There are all kinds of menú del día bargains in Palma, by which I don’t mean those that are the most economical but those that are tremendous value for the price you pay. We’ve come across several of them in recent weeks, including Munay (Peruvian) and Quinta Avenida (Japanese) in which first class authentic cooking is available at the most reasonable of prices.
This week we come to Palma’s best bargain in Indian food — the €16.50 menú del día at Basmati, the island’s finest Indian restaurant. Cook-owner Shahin Awal is actually from Bangladesh and many of his best dishes are from that part of the Indian sub-continent.
Shahin has been working in Spain for more than 20 years (first in Madrid and then in Palma) and what distinguishes his cooking from all other Indian restaurants I know of is his complete negation of hot spices in all of his superb dishes. (See article next door for more details).
Shahin doesn’t work with one of those typical Indian restaurant menus with up to 150 dishes, all of them based on three or four sauces.
He has always specialised in fixed price menus whose dishes keep changing every day. Even his €16.50 menú del día can alter on a daily basis because Shahin makes smallish quantities of each dish so that nothing is left over at the end of the day.
Our amazingly simple starter was two deep-fried items and a salad: slices of batter-fried pumpkin, lentil pakoras and mixed salad greens dressed with a tamarind sauce and sprinkled with snippets of fresh cheese. The batter was extremely thin and crisp and the pumpkin was just pumpkin but it was incredibly soft, sweet and scrummy.
A most satisfying Mogul dish was chicken done in a cashew sauce that was creamy (but without cream) and also nicely gritty on the palate.
Another most successful dish was a Kashmiri venison stew that came in a lovely sweet and sour silky sauce. Unusual and absolutely splendid.
Both dishes were served with a bowl of magnificent lightly fried basmati rice that was flavoured with cloves and cinnamon as well as cardamom. It was worth a 10. But that’s nothing new — Shahin’s basmati rice always gets a 10-rating.
If Michelin guide inspectors were doing their job properly (they’re not, especially in Spain) then Basmati would have been awarded a star after Shahin moved into his present premises in Calle Caro several years ago.
In the meantime he has the personal satisfaction of knowing that very few Indian eateries anywhere can rival him on the expertise, care and attention he puts into every aspect of his highly sophisticated cooking.
l A meal at Basmati is a huge delight because you are always served genuine Bangladesh and Indian dishes, sometimes made with sub-continent vegetables that local farmers cultivate for Shahin. He also grows fruit, veggies and Indian herbs and spices in his own garden — so authenticity is the name of the game at Basmati. Shahin’s policy of shunning the typical Indian restaurant menu of up to 150 dishes and concentrating instead on a couple of tasting menus that change on a daily basis has always been one of the big attractions of Basmati and one of the reasons why Shahin has a large fixed clientele who keep coming back for more. His ban on dishes packed with loads of hot spices has paid off very nicely — most Majorcans and Spaniards are not interested in hot spicy food. Shahin’s lightly sautéed basmati rice and his honey-sweet peshwari bread are the best ever and are always worth a 10.
l Restaurante Basmati, Calle Caro 7, Palma. Tel:971-710387. Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday and also on Monday and Sunday nights. The €16.50 menú del día can change from day to day and there are also vegetarian options. When you make a booking let them know if you want any of these options. The €16.50 price includes a glass of red or white wine plus water and dessert. For dessert we had a glass with a layer of crushed biscuit, a dollop of kulfi ice cream and a topping of silky custard. A light and refreshing way to end an Indian meal.
l We had a couple of beautifully pulled cañas but Shahin insisted on inviting us to them, so the bill was €32 with VAT.