ADVENTUROUS locals are finally getting a taste for spicy Indian cuisine. Up to a third of regular customers of Indian restaurants are Chinese, according to people in the business. Only two years ago, local diners were in the minority and represented just a tenth of them. 'I've noticed the trend myself,' said Kamlesh Kumar, the Commissioner for India in Hong Kong. 'Most customers used to be either Indian or expatriates, most of them British. But now that's changing.' Bob Mehta, owner of the Koh-i-Noor chain, also noticed the new-found local enthusiasm. So, acting on a hunch two years ago, he opened a restaurant in Sha Tin. 'We were the first in the New Territories, where the population is predominantly local, but the venture has been a great success,' he said. To remove the mystique surrounding Indian food, he designed the Sha Tin restaurant with open kitchens so diners could see food being prepared. 'Surprisingly, now some Hong Kong-Chinese even enjoy our hottest vindaloo curries,' Mr Mehta said. He opened another restaurant in Taikoo Shing. At Hong Kong's longest-established Indian restaurant, the recently renovated Gaylord's in Ashley Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui, manager Rajeev Bhasin said: 'Two years ago every tenth table was Chinese. Now, they occupy every third or fourth table.' Established since 1972, Gaylord's has even adapted its menu to cater for the increasing numbers of local customers. 'We introduced several dishes cooked with only mild spices and they love them,' Mr Bhasin said. Among the innovations - which also include live entertainment by a traditional Indian group - is chicken kebab without such pungent spices as oregano and asafetida. Similarly, the Malabar crab curry cooked in coconut or a mildly-spiced broccoli and baby-corn korma, are hardly authentic - yet appeal to local tastes. Mr Bhasin attributed the growing appeal among locals to their fondness for Thai cuisine. 'People were wary of Indian food before because they were frightened of the spicy taste,' he said. 'But more and more are realising that Indian food is no spicier than Thai and just as good to taste, if not better.' At the Viceroy, in Wan Chai's Sun Hung Kai Centre, general manager Sandeep Sekhri is even taking bookings from parties of Chinese. 'You would never see groups coming in before,' Mr Sekhri said. 'Only the occasional couples came in and the local custom was never more than 10 per cent. Now it is between 30 and 40 per cent.' Mr Sekhri said: 'Indian cuisine is definitely one of the most popular in the world and the local customers are learning to appreciate it. They love tender meat, for example, and that is how we cook it, marinated overnight in yogurt.' The Viceroy tones down some spices for local tastes. Distinctive aromas like ginger are replaced with the subtler tastes of cardamom and mace. And for those who are still selective, the restaurant offers a regional menu prepared by chefs from Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The recipe must be working. A recent Hong Kong Magazine poll of readers, many of them Chinese, voted The Viceroy as their favourite Indian restaurant. Interestingly, Chinese customers are also proving to be a windfall for business because of their eating habits. Mr Mehta, of Koh-i-Noor, said: 'Locals tend to start dinner from 6 pm to 6:30 pm, which is convenient for us. Having three sittings every night is perfect if you have limited space.'