Tell anyone in Hong Kong that you live in the Mid-Levels and their first thought is likely to be that you’re wealthy. After that, foreign residents, dog poisonings, and narrow, confusing streets might come to mind.
The Mid-Levels, then, isn’t really known as a culinary paradise. Ascending beyond SoHo, the number and variety of restaurants rapidly wanes until you hit the touristy venues of the Peak itself. On Mosque Street however, several blocks higher than Caine Road, there is a culinary oasis of sorts. This narrow one-way street has a good fish-and-chips restaurant called Sea Salt, one of the best Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong called Xoco, a shop for small-batch baked goods and other savouries named Vanilla, and a twelve-year-old hole-in-the-wall called Indian Village.
Indian Village opened in 2004 in its current location at 31-37 Mosque Street. The restaurant continues to be family owned-and-operated and consists only of a narrow storefront, below a faded sign that reads “Indian Village: A Traditional Dining Experience”.
Patrons can sit at two rickety metal tables outdoors under a green awning on worn artificial turf, or at two tables inside. The small open kitchen allows the fragrance of their home-style Indian fare to waft onto the street and entice passersby. With so few seats, much of Indian Village’s business is takeaway or delivery but, in my opinion, this restaurant is best experienced on-site, with the food brought to you immediately when ready, direct from the kitchen, served piping hot.
The food is halal, and the menu is typical of local Indian restaurants, with soups, appetisers, tandoori items, breads, rice dishes, chicken, lamb, seafood and ample vegetarian specialties.
I particularly like the various paneer dishes. Paneer is an unaged, white curd cheese common in South Asian cuisines. The saag paneer (HKD72) at Indian Village consists of a well-mashed, bright green dish of spinach generously populated with paneer cubes and the right amount of cumin and other spices. Slightly lighter in flavour and with a different texture, the mutter paneer (HKD72) is a similar dish but with whole green peas in lieu of spinach.
The paneer tikka (HKD89) features a generous portion of paneer cubes cooked in a clay oven tandoori-style, served on a sizzling iron plate with tomatoes, peppers and onion and a highly fragrant spice mixture. The iron plate is so hot that the paneer begins to melt and take on a texture almost like buffalo mozzarella or fine burrata cheese from Italy. This is a dish best enjoyed at the restaurant as by the time it would get home the paneer would re-harden and lose that melty quality.
For meat dishes, the keema mutter (HKD92) is a stand out. Keemas are minced meat preparations and the keema mutter at Indian Village consists of minced lamb and green peas in a rich, spicy combination. The mince texture is pleasant to the tongue and the proportion of lamb to peas is weighted towards the lamb, making for a filling main. The prawn vindaloo (HKD98) was notable not for being the spiciest vindaloo around, though it was sufficiently spiced, but for the fact that the medium-sized prawns were prepared just to the point of fork tenderness rather than rubbery and overcooked – as is often the case in a dish known more for the spice itself than for what is being flavoured. This is another benefit of dining at a restaurant where the kitchen is just metres from you.
On the other hand, I found the aloo chana chat (HKD42) at Indian Village to be disappointing, at least the one time I tried. Chaats are typically listed in the appetiser section of Indian restaurant menus and started as street food sold at roadside stalls. Chaats are served chilled or at room temperature and can contain a variety of ingredients, but generally include starchy components like chickpeas and/or pieces of crispy fried breads. It can also include yoghurt and a tangy spice mix called chaat masala, with its base ingredient of dried mango powder known as amchoor.
I love chaats for the cooling mix of textures and flavours but the aloo chana chat at Indian Village with chickpeas and potatoes missed the mark. The flavour was fine but the chickpeas had either been overcooked or in the refrigerator too long and had an almost mealy texture. The breads and rice dishes that I have tried at Indian Village have been acceptable, if not standouts.
Indian Village is not where you go for a fine dining experience and it’s not where you would typically take guests on a warm summer’s day in Hong Kong. For that, stick to Bombay Dreams, for example where the food is good and there’s air-conditioning. However, for a casual experience and freshly home-cooked food when you want time alone, with your partner or a few close friends, it’s worth taking a ride further up the escalator into the Mid-Levels for this “traditional dining experience” at a reasonably priced hole-in-the-wall where you may not expect to find it.
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for nearly 20 years with 13 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network, and previously chaired the Nomura Gay & Lesbian Network, Asia. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, eight half-marathons and completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker.
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