Phone: (09) 309 4009
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 8, Ambience: 8
Having just been reminded that our Indian population is the second-largest ethnic community in the city, it was fitting that we booked, on a very quiet night, for dinner at IVillage. The I stands for "Indian", if you didn't know, and IVillage is part of the fancy newish fit-out near the chimney at what used to be Victoria Park Market.
This is Indian dining at its most splendid. An enormous bowl of floating flowers sat by our table. The table was round cane with a sparkling glass top, and the walls were adorned with decorative art and beaten copper. Then, when we glanced up, we realised the vaulted ceiling was decorated with what looked like flying carpets and a panel of sari silks. Beautiful.
The menu is all-encompassing, with a bar section you can also order as appetisers, right through to a $40 (vegetarian) or $50-a-head Victoria banquet (and a POA special) if you're celebrating or trying to impress big time.
We started with a massive poppadom platter served with chutneys - mango, chilli pickle and raita, and another we couldn't identify but which tasted great, especially on the fatter poppadoms. They looked as though they'd been made out of rice bubbles. Meanwhile, we worked through the menu and chose our drinks. Mary opted for an Epic pale ale, Brian a Kumeu Village chardonnay, the clean-living pescatarian a bottle of sparkling water, and I took our extremely knowledgeable waiter's suggestion and tried the The Valleys Wairau gewurztraminer. I hadn't had it before but it's now firmly on my list of deliciously aromatic, non-acidic whites.
Our entrees were a great success. First, chicken kebabs cooked three ways arrived in a tallish, still-smoking pot, where the lowest piece sat on smouldering embers and the others received a light smoking (as I did, being the lucky person downwind). Second were the Indo-Chinese bullets, also recommended by our waiter, which turned out to be chipolata-shaped concoctions of spinach, spices and other vegetables, rolled, dusted in cornflour and deep fried for a delicious vegetarian starter. These were followed by our waiter's other suggestion - the goli lamb kofta, which were more like sausages in shape, but the minced lamb was tasty, juicy and delicious all the way through.
And so on to our main courses, starting with a beautifully cooked lamb saagwala. The lamb was tender and the bright green spinach sauce rich, thick and fragrant. Next was the Goan fish curry, which turned out to be one of the few oven-cooked fish meals I've had in a restaurant where the fish wasn't even slightly over-cooked. Our second vegetarian choice was shahi paneer kofta, which sounded so interesting I just had to have it. Made with "home-made" cottage cheese, stuffed with dried fruit and nuts and once again served in a rich gravy, this one was flavoured with saffron, and it was amazing. Sadly, as time went by the balls seemed to dissolve into the sauce, but the two I did manage to snaffle would make me head back to IVillage for those alone.
Then there was the yellow tadkewali dhal, made from marinated yellow lentils and permeated with curry leaves. This was probably our only ordering mistake. We already had three dishes bathed in gravy. On the other hand, we needed carbs and dhal was a chance to reach for yet another piece of fluffy, oily, delectable garlic naan, pile on the dhal and smile.
The dessert menu was another surprise with only five items to choose between. We opted for the mango pistachio icecream, which arrived thoughtfully divided into slices, followed by the bedam kesar kheer, a creamy rice pudding served in a tall, slender flute, and the gulab jamun, or dumplings, which took my breath away. Small, round and light as a sponge, the dumplings were saturated in an aromatic, fiendishly sweet syrup. And they were fabulous. When everyone else gave up and was threatening to leave the last mouthful for the waiter to clear away, I couldn't stop myself slurping it down with true joy.
Looking back, I now realise why I love Indian food so much. Nothing is dry. Almost all dishes are served with gravy or chutney. Our main courses were bathed in gravy, and each of the "dry" entrees was accompanied by its own dipping sauce. Most of them were thin, all of them highly flavoured, but not necessarily chilli hot - so giving every mouthful a jolly good kick along without burning your tongue. Our waiter was also careful to enquire how hot we wanted the various dishes and they arrived spot-on every time.
The naan bread was the best we've ever tasted, those dumplings divine, the service good, the surroundings authentic.
Our meal: $242 for a platter of poppadoms, four entrees, four main courses and three desserts.
Our wine: A short but expertly assembled list offering everything you could want at reasonable prices, plus a good selection of beers.
Verdict: Yet another example of the breadth and range of Auckland's top-flight restaurants. IVillage gives a fine example of sophisticated Indian decor. It's well-priced, the service is good and the food is, much of the time, quite fabulous.