Ista, at the lower end of Wyndham Street, serves up ‘Indian tapas’ amongst other things. It is a higher-end Indian restaurant with cream leather armchairs and a casual-chic ambiance.
Growing up with a father who always asks for his curries “extra spicy” and devours them with tears and beads of sweat running down his face, I have inevitably also developed a love of all things spicy. Thankfully for me, although perhaps not so thankfully for those who are not as hardcore as me (including my fellow diner!), the food at Ista is all lovingly ladened with a lot of spice. Not too much so as to numb your mouth and overpower the flavour, but enough to give you that exciting kick that I often crave. I’m sure any weaklings may be able to voice their concerns and ask for a milder version if need be.
The cocktail list offers some interesting options inspired by Indian cuisine. We started with a Ginger Snap Martini, which was intriguing with a strong cinnamon kick, and an Indian Summer, a much more fresh and fruity option. We later chose some Atone-mints, which weren’t quite as tasty or special, but I guess I was taken in by the name. $80 a cocktail is not an unreasonable ask, particularly for cocktails you won’t find in your average LKF bar.
The food menu contains vegetarian/chicken/meat/seafood ‘tapas’, curries of the same, a range of biryanis and breads, and a few side dishes. Ista’s view is to create typical Indian street-food designed for sharing but using only the best and freshest ingredients so that you don’t leave with that uncomfortable, heavy feeling in your stomach which is often associated with Indian cuisine.
Four delicious sauces (see photo above) are served at the beginning of each meal to accompany the dishes as you please: mango chutney, lime pickle, a tangy tamarind sauce and a slightly spicy mint sauce which I thought particularly complemented the vegetable samosas.
The Vegetable Samosas were very good: obviously deep fried but not overly greasy and the vegetable filling was soft and fluffy with a generous level of spice. It was the only vegetarian dish we were allowed to have as this time I was dining with a far-from-vegetarian! The menu does offer some delicious-looking veggie dishes, however.
The Tandoori Chicken, described as “an all time favourite,” was just right – nice and tender and not too dry (some places can go so wrong with tandoori). Even more delicious and tender, however, was the Boti Kebab: boneless cubes of lamb marinated in Indian herbs and also cooked in the Tandoor which almost melted in the mouth. Lamb is definitely a favourite meat of mine and the Indians seem to get it right every time.
The Goan Fish Curry was beautiful: not spicy at all but wonderfully coconuty and creamy. The waiter claimed it was mackerel, but the menu states it is cooked with sole fillet. Either way, it was perfectly cooked so that it didn’t fall apart. The curry can be served with either rice or naan – we opted for a butter naan which was clearly cooked fresh, minutes before serving. They have a wide variety of naans, rotis, paranthas and kulchas; our very smiley waitress told me that their best bread was the Laccha Parantha so we ordered one of those too. I can’t remember exactly what ingredients went into it but it was lovely, although I would still favour the naan.
Intrigued by the desserts which each needed explaining, we chose the Gulab Jamun to share: two deep-fried balls made with some sort of milk paste and bathed in a sweet syrup. I don’t think I could handle a whole serving of this but my one little ball was the perfect end to a lovely meal and served to extinguish the fire which was still ferociously burning in our mouths.
Without beating around the bush, the service at Ista was terrible. When we were noticed, the waiters were very attentive and friendly, but we literally had to wave our arms around for several minutes to get their attention. Considering there were very few tables occupied and at least four waiters, I think more attention should have been given to the hungry diners.
The total bill came to $770 for the two of us. This, we thought, for a reasonable amount of food and four cocktails, was not too awful, although on reviewing the bill several days later, I actually realised they forgot to charge us for the first two cocktails. Whoops Ista but thank you very much!
Ista Bar and Grill
2/F Onfem Tower
29 Wyndham Street
Tel: +852 2530 5353
Date visited: Wednesday 8th June 2011