As a self-proclaimed ethnic food addict, I have to say that I typically use a reverse sliding scale for my Asian and Indian eats. The rattier and dirtier the place is, the better the food HAS to be, right? But in the case of the new Mantra Indian restaurant restaurant in Raleigh, they blow that theory right out of the water. Because Mantra Restaurant does great Indian food in a stylish environment, without giving up any of the taste or flavor one would want in S. Asian food. So you get tasty ethnic food with great ambiance AND service, woohoo! Mantra would be great for a date or business lunch, let’s step inside.
Located in the old space previously owned by Blue Martini and Vintage Bar, the owner of Mantra (Gamer Rawat, previously from Saffron Restaurant) has renovated the space to bring it back to life. Jewel-hued rooms, modern tableware with sparkling wine glasses and just a hint of Indian decor prepare you for the delicious treats to come. A long and stylish bar gives you some cocktail options while you wait and a covered patio offers some fresh-air dining. But make no mistake, the overall feel at Mantra is upscale no matter where you end up!
Mantra’s extensive menu is focused on tried and true northern Indian classics but Chef Rawat puts a couple of twists in the menu with items that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Lobster masala? Potatoes in a pomegrante-tomato sauce? Whoa, I think a little bit of Indian fusion has snuck onto the menu. What I really like is that Mantra does a great job describing the entrees. Indian food has always been a challenge for me and I stick to the basics because I know for sure what I’m getting. The details in Mantra’s menu makes it easier for newbies and veterans to go explore a bit in their dining choices, fantastic!
For starters, they bring out some crisp papadum with a lovely spread of dipping sauces: tamarind and some chutneys. The tamatar basil sorbha I tried was a delicious tomato soup spiked with veggies and slivers of ginger for contrast. As with most Indian menus, the food at Mantra is very vegetarian-friendly with plenty of options for non-meat-eaters.
For mains, try the murgh tikka masala which is a classic dish of tandoori chicken pieces in a tomato-yogurt sauce. Mantra’s version is very savory with a touch of spice and heat. The lamb korma consists of chunks of lamb in a cumin-ginger sauce, great stuff. And the goan machali is a filet of fish over a tomato-onion sauce with some coconut milk was delicious. The fish was cooked through just perfectly. A side of basmati rice and fluffy naan completed our main meal, both were great for soaking up the wonderful sauces in our dishes. Two key differentiators at Mantra is the preparation and presentation of food. You can tell they want you to enjoy the meal with your eyes, a definite step up from most Indian restaurants.
And of course how could you end a meal without some sweets? If you do the Thali lunch, you have no choice about dessert (twist my arm!). Try the mango mousse which is a light, fruity palate cleanser. Or maybe the traditional rice pudding with crushed pistachios. To be honest with you, most Asian desserts aren’t going to blow you away but at Mantra, they make for a perfectly fine ending to a great meal.
While Mantra restaurant transforms upscale Indian food with a hint of fusion and French flavor, it does so in a way that’s extremely subtle and still delicious! Indian food is fantastic so why mess with a good thing? But the addition of modern decor and twists to the menu really completes the experience here. So repeat after me, if you like great Indian food, visit Mantra. If you like great Indian food, visit Mantra… And I’m pretty sure after you visit the place you’ll have found your mantra for tasty Indian food, bon appetit!