Overall impression: Royal India is a destination. If you don't live nearby, little besides the allure of Indian food will get you to this part of Griffin Road. Open the front door, and the wonderful aroma will remind you why you're here. On one visit, however, the promise of curry and masala wasn't enough to keep us waiting in the lobby after no one approached us for 10 minutes. A man we believed to be the owner followed us to our car and begged us to come back. We didn't. On another try, this time with a reservation, three people promised to be "with you in a minute" before we were finally seated. After 22 years, you'd think Royal India would know how to handle arriving guests, because in the restaurant business, entrances and exits are the most-important moments of a meal.
Ambience: The dark, multi-level dining rooms need freshening up. At dinner one night, I felt claustrophobic pushed against a wall with the empty lunch-time buffet with its plastic sneeze guard as my only view.
Starters: The special appetizer ($7.95) is a great way to sample several fried starters, including vegetable samosas stuffed with peas and potatoes; outstanding onion bhaji, a kind of onion fritter; and chicken pakora, which are not unlike bhaji.
Ordering: Dishes can be ordered from mild to spicy, and it may take you more than one visit to figure out where you fall on the spicy scale. Like so many Indian restaurants, Royal India doesn't spend a minute thinking about presentation. Diners come for value and variety, but Indian food doesn't need to be presented as it is here in oval dishes without regard to eye appeal.
Entrees: Dal makhani ($11.95), made here with black and yellow lentils, was a bit watery for our tastes. But dal fray ($11.95) was deliciously creamy. Saag aloo($11.95), a potato and spinach curry, usually has a creamy quality. But here it tasted almost metallic, which I suspect is the result of starting with frozen spinach. Eggplant bharta ($11.95) had the smoky flavor of the tandoori oven. Lamb biryani ($16.95) included a nice mix of vegetables and perfect basmati, but the lamb was overcooked. The same thing happened with lamb curry ($15.95). Likewise, the kitchen overcooked the chicken in both chicken tikka masala ($16.95) and butter chicken ($16.95). No dry chicken, please.
Side issues: Fresh naan is offered plain ($2.25) with garlic ($3.25) or my favorite, onion ($3.25). It arrives steaming hot to the table. Kashmiri naan ($4.25) with raisins, cashews and almonds is a sweet take on tradition. I brought leftovers home and reheated it in the toaster for breakfast.
Sweet! It's probably best to pass on dessert. Ras malai ($3.95), which is made with creamy sweet paneer and cream, tasted freezer-burnt. Rice pudding ($2.95) was better.
Service: Once you make it past the confusion at the front door, service is very good. Friendly and knowledgeable, the staff will explain the contents of unfamiliar dishes.
Dining deal: The weekday lunchtime buffet costs just $7.95 per person. It's $8.95 on Saturday and Sunday.
3801 Griffin Road, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch, dinner daily
Reservations: Advised for weekends
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer, wine
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot