by Kelly Wetherille

Anyone who has been in Tokyo for more than a few days knows that the city has no shortage of Indian restaurants. The trick is simply separating the authentic ones that serve delicious homemade specialties from the low-quality, ‘mass-production’ places. Diya, located in Roppongi Hills overlooking the Mori Garden, most decidedly belongs in the former category.

Owned by the son of restauranteurs from Delhi, Diya has a modern, elegant interior with original artwork by Indian artists and enough space for private parties of up to 130 people. There is also a private room that seats eight, perfect for a small, cozy dinner party.

The food at Diya is generally traditional northern Indian favorites, but there are a few ‘fusion’ items on the menu as well, including the colonial chicken or corn tarts (¥300/piece), which consist of mini English-style pie shells stuffed with chicken tikka or corn masala. We opted for the chicken version, which had just the right amount of spice for a starter. The combination of chicken masala and puff pastry was unexpected, but in a way that made us wonder why no one had ever invented the dish before—it seemed like something that would be popular with a wide variety of customers, including children.

Next we tried the Diya salad (¥750) and the bukhara lamb chops (¥1,480). The salad, while nothing out of the ordinary, came with cubes of paneer (Indian cottage cheese) and a wonderfully tangy lemon dressing. I tend to steer clear of lamb and mutton dishes (especially in Japan), as the meat is often tough and of poor quality, but Diya’s lamb chops didn’t disappoint. Marinated in a mixture of Indian rum, ginger, garlic, and other spices before being grilled to perfection on the tandoor, they were tender and flavorful, and the meat practically fell off the bone.

For our main dish we moved on to curry, accompanied by nan and biryani. One of Diya’s specialties is their kabuli nan (¥680), a fruity bread stuffed with cashew nuts and raisins. The delicate sweetness of the nan made an unexpected yet very complementary partner to the chicken tikka makhani (¥1,480), a mild chicken curry with a buttery tomato-based gravy. We found the sag chicken (¥1,480), a deliciously fragrant spinach-based curry, to be more suited to the laccha paratha (¥530), a butter layered whole wheat nan.

Another one of Diya’s specialties, and a dish that was very unfamiliar to us, was the bhindi masala (¥1,480), chunks of okra and slices of onion tossed with chopped red chilies and other spices. I’ve always found okra to be a bit too bitter for my liking, but the combination of the spices and the sparse sauce meant that I barely noticed the unpleasant taste of the vegetable at all—on the contrary, I enjoyed the refreshingly light nature of the dish, which actually provided a nice way to effectively cleanse the palate between mouthfuls of curry.

Just as we thought we couldn’t carry on eating, the server presented us with the mutton hyderabadi biryani (¥1,480). Having been a biryani fan from way back, I was pleased to see that the dish was prepared and served just as it should be—slow cooked, flakey mutton and basmati rice mixed with cashew nuts and vegetables and served piping hot in a ceramic pot. The server kindly suggested that we try the biryani with some raita (¥550), a thin yogurt with finely chopped onion and cucumber. Never before had I eaten biryani this way, but it was clear that the waiter knew what he was talking about—the sourness of the yogurt actually brought out the flavor of the meat and vegetables in the biryani, rather than overpowering it.

Overall, the excellent food, superior service, and inviting atmosphere at Diya goes above and beyond what would be expected for the reasonable prices. We were also pleased to learn that in addition to weekday lunch sets starting at ¥900, the restaurant offers a weekend buffet from 1–4pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays for only ¥1,480. Considering that this includes a salad bar, four different curries, barbecue chicken, nan, and rice, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal (or better food, for that matter) for a weekend lunch.

Best table: On the terrace or in the private room.

Prices: Starting from ¥3,000 for a full dinner.

Location: Roppongi Hills Hillside, overlooking the Mori Garden.

Open daily (11am–11pm).

Roppongi Hills, Hillside B1

Tel. 03-6438-1177