Despite common misconceptions, there is really no such thing as ‘Indian food’. Rather, the huge geographical area that now makes up the country named India boasts an enormous variety of regional sub-cuisines – there are probably close to 40 different ‘Indian’ cuisines, which vary widely from one place to another. Overall, the cuisines of the subcontinent are ancient ones and their regional development first made huge strides during northern India’s ‘Golden Age’ (between the 4th and 6th centuries), an era that was characterised by openness to both scientific and artistic pursuits. This, in turn, attracted travellers from elsewhere in the world, and these cross-border interactions introduced new cooking methods and produce to India – including the arrival of tea.
Fast-forward to today and food from India is once again enjoying an epicurean boom – this time, both on the subcontinent and elsewhere in the world. Top chefs are embracing a newfound freedom to go beyond creating ‘authentic’ food, and the result is a new way of showcasing the classics while simultaneously innovating and exploring the possibilities offered by this area’s diverse cuisines.
This trend has most definitely arrived in South Africa and in Cape Town in particular, with the recent openings of hotly anticipated contemporary Indian restaurants like Marigold and Thali. With gorgeous, original food and polished, Instagram-friendly decor, these are the places to explore ‘the new Indian’.
The marigold flower has a long and deep significance in Indian tradition and Marigold Authentic Indian restaurant, which recently opened in Franschhoek, is likely to be embraced by this food-obsessed town with a similar amount of fervour. Marigold is the latest addition to the luxurious Leeu Collection and for proud owner Analjit Singh, Franschhoek’s first classic Indian restaurant is a personally symbolic addition.
Situated opposite sister property Leeu House, Marigold is a vibrant, contemporary space featuring exposed brick and warm timber floors. With patterned African fabrics, striking geometric wallpaper and earthy orange and amber touches, the decor conjures up a scene straight out of an Indian flower market. The outside seating leads onto Heritage Square where a Jop Kunneke sculpture of a lion stands in honour of Mr Singh – very appropriate indeed given that ‘singh’ means ‘lion’ in Sanskrit.
Marigold’s seasoned head chef, Vanie Padayachee, has designed a menu of small plates that is sure to delight. Featuring flavours inspired by aromatic north Indian cuisine, it’s all about fragrant curries, heady biryanis and succulent meat dishes cooked in a charcoal tandoor. Served on large silver trays, the curries are rich in complexity and range from vegetarian options to slow-cooked lamb, but the uncontested pièce de résistance is the perfect butter chicken. Chef Vanie travelled to India to source the special recipe she uses, the product of which is a tender, tart and smoky chicken that is sure to remain emblazoned in our gourmand memory.
Find Marigold at 9 Huguenot Rd, Franschhoek. For more information visit marigoldfranschhoek.com.
This feature originally appeared in House and Leisure’s March 2017 issue.