Munish Narula, the New Delhi-born entrepreneur (and Wharton MBA) behind Tiffin, the Philly-based chain of casual Indian eateries, opened his first Jersey Tiffin in Voorhees last year. Business was good, so he did what he’s done since opening the first Tiffin in Philadelphia in 2006—asked his customers (in this case, the Jersey ones) where he should open the next Tiffin. Cherry Hill got the most nods.
The 30-seater with persimmon walls and parquet-tile floors opened in December. One night, top-40 tunes played intermittently, punctuated by screams from a (horror?) movie some of the staff were watching behind the counter. Despite the distraction, I was drawn to the display behind the counter—tubs of cinnamon, cardamom, mace and other spices that give Tiffin’s cuisine its layers of flavor.
Chef Ashok Budhamagar, originally from Nepal, ably executes the chain’s classic menu. “Instead of offering everything under the sun, like many [other Indian restaurants in America],” Narula explained, “we keep the menu small and focus on quality.” Budhamagar cooks each sauce separately, and in them I could detect the glimmer of individual spices: cardamom in the lush cashew Korma, fragrant curry leaves in the coconut-based Chettinad. Cubes of lamb or chicken appeared in various curries, each tender and moist, not always the case in these long-braised dishes.
Traditional bone-in tandoori chicken was moist under its appealing char. Juicy cubes of lasooni chicken breast, smoky from the tandoor, had a most delicious tang, thanks to its garlic-yogurt marinade.
Deep-fried nuggets of chili chicken, however, were spongy, and their glaze insipidly sweet. The shrimp in a peppery Kerala-style curry were overcooked, but its fantastic, roasted red chili sauce, simmered with curry leaves and mustard seed, almost compensated for that error.
Tiffin’s menu is strong in vegetarian dishes. I loved the heat in the chana masala, a bowl of creamy garbanzo beans stewed with tomato, onion and pomegranate seeds. Cubes of firm, white paneer cheese in the paneer butter masala glistened in a creamy red masala sauce. In the eggplant chaat, fried coins of sweet baby eggplant—smothered like nachos with tamarind chutney, yogurt and chopped, raw red onion—contributed to a vivid variation on papri chaat, a favorite Indian snack. When the eggplant was gone, I dragged strips of potent garlic naan, a soft flatbread ($4 a basket), through the splatters and swirls of sauce.
Tiffin’s other soft flatbreads include a terrific chili naan with a heat that slowly builds as you chew; cheese kulcha, a flatbread stuffed with gruyere, mozzarella, garlic and onion seed; and the subtly sweet peshawari naan, filled with crushed pistachios, cashews, almonds and coconut. This made a way better dessert than the treacly orange rice pudding.
When not watching movies, the staff was genial, but waiting on tables seemed less a priority than filling take-out orders. If service and atmosphere are what you’re after, other Indian restaurants do it better. For (mostly) commendable cooking at an affordable price, Tiffin is tops.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $4-$7; entrées, $12-$15; desserts, $4
Ambience:Colorful but spare
Service:Genial; focused on takeout