Tandoor The Clay Oven is a relatively new eatery in Pietermaritzburg that specialises in traditional Indian cuisine. Conveniently situated at 319 Bulwer Street, directly opposite Merchiston School, Tandoor is only a short drive away from most of the city’s suburbs and only a kilometre or two away from the city’s bustling CBD. But what I really liked about this restaurant was their food, which was delicious, as I found out when I visited them for supper recently.
The co-owner of Tandoor, Jaswant Singh, was our host for the evening and he certainly proved to be a most gracious and polite one at that. Singh, who hails from Punjab in India, moved to Pietermaritzburg 14 years ago, spending 12 of those years working in the city’s textile industry.
During those years Singh grew to like the city so much that he decided to semi-retire in the KwaZulu Natal capital and pursue his lifelong passion for food. That passion translated into the establishment of Tandoor some two years ago, and since then he has never looked back.
Tandoor is a restaurant with lots of character and charm, thanks largely to its humble location and Singh’s warm disposition. An old double-story house was refurbished and converted into the restaurant, which can seat 25 people inside and 10 to 15 on the balcony. This creates a homely atmosphere, which is always good for attracting customers.
Despite a rather slow start business has picked up nicely for Singh, thanks largely to word-of-mouth referrals and the restaurant’s close proximity to a number of private hospitals and bed and breakfast establishments. Singh describes the dishes on his menu as “authentic Indian cuisine with slight changes and variations to suit local taste buds”. Although the cuisine is mainly northern Indian, it includes dishes that are popular with all communities.
Speciality dishes include tandoor chicken, tandoor mushroom, amristari naan, stuffed parata and a variety of samoosas (vegetables, chicken and lamb), as well as carrot halwa. All meats are marinated in-house, which, according to Singh, improves both the taste and flavour of his dishes.
With people all over the world becoming increasingly health conscious, there is a growing demand for restaurants to prepare dishes with minimal use of oil and fat. Singh has therefore instructed his chefs to go easy on the oil and fat, while at the same time ensuring dishes are as spicy as possible, as is tradition with Indian cuisine.
However, since I am not a huge fan of spicy food, I selected the lamb korma (mild lamb curry cooked with nuts), which proved to be an excellent choice. The dish was only mildly spicy and the lamb was wonderfully tender and succulent, making for a most delicious dish. At just R90, the lamb korma was affordable too, always an important factor in these tough economic times.
My mom had the lamb saag (lamb cooked in a spinach gravy with garlic, cumin and a touch of cream), which she thoroughly enjoyed. “The lamb was exceptionally tender and flavoursome, which made for a very tasty dish,” she remarked. She also felt that R80 was “a fair price to pay”, considering the dish was both well prepared and well presented. For dessert my mom had the Kulfee (traditional Indian ice cream), which she described as “interesting and something different”.
Ed and Kathy opted for the Chicken Tikka Masala (mild chicken curry cooked with green pepper, onions and tomato gravy), which seemed like a good deal at just R60. Indeed, they were most impressed with their choice of dish, describing the chicken as “well seasoned, tender and exceptionally tasty”, and emphasising that their portions were more than reasonable. Ed was particularly impressed with the garlic naan (a traditional Indian bread flavoured with garlic and butter, which I also selected as a starter), describing it as a “good appetiser”.
Mary-Anne had the chicken kadhai (boneless chicken cooked with fresh tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, fresh herbs and spices), which was also well priced at R60. She raved about the kadhai, describing it as “an amazing combination of different flavours and spices”, and “great value for money”.
Besides the talent and skill of the chefs, the secret to all this fantastic food seems to be the restaurant’s clay oven, which Singh imported directly from India. “Most of our foods are prepared in this oven, which provides a constant temperature for cooking from all angles,” explained Singh. “The oven is very important because it ensures that our dishes are cooked to the highest possible standard, thus providing our customers with top-quality meals they can tell their friends about,” he added.
Tandoor is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm and again from 5 pm to 10 pm. In addition to a sit-down menu, the restaurant also has a takeaway menu for those who want to eat on the run. Deliveries are also available on request.
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Telephone: +27 (0)33 345 1379
Cell: +27 (0)83 263 0733
Physical address: 319 Bulwer Street, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal