to remove India from the business license so they left it as-is. There are some “Indian” dishes but not really.
The Indian restaurants that we were not able to review (due to time and Indian food fatigue) were as follows:
Aangan (아건), Ewha Woman’s University
Al Hoor, Itaewon
Amma Indian Restaurant, Sinchon
Bina, Multiple Locations
Delhi, India 델리인디아 (Mapo / Hongdae)
Gurkha Indian Restaurant, Myeongdong
Hello India, Yeonnam Dong
Laxmi (럭치미), Youngdeungpo
Little India (Garosugil)
Little India (Itaewon)
Lumbini Restaurant, Dongdaemun
뉴 델리 (New Delhi), Apgujungdong
Potala, Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu
Taj Palace, Itaewon