I was hankering for something besides Korean food when I stepped in here last weekend. Ashoka opened in 1988 (in time for the Seoul Olympics) and was the oldest Indian restaurant in the city. Its location at the Hamilton Hotel was no coincidence - right at the crossroads of the most multicultural part of Seoul - Itaewon.
The lunch-time buffet seemed good value (KRW30,000++/USD30++) and offered the usual suspects. Some options today:
- Samosas & pakoras - the vegetarian samosas were very nice - turned out to be the best item on the buffet counter; the pakoras were too oily and limp; mint chutney dip was too watery and bland;
- Mutton briyani - interesting: Korean rice was used in place of basmati, giving the briyani a sticky texture (which I didn't mind one bit). The flavors were subtle, and the mutton was tender. Very nice - I'd come back here for this dish again;
- Chicken tikka masala - chicken lacked the smoky fragrance of pre-baked tandoori which one normally expected, whilst the gravy was shockingly bland and tasteless. This was singularly the worst chicken tikka masala I'd ever had!
- Malabar fish curry - the fish fillets were battered and pre-fried, before being cooked with, again, another bland & horrible-tasting gravy which lacked the spices one expected in good Indian cooking. I'm not sure what's "Malabar" about this dish. There was also no hint of coconut milk typical of Keralan cooking;
- Dhal - the MOST watery and tasteless dhal I'd ever had!
- Desserts were sweet coils of jelebi (bad!), semolina halva (ok, not too sweet, but no spice scent whatever) and fruit cocktail covered with custard (bland - I guess local Korean tastes eschew sweet stuff).
- the mango lassi was made with fizzy soda - interesting.
OK, so Ashoka may be the oldest Indian restaurant in Seoul, but I certainly hope there are better Indian restaurants out there. Its cooking lacked the ginger and onions that provide a good base for curries, use of aromatic spices were toned down a lot, and I didn't detect the use of cardamom, mustard seeds, coconut milk, tamarind or curry leaves, whilst the turmeric used was obviously not fresh, but powdered.
The only redeeming feature, if one can even deign to call it, was the crisp naan bread. Everything else seemed a bland, watery mess :-(
Ashoka Indian Restaurant
3rd Flr, Hamilton Hotel