There are few dishes in this fallen world I like more than the creamy spinach and quaint cheese chunks of palak paneer. Unfortunately, Istanbul is not blessed with an abundance of Indian restaurants, so my cravings for this exquisite vegetarian dish have mostly gone unsated. Then, like the clouds parting after a dire storm, I remembered that there is in fact a pricey Indian place only a few tram stops from my apartment in the touristic area of the old city. So on a lazy day during my summer break, I set out for the Çemberlitaş neighborhood.
Nestled in a busy side street close to the historic district of Sultanahmet, Swaad has been serving Indian food to tourists and locals since 2011. I first ate there in 2012, and on that visit as well as this one, I order palak paneer with a serving of naan.
The dish arrived hot and fresh in a reasonable time. I tore off a piece of the slightly over-backed naan and dove in. Swaad’s palak paneer is very creamy and a little on the peppery side. I almost wish it had been a little less creamy, but I still enjoyed the flavor. The real champion of Swaad’s dish, in my opinion, was the paneer. I found their cheese to be perfect for this dish. It had just the right texture, just the right flavor. Too often, paneer or rustic farmer cheeses can be flavorless or rubbery. This one had everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t.
The price is a little high for such a simple dish; my bill was nearing 40TL for the palak panner, naan, and Coke Zero I had. That is not unexpected with niche ethnic food in Istanbul. I was fully prepared to pay a fair amount for my Indian meal; that wasn’t a shock. What was a shock, though, was the service charge of 3TL. It wasn’t written in the menu; at least not that I saw, and I asked my server if it was to which he said no. He and I had a rather long discussion about the service charge and the honesty of not announcing that beforehand. I was thoroughly unimpressed by it, to say the least.
In the end, while I enjoyed the palak paneer and I would love a chance to take some friends and make a little tabletop buffet at such a place, I am reluctant to recommend Swaad, thanks to their service charge. There are more places for Indian now than there used to be, I think it will be worth exploring them before going back there. But don’t let my personal squabble with their policy dissuade you. If you’re in the area and are craving a taste of the subcontinent, give them a try.