Entering Viceroy, your eyes adjust to the soft, warm light of Edison bulbs and you take in the scene. Victorian-style street lanterns hang from a pressed-tin ceiling over a mahogany-stained bar. Fluted columns rise from the ends of counters flanked by 19th-century retro barstools.
Opposite the bar in the narrow dining room, scores of sepia portraits in ornate frames hang on walls papered in dark, intricately patterned acanthus wallpaper. Sprinkled among the stern Anglo visages in starched white collars are a couple of bearded faces in Sikh turbans, supplying the requisite exotic spice to a decor that’s evocative of a London pub in the British Raj era.
Then, just as you’re beginning to wonder if you’ve stumbled through a warp in the space-time continuum, you spot a couple of large chalkboards, where the night’s specials are written. There’s a mushroom and tasso pie, corn kebabs, five-lentil Panjratna daal, and something called a samosa Texicana (black beans, corn and four-cheese blend stuffed in an Indian pastry, served with pico de gallo). For dessert, there’s an ice cream sandwich made with mango kulfi and Parle-G (which Google informs you is a popular Indian cookie – er, biscuit).
Yup, no doubt about it. You’re in modern-day downtown Durham.
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Viceroy is a joint venture between the owners of the popular Bull McCabe’s pub just down the street and the owners of the Tan-Durm food truck. It’s a mashup of their respective specialties: British and Indian cuisines. The two cultures are inextricably linked by centuries of history, and Viceroy’s menu takes a fresh, modern look at the relationship.
Curried Shepherd’s Pie – ground lamb, peas and carrots in a mild curry-spiced gravy, baked under a mashed potato crust – is one delightful example of that relationship. Another is a shareable small plate called Queen’s Fries, which raises the ante on the street food curry fries popular all over Great Britain (and much of Europe, for that matter) with grilled slices of English banger sausage. Yet another is Cadbury kheer, a mashup of Indian rice pudding and English candy bar that’s sometimes offered as a dessert special.
Jolly good fun as they are, such fusion creations account for a minority of the Viceroy offerings. Indian dishes dominate the menu, no doubt a reflection of the fact that, from a culinary standpoint, India has had a greater impact on England than vice-versa. Tan-Durm owner B.J. Patel points out that chicken Tikka Masala has been named a British national dish, surpassing fish and chips in popularity.
Still, this is by no means your traditional Indian bill of fare. Well over half of the listings are marked as vegan, gluten-free, or both on a menu that’s clearly geared toward the modern Western palate. The naan is extraordinarily light and fluffy, according to Patel, because it’s vegan, made with coconut milk rather than yogurt in the dough.
But don’t take “Western palate” to mean dumbed down. When you order, your server will probably ask you how hot you’d like a dish on a scale from one to six. Then she may add, with a twinkle in her eye, “We can go beyond six if you like.” Consider that a dare, and take her up on it only if you have an asbestos-lined stomach.
Regardless of your preferred heat level, Kashmiri rogan josh – lean, tender chunks of lamb simmered in a coppery curry of tomato, onion, chile and yogurt – delivers big-time flavor. So does Achari palak daal, a yellow lentil curry with spinach, pungent with Indian pickle spices. Both are served with fragrant turmeric- and saffron-tinged rice, as are all entrees.
Lamb turns up again as tandoori-roasted boti kebabs on the Maharahjah platter, where it’s joined by chicken tikka, chicken tangri (masala-spiced drumsticks) and jumbo shrimp on a bed of peppers and onions. The lamb and shrimp in particular are so well executed that, if the cast iron platter should fail to live up to the menu’s “sizzling” promise, you’re inclined to overlook it.
The Viceroy tandoor also turns out an excellent vegetarian dish called simla mirch paneer (homemade Indian cheese, peppers and onions), further distinguishing itself from traditional Indian restaurants. Cumin-spiced tandoori-roasted wings are equally gratifying as a main course or an appetizer.
Gobi suka, crispy batter-fried cauliflower florets sautéed with onions, peppers and curry leaves, are an addictive starter. Wash them down with, say, a Mumbai Mule (Tanqueray Rangpur gin, fresh lime juice, and Gosling’s ginger beer). Or go British with sausage rolls: flaky pastry tubes filled with a sautéed medley of banger, onion, sage and Coleman’s mustard, served with HP brown sauce. Try the sausage rolls with a pint of Fuller’s ESB on tap.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even venture outside Britain and India, and set sail for outlier territory. The specials can be hit or miss. Indian spice-infused crab cakes were an experiment gone awry, the flavor of crab overwhelmed by spices. But Siam salad is a refreshing mango-brightened update on the classic Thai green papaya salad, som tam. You’ll find that one on the regular menu. It should pair nicely with a Tamarind Margarita.
Better yet, bring some friends, and mix-and-match your way around the globe. That’s the Viceroy spirit.
335 W. Main St., Durham
Cuisine: Indian, English, fusion
Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2
Atmosphere: Raj-era British pub
Service: knowledgeable and attentive
Recommended: gobi suka, Siam salad, sausage rolls, curried shepherd’s pie, queen’s fries, Kashmiri rogan josh, naan, desserts
Open: Lunch Monday, Wednesday-Friday; dinner Wednesday-Monday.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection; parking on street and in the lot behind the restaurant.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.