The encouraging murmurs we heard about Royal Indian Cuisine had us eager to make the drive out to Casselberry, and it's not very often one gets to say that. The standalone building on the corner of State Road 436 and Howell Branch Road has housed other restaurants – Las Margaritas; Brick & Fire – but the aromas of sizzling fajitas and blistered pizzas have since given way to the redolent scents of tandoori meats and curries. But as anyone who frequents Indian restaurants will tell you, heady scents alone do not a good Indian restaurant make.
Even the worst Desi resto can entice with fragrant spices a-roasting, but the proof is in the pakora, or, as was the case on this particular visit, in the bhaji – onion bhaji ($4.95), that is. The batter fashioned from chickpea flour, onions, cilantro and carom seed couldn't have been fried more perfectly, and the flavors – arousing, exotic – gave us hope for what was to come. So it was a little surprising to bite into the tough, almost chewy crust of a lamb samosa ($5.95). I've bitten into many a samosa crust in my time, but this was confoundingly subpar and unlike any I had bitten into before. Further, the ground lamb was completely overdone, rendering this starter a complete and utter failure.
So it was good thing we ordered the chilli chicken ($9.95). The lingering effects of the samosa were put on the proverbial funeral pyre and set ablaze by this infernal Indo-Chinese sauté. Note: Daubing rivulets of moisture from your neck with fistfuls of paper napkins is a necessary adjunct to this seriously spicy-ass dish. One of our servers repeatedly checked on us as we savored it, then grinned after every bite we took. The other server, equally as affable and attentive as the first, had us simultaneously amused and bewildered with his Chaplinesque mannerisms. Both were competent, helpful and all too willing to please, though neither could've done a damn thing about the dried-out lamb seekh kebabs ($15.95). Sizzling as they were, their texture left much to be desired, and the seasonings in the marinade were just off.
Bhindi do pyaza ($11.95), okra slow-cooked in spices, was a far better effort; the thick sauce was quite lovely, in fact. The subtly sweet gravy of the chicken shahi korma ($13.95) was requisitely luxuriant; the cashew paste added an unparalleled richness to the curry, giving the korma its "shahi" ("royal") distinction. Also pleasing was the Kerala fish curry ($14.95). A blend of tamarind, curry leaves and coconut provided the base in which generous chunks of (sigh) tilapia lolled.
As far as breads are concerned, neither the naan ($2.50) nor the lacha paratha ($4) glistened with ghee, and both looked dry and lifeless in the bread basket. It just underscored my take: Royal Indian Cuisine is simply a straight-up curry house, nothing more. Even desserts like gulab jamun ($3.95) and pistachio kulfi ($4.95) were uninspired, the latter's consistency resembling wet cardboard more than ice cream. So, as far as neighborhood Indian joints go, this one will do, I suppose. But in a year that brought the closure of American Gymkhana, arguably the finest Indian restaurant to ever grace this city, that's no consolation.