Indian food's always been the exception that proved the rule about ethnic food in Moscow. For some reason, maybe owing to the long and mutually beneficial relationship between the Soviets and India, there's never been a shortage of good Indian places catering to whatever your budget may be. Now you can add two more places to the list: BANANA LEAF off of Tverskaya and VOSTOCHNY KVARTAL in Smolensky Passazh (not to be confused with the Uzbek place by the same name on the Arbat).
Banana Leaf, tucked away down the pereulok where Bunker's located, is a bright, kitschy basement restaurant. The first room's a sports bar of sorts, with several plasma TVs that were showing cricket when we arrived. The back room is "more elitny" according to general director Tanmoy. I don't know if I'd go that far, given the plastic banana trees, backlit sky blue ceiling and translucent mock-up of a beach view on the walls. But it was the laid back feel, and the crowd of traditionally dressed Nepalese kids running around celebrating something, that gave the restaurant a festive, unpretentious atmosphere that is a welcome antidote to central Moscow.
The food's both Indian and Chinese. We had Chinese apps and Indian mains, leaving the richer stuff 'til the end. These guys do a better imitation of Chinese cuisine than most Indians, although it wasn't perfect. Then again, in Moscow, even Chinese attempts at Chinese usually fall flat. Among the memorable appetizers were the crispy, light spring rolls (R185) and the "Crispy Tiger Prawn Pepper Salt" (R690), which translates to shrimp fried in a crispy pepper dough. Stay away from the dumplings, which are too spongy, and bland chicken satay. If you want to stick with the subcontinent throughout, there're plenty of Indian starters, as well.
Our mains featured a selection of tandoor meats served on hanging skewers. If you only get one thing here, get the Gost Pudina Chop, which is succulent lamb marinated in a spicy green pepper, ginger and yogurt sauce. This chop ranks up there with Darbar's keema samosas as one of Moscow's best Indian dishes. The Khas Sahi Kebab (R465) is tender, juicy marinated white chicken meat, and the tandoor shrimp (R690) are also respectable. The Yellow Dal Tarkan (R180) is a healthy portion of spicy, ghee-ful dal. The heavily spiced chicken biryani (R450) also scores well, and made us appreciate the soothing raita afterward. The killer mango shake might just be the best drink ever -- it is to milk shakes what gelato is to ice cream: light, fruity and delicious.
Vostochny Kvartal, meanwhile, is something of a step down from Banana Leaf, but gets serious props for keeping the prices under control. It's opened on the site of Shampoor and defied the commonly held belief that the more extravagantly priced the restaurant, the better it does in Moscow. Kvartal's easily the cheapest Indian food in the center, with prices more on par with Devi Cafe than Tandoor. The Murg Masala Curry (R180) was a nice dish with incredibly hot sauce if you ask for it. Once these guys knew they weren't catering to the Russian pallet, they laid it on heavy. The Palak Paneer was even better, and also only R180. The buttery layered nan bread was a mere R30.
Kvartal also has a mid-eastern menu (no weirder than mixing Indian and Chinese), with a nice hummus (R100) and tasty, above average falafel (R130).
And so, Moscow's got two more Indian places deserving high marks. Now if only the rest of the ethnic market can catch up... But until then, at least there's great Indian to console ourselves with.