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North Indian curries in Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap
Mezbaan Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel in Cape Town is as far from your stock standard hotel restaurant as it gets. The North Indian eatery isn’t the sort of place you pop into for a quick bite to eat, nor is it the kind of proverbial dining hall often associated with accommodation; rather, Mezbaan has a sense of occasion.
We’re seated at a high communal table in throne-like chairs with a beautiful gold tablecloth running down the centre. The rose scent on our hands from the hot towels we were greeted with adds to the aroma created by the fragrant spices cooking in the kitchen. The décor is inspired by the same North Indian flavour that defines the menu; muted blue and red walls are complemented by bursts of colour from the tablecloths and ornaments around the room. Stained glass dividers create semi-private dining areas and cast a glowing light across the room.
The shiny glitz of the Hilton Hotel may seem incongruous to the small, brightly coloured houses of the Bo-Kaap, but the five-star Cape Town hotel has managed to strike a balance between accommodating its guests’ needs while still incorporating the culture of the community. For years the entire hotel was dry, but now it’s only the restaurant which doesn’t serve alcohol (it’s one of the few restaurants certified by the South African National Halaal Authority). Before dining, you can enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine at the hotel bar, where there’s outdoor deck seating with a view of Signal Hill, as well as a cosy indoor area. There are hubblies available as well as a bar menu.
Tonight we’re here for the curry buffet, a selection of Mughlai specialities – a style of cooking developed in the imperial kitchens of the Mughlai Empire which combines elements from both India and Arabia. Chef Muhammed Khan stops by our table for a quick chat, he’s the perfect host – friendly and eager to talk about the food he serves, he clearly takes pride in the traditional methods they use in the kitchen.
“We only use pure, fine ingredients and make the food using the traditional processes; we make everything properly. Our breyani is made covered with naan bread and baked in the oven, and our butter chicken cooks slowly over a few hours. Spicy doesn’t mean hot, it means flavour, and you can’t just use one sauce for everything – different meats need their own sauces,” he says, clearing up some common curry misconceptions.
After a quick peek into the kitchen to see the naan breads being thrown onto the sides of the traditional Tandoori oven with practised ease, we are more than ready to dig in.
The buffet, offered every Thursday, is a great way to sample a couple of different curries on the menu. There are eight on offer, including two vegetarian options, as well as poppadoms, naan breads and salad.
I try the butter chicken, which is mild but flavourful – the tender pieces of chicken testament to the slow cooking. I also sample the unusual mango chicken, which is sweet, fruity and spicy all at once.
Next time I’ll make sure to come extra hungry as the other curries look tempting. Chef Khan tells me he has a lot of locals who come in regularly, happy to have a Halaal restaurant nearby, as well as international guests who are pleasantly surprised to find this North Indian gem in their hotel.
We end off the meal with a cardamom crème brulee – an appropriately spiced ending to the night.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday: 6pm – 11pm
Hilton Cape Town City Centre Hotel | 126 Buitengracht Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 481 3700
If you love the spices but not the price of the curries then try the Eastern Food Bazaar for its budget selection of food from Asia and the Orient.
Looking for Halal or Halal friendly eateries? Read our selection of Halal and Halal friendly restaurants in Cape Town.
Not in the mood for curry? How about a pizza at Massimo’s in Hout Bay, their thin base creations are arguably the best in Cape Town.