Sometimes the best things in life can get even better. Take Indian food for example—an exotic mélange of spices, herbs, vegetables, sauces and rice intended to excite the palate while consoling the body.

Sometimes the best things in life can get even better. Take Indian food for example—an exotic mélange of spices, herbs, vegetables, sauces and rice intended to excite the palate while consoling the body.

Raj Sharma, British-Indian owner of Indish in Northwest Portland, accomplishes this effect with unmatched pride and precision. Aware that there are over 10 different cooking styles in India, he highlights the benefits of North Indian home cooking over the heavy banquet-style dishes typically served in curry houses.

Sharma wanted to create the type of food he had at home—the kind his mother cooked without use of butters and creams.

Laura Brown, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and Sharma’s wife, spends weeks painstakingly crafting the dishes after Punjabi home-style cooking, using tiny amounts of cream, butter and oil in only two of the dishes on the menu. The spices are cooked with the ingredients, not separately, so the result is cleaner, more disparate flavors.

North Indian home cooking uses lots of spices but is typically very mild. However, Brown recently developed chili chutney to be added to the dishes or used as a condiment to add heat without affecting the delicate flavor.

While Brown works her magic in the open kitchen, Sharma floats from table to table surveying patron satisfaction and offering mini-lectures dispelling false notions of real Indian cuisine.

He informs us that “curry” is a British word and roughly means “gravy.” It is not a spice, but more of a stew, like marinara. It’s a catchall word, used by Western-style curry houses to simplify a very malleable substance.

He casually mentioned that curry houses were actually brought to Britain in the 1960s by Bengali immigrants to cater to Brits looking for a rich meal after a night of heavy drinking. 

“We do home cooking as a technique,” Sharma said. “No pastes, no sauces. We cook the spices with the main ingredients so they spice the food directly. The fact that it’s healthier than curry house dishes is merely a byproduct of the technique.”

There is no freezer to be found in the kitchen. All of their ingredients are bought fresh and prepared upon ordering. They even make their own paneer—mild curds compressed to give a tofu-like consistency served with a spinach-based dressing called sarsson ka saag—and desserts.

Appetizers like the peanut salad or lamb samosa served with mint chutney are a prelude to a striking and fresh constellation of flavors that demand to be savored as they apply the brakes to any desire to plow belligerently through the plate.

The lamb tiki makhani, upon first glance, looks like a dish served in any other Indian restaurant, but the first taste of its delicate yet complex flavor places this main course appropriately in its own winning category.

Where most restaurants use the leg, the tandoori chicken breast is marinated in tandoori yogurt and cooked on a skewer in a clay pot heated at 800–1,200 degrees. This unique process takes about 20 minutes, and the final product is one of Raj’s personal recommendations.

Adjacent to the open kitchen is a well stocked bar gleaming with some rare British ales on tap. Among them are Fuller’s London Pride and London Porter, as well as Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, each of which are proudly served in 20-ounce glasses (a standard size in the United Kingdom) instead of pint glasses.

For a warmer libation, Indish features a chai cocktail made from chai liqueur, hot tea, dark rum and rum-flavored cream, topped with chocolate shavings and presented in a ceramic mug.

For dessert, Indish takes the traditional cheesecake to new heights with mango and ras malai (sweet paneer) versions. For those who prefer chocolate to cheese, the pudding served in a martini glass with fluffy rum cream is an ample substitute.

While grazing on all the gastronomical spoils of India and Britain, expect to be serenaded by the unexpected croons of Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday—a music choice complimented by the elegant atmosphere, adorned in black leather couches, glass tables and minimalist decor. 

With equal parts purpose, passion and experience, Indish exemplifies the perfect recipe.