For more than three millennia, the Indian subcontinent was ruled by a plethora of powerful dynasties vying for territory. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the global Indian restaurant market is also heavily dynastic—recall the infamous Berkeley Indian restaurant magnate, Deepak Agarwal (a.k.a. Deepak Shakur). During our visit to India Pavilion (IP), in the heart of Central Square in Cambridge, we learned of Deepak’s Cambridge counterpart, Mohan Singh, whose territory extends north-south across the heart of the city with ownership of IP, PD, and Froyogi. IP, the flagship restaurant of the Singh dynasty, opened its doors over 30 years ago, during the dark ages of Central Square. In fact, the restaurant still displays a prominent sign “NO DRUGS”—perhaps a relic from that crime-ridden epoch.
Despite the geographic separation of the Shakur and Singh Dynasties, their bicoastal establishments feature the most critical yet useless element of restaurant décor: the ornate wooden screen hawked by Restaurant Depot. And, like all empire builders, Singh and Shakur understand the importance of diversification: whereas Shakur owned taxi businesses and sought to corner the East Bay spice trade, Singh markets his own brand of Garam Masala, on prominent display at IP in neatly arranged glass jars with mis-oriented labels. Unlike the crude interior of PD, however, IP’s interior was immaculate, with comfortable chairs, well arranged tables, a pleasing color scheme, and balanced lighting, attributes befitting the stature of the great Singh dynasty.
Notably, IP’s kitchen faced the dining area, separated by a transparent window. This allowed us to observe the preparation of our food in real time, and we were pleased by what we saw. The meal began with peshawari nan ($5), which was fresh, tasty, but a tad undercooked. The poori ($4) was plasmatic on arrival, but rapidly deflated, leaving behind less impressive and more doughy morsels upon cooling. The goat curry ($14) was tender and the navrattan korma ($10) was very flavorful with excellent cookitude. Surprisingly, we learned that the aloo gobi, while offered, was an off-menu item. Its omission, though sacreligious, was a good choice, as the dish lacked appropriate potato cookitude and was bland despite our requests for extreme spice levels. The mango lassi ($4) was excellent, with a viscous texture and an essence of kewra, the extract from the flower of a screwpine plant.
Despite a few critical missteps, IP is a solid four samosa restaurant (▲▲▲▲) with a with a high-end three rupee (₨ ₨ ₨) price tag. However, despite IP’s apparent preeminence, the Singh dynasty, too, will someday fall. Will it succumb to Mongol invaders, or the slow eastward march of the Shakur empire? Time will tell, and history will be written by the victors, so experience this jewel before its inevitable plunder!