[All photos by Conor Rose

The moment Chef Charles Mani approaches our table at Badshah, we know we’re in for more than the typical dinner out. He is a wiry, excitable man, decked in the same mustache that decorates the logo, possessing a bubbly personality that we will soon find matches his dishes.

Badshah (meaning emperor, or king) could easily be passed off from the outside as just another Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, but give it a chance and step inside to try the spin on Indian food concocted by Chef Charlie and owner Abishek Sharma. It’s very much non-traditional Indian, infused with bits and pieces from other cultures, and is the result of a kitchen that simply has fun playing with its food.

Every single dish that arrives is plated gorgeously, dressed with purees, flowers, and all kinds of garnish – and guess what? Everything you see on your plate is intentional and edible, more than just a cheery flourish. The flower on the lip of the refreshingly tart Indian Rose cocktail, the tiny purple petals set in the center of the airy Gol Goppa semolina bursts, the mango puree design flanking the quinoa and black bean tikkas – there’s no room for visual or edible waste on these dishes.

Known mainly for his magic at Babu Ji, Chef Charlie’s most popular concoction there is easily our favorite here, too – the Indo-Chinese style cauliflower tossed with tomato-chili sauce, topped with sesame, onion seeds, and scallions. The flavors and texture are so on point with General Tso’s chicken that you wonder if it might secretly be chicken, albeit a lot less greasier, completely vegetarian, and plated carefully on a slate, garnished with tiny orange petals.

We try a myriad of other treats, one of which was the clove-smoked lamb chops. Upon noticing that we had left some meat on the bone, the waitress noted that the chef will have wanted us to eat every bit of it, as it’s the best part, so we happily obliged in scraping off the bones.

I’ll admit that the second the jumbo prawns arrived at our table, I was ready to start snapping away on my phone and posted it on Instagram before the meal was over. Literally, it was the prettiest shrimp dish I have ever seen in my life, which I understand is not the most difficult of awards to obtain in one’s personal life but I mean, just look at that shrimp. Luckily, there’s no shame in Instagramming here. It’s a photogenic haven even for the chef himself, who proudly takes photos of everything he eats and plates, and switching things up presentation-wise every so often to keep things interesting for everyone involved.

Other dishes include the Butter Chicken “from the pot” in a makhani gravy with a touch of fenugreek, and the boneless Tandoori Chicken, marinated in spiced yogurt and roasted in whole spices, both of which can sometimes be boring and the milder “gateway” Indian meal for those looking to step into the cuisine, but they both end up being some of our favorite plates overall, brighter and more. We also enjoy a silky, creamy yet light and bright yellow coconut curry with roasted potato, dressed with whole dried chilies, bringing to mind notes of Hawaii, Thailand, and of course, India. All that, plus a side of fragrant basmati rice and pillowy onion seed naan.

Our meal ended on a note that is just a touch sweet, with homemade cottage cheese balls soaked in rosewater, pistachio, and milk, plus their popular Clay-Pot Kulfi, a pistachio cardamom ice cream that is so lusciously thick and reminiscent of homemade pudding pops.

Eating at Badshah is a true experience you’ll need to try for yourself – you’ll often find Chef Charlie flitting throughout the restaurant, chatting up regulars and charming newcomers like us (and soon, you!). Eager to present and explain every step of the meal, he is clearly over the moon about sharing his creations with the world – and we’re just as happy to be there.

For more photos, click here. This meal was provided by Badshah, a restaurant we love – all opinions are our own.