Chefs shake long-handled pans that flame like coronal mass ejections from the sun. They pack glowing tandoors, stir colossal pots, load weapons-grade skewers (seekhs) with kebabs, pat dough for naan. A chef looks up at you and smiles. It’s no exaggeration to say the room is action-packed. It’s clean. Installing a large window, so that diners can see in, was brilliant. Carat’s kitchen is theatre!
The tables are set with monogrammed cloth napkins. The cutlery is elegantly engraved with the restaurant’s name. The dining room buzzes with conversation lilted with laughter. Beautiful food wafts by, and you clench your hands together so that neither will insubordinately snag a morsel. You feel a sense of well-being and happy anticipation. Good stuff is nigh.
The menu lists not only Indian dishes but also Mediterranean. That’s quite a range. Can they handle it all? You make a tactical decision to only order Indian, leaving the rest for another day.
There’s hardly a better way to survey a restaurant’s terrain than with samplers. You order two: an Old Delhi chaat platter (street-food snacks) and a Chef’s Choice platter (tandoori). Naturally, of sound mind, you order butter naan and saffron-poppy-seed-almond naan. And raita (yoghurt sauce). And saffron pilau (perfectly cooked basmati rice with saffron and scattered cumin seed).
There are three kinds of chaat: dahi bhalla, dahi puri and papri chaat. The dahi bhalla is a black lentil patty in a puri (a crisp, deep-fried Indian bread), doused with yoghurt, tamarind chutney and mint chutney.
All the chutneys, and the yoghurt, are house-made. You particularly like the yoghurt, which astounds you with its cheeky freshness, so much better than shop-bought that it’s almost a different substance altogether. The tamarind chutney is sweet, sour, sultry. The mint chutney pops like a flash bang.
The dahi puri is crisp spheres filled with potato, yoghurt and tamarind.
The papri chaat is small, crisp discs with yoghurt, tamarind and mint.
They’re amped by neon pomegranate seeds and sev – like the fibres in Shredded Wheat, but made from chickpea flour. They’re an utterly delectable demolition derby of flavours-textures-colours-scents, with no Western equivalent. They’re so delicious that you must suppress a tendency to growl and snap at your wife’s fingers as the two of you consume them.
All the tandoori items are moist-spiced-caramelised-charred-flavourful, great with the naan, raita and chutneys (the sesame, OMG) – chicken tikka, chicken pahadi, tandoori king prawn, lamb chop, mackerel tikka, lamb seekh kebab. They’re so good that there’s hardly a standout, but you savoured the perfect texture and flavour of the sashimi-grade king prawn. Your wife went full piranha on the lamb chop with nutmeg in the spicing. The mackerel was snapping fresh, clearly receptive to the tandoor’s caress.
Like an anaconda unhinging its jaws to take in a cow, you gird for one more main, Sindhi gosht, or slow-cooked New Zealand mutton with sliced onion, cardamom, bay leaf and the “chef’s special spices”. It’s chunks of fork-tender lamb in a mild, silky gravy. It’s a dish suited ideally to saffron pilau or naan, dolloped with raita. It’s a sigh of contentment.
The finale is two desserts: pista kulfi and gulab jaman. The pista kulfi is unchurned ice cream, like a semifreddo, sweet, assertively saffron flavoured, scattered with pistachio bits. It mauls you with pleasure. You hesitate to say that it’s the most delicious dessert you’ve ever eaten, but it might be.
The gulab jaman is deep-fried beignets – made from milk curd, flour, cardamom and saffron – soaked in saffron syrup and sprinkled with pistachio and almond bits, served hot. It’s so delicious, surely it can’t be legal. Brutal to say, Café du Monde’s renowned beignets are T-ball by comparison. These desserts together are a binary explosive. Beware.
Drinks? It is a restaurant reviewer’s job to swing their lantern high, selflessly lighting the way for others. So you and your wife selflessly order a Gems and Spices (house-infused cardamom vodka, fennel seed, house-made ginger syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, lime juice, absinthe-rinsed glass) and a…
… Bollywood Afterparty (house-infused cinnamon gin, house-made honey syrup, aromatic bitters, pure cacao bitters, lemon juice, aquafaba).
Selflessness unbounded, you order a second round, a Pink Diamond (house-infused raspberry and clove rum, crème de peche, cherry blossom syrup, orange bitters, lime juice, fresh raspberries, egg white) and a…
… Divine Intervention (cognac, rye whisky, fine ruby port, Campari, aromatic bitters, smoked peat mist).
All are so complex that you eye them sceptically. A sip though and your eyes widen. If you worship at the altar of mixology, these are musts, on another continuum altogether from the typical, overpriced Hawaiian Punch cocktails (with the provenance of every ingredient listed) dispensed commonly. They are sprung from the mixological genius of Daniel Whitely. If the Queen of England ever happens in and tilts back a few, knighthood is his.
Your favourite is Gems and Spices, like a long note on a cardamom cello. It’s amongst the greatest (if not THE greatest) cocktails you’ve ever had. Close runner-up is Bollywood Afterparty. Deep as an old leather chair, it’s capped with aquafaba, frothed chickpea cooking liquid that is, unlikely as it seems, luscious. Pink Diamond, luminous with berry and peach, is its equal. And Divine Intervention (which is finished with a spray of smoky Islay single-malt whisky) is a contemplative sipper with a retro quality that will incline you to speak with a transatlantic accent.
Mango lassi is served as a digestif. It’s made with their fresh, homemade yoghurt and puréed Alphonso mango, imported from India, plus a little mango syrup. It gladdens your gizzard.
All the cocktails are priced at $108. Very fair.
The owner of Carat, Atul, is also a gem dealer, hence the restaurant’s name. Gems are precious stones forged by time, heat and pressure. The food and drink created by this restaurant are gems produced in just the same way, forged by the time, heat and pressure of extraordinary intelligence, talent and experience. And as if this were not enough, the prices are reasonable.
Carat is great for families, for friends, for dates. It has an outside deck that looks ideal for parties. It is well worth a trip across town. Boy, do you recommend it.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall greatness: 5
Restaurants are intuitively rated within their particular realms. So Michelin restaurants, pizza places and stand-up sandwich joints are judged against like restaurants, not each other. A 5 for a high-end restaurant is not meant to be the same as a 5 for street food.
From my website, here’s how I rate food: “I believe the quality of a restaurant’s food is vastly more important than any other factor. Even if I love a restaurant’s food, I’m very conservative about giving out 4s or 5s. I reserve 4s for food that is uniformly excellent. Preponderantly excellent tends to get a lower score. 5s are for food that is uniformly stunning.”
This meal was comped.
4/F, Winfield Commercial Building, 6–8 Prat Avenue, TST, 2391 3929 (there’s another branch in Lan Kwai Fong, Central)