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The Malabar – Crows Nest

‘Tis the season to be bolly! – so off to try out The Malabar in Crows Nest for our Festive special – and this time we have the Memsahibs in tow! Word on the street is that this mob serve the best Dosa’s this side of Kerala

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Ambiance
Located on Pacific Highway among several other eateries, trendy furniture shops and next to a good Bottle Shop (handy as this place is BYO). Parking can be tricky and the place is busy – so book ahead. We are warmly welcomed into the well appointed and cosy interior featuring mesmerising floor to ceiling murals of India.  Larger than the frontage suggests with 150 seats spread over two floors, including a private dining room option for larger parties. The place is busy and bustling but not overly noisy with a good ethnic and demographic mix of clientele.

Service
Friendly and efficient despite the Saturday evening crush.

Food
Named after the coastal region of Kerala the Malabar (along with its sister establishment in Darlinghurst) menu pays homage to its South Indian heritage. Opting for the A La Carte menu we chose Dosa Masala (joyous!), Spinach Chaat, Mysore Lamb Chilli Chops, Patti Samosa and Tandoori Chicken Tikka for starters – all excellent – stand out Dosa and Chat.

For mains – Konkan Prawn Curry, Chicken Chettinad, Goat Curry, Palak Paneer and Dhal. Lots of Malabar Paratha in the absence of Roti (no butter). Once again all excellent – stand out Prawn curry and the Dal excellent.

Various deserts – Pistachio Kulfi etc.

Wine
BYO Wine 🙂 – excellent selection this outing:
2014 Giesen Pinot Noir NZ – light and fruity
2015  Rusden Driftsand GSM– an absolute flavour bomb revisited.
2012 Haselgrove Catkin Shiraz
2014 Grant Burge Shiraz

Value
Excellent! – at around $55 per head for three courses.

Overall score
8.5/10.

Great venue, great food and good value. We would have given it a 9/10 if not for absence of Roti (no butter) on the menu. Coming back.

www.malabarcuisine.com.au

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(New) Nilgiri’s – Cremorne

Keen to try out one of our perennial favorites in its new location – so off to Cremorne we go!

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Ambiance
Nestling in the busy Military Road strip opposite the iconic Cremorne Orpheum Theatre the new Nilgri’s seems to be right at home in its new location. We were fond of the old Christie Street joint in St Leonard’s with its modest frontage leading to the delightful, plush and roomy interior (not to mention those wonderful private rooms). The new location seems smaller, a little more cramped and a lot more Cafe-like. It seems to have lost some of that luxurious intimacy of the old place.  It’s Friday night so busy and bustling with wide selection of punters.

Service
It’s why you come back – friendly with a family feel. Our waiter knowledgeable but service a tad slow this evening.

Food
Contemporary style, regional Indian food simplified for the western taste buds. We chose a selection of our usual dishes – mixed Entree a selection of mains (Dal, Cauliflower, Chicken, Lamb and Roti – no butter ) and deserts. Maybe its our choices this evening but the food seemed a little bland and lacking the flavour we were accustomed to at the old location.

Wine
BYO Wine 🙂
2015  Rusden Driftsand GSM– an absolute Flavour Bomb! highly recommended

Value
Standard at around $65 per head for three courses.

Overall score
7/10.

I guess we always have high expectations for Nilgri’s  – the new location lacks some of the Grandeur of the old St Leonards  shop and the food not quite as we remember it. We may have to re-visit and re-evaluate this one later down the track.

www.nilgiris.com.au

Indu – Angel Place, CBD

Its been a while and the crew are having some difficulties coordinating our diaries so we ended up looking for somewhere central and convenient. After some research and recommendations we landed on Indu,  located at Angel Place in the CBD. The online booking facility conditions stated that we had to be out within two hours and a quick phone call confirmed no BYO. So not off to a good start.  The team met up at Harts Pub for a quick cleansing ale beforehand.

Ambiance
Located just down Angel Place its easy  to miss the discrete entrance which at first sight could be mistaken for the loading dock.  After a Spinal Tap-esque journey through a few corridors and store rooms we emerged into the bustling interior. For decor think subterranean cellar – dark but welcoming and well appointed.  The floor is a  mish-mash of tables, booths and nooks leading to an open kitchen. The place is busy for early on a Friday night, the clientele mainly stylish, young city hipster types. Not an authentic Indian in sight.

Service
We are greeted with efficient friendliness and the maitre-de (must look up the Indian equivalent) is happy to offer an alternate table when I reject the initial location right opposite the entrance. We have a random mix of waiters which is a tad confusing but Pedro the main man is knowledgeable about the food and is happy to make sensible recommendations and co-ordinate delivery of our wine and selected dishes. The food is served promptly.

Food
Indu describes itself as a fusion of contemporary Sri-Lankan and South Indian cuisines. For starters we chose Mini Goat Dosa, Crab Kofta and Beetroot Croquets, best described as small tasty morsels.  For mains Lamb Raan, Devilled Pumpkin, Barramundi in a mango coconut sauce, Sautéed Beans, Daal and Paratha breads (no Roti or Naan). So you are getting the picture here. This is fancy not necessarily traditional fare. The food was generally nice, the portions small and  a bit lacking in the flavour hit department. Stand-out dish was the Barramundi. Some interesting looking desserts on offer – we chose the Peanut semi-freddo with jaggery, popcorn, chocolate mousse, salted caramel & cocoa crumbs (delicious) and bite-sized gin & tonic cheesecakes (needed more Gin).

Wine
Fully licenced so no BYO 😦
We chose the following from the compact but well chosen wine menu (hideously marked up):
2016 Tomfoolery, ‘Young Blood’ Grenache – Barossa Valley
2014 Slow Wines Shiraz – Adelaide  (little cracker)

Value
Have to say not great at $110 per head for three courses and wine.

Overall score
7/10.
We scored a bit higher for the service and ambience and whilst the food was nice we felt portion size and value let the overall score down. In summary Indu offers a pleasant dining experience for those well heeled Deloitte hipsters who want to impress the young interns and not be overly spice-infused for the frolics to follow. The food is good and well presented but makes no statement and lacks a little of that traditional zing. The lamb for example – juicy and well cooked but could be  the Sunday roast at your grannies. More confusion than fusion.

http://indudining.com.au/

The Spice Room – Circular Quay

The crew feeling peckish on this sunny Friday afternoon so decided to try this local recently(ish) renovated establishment under new management. But first a thirst quenching ale and some tourist spotting at Buckley’s Bar on the promenade.

Ambiance
Located on the eastern corner of  Circular Quay within easy staggering distance of a few touristy bars and the train station this place is going to be busy so we book ahead. An unassuming entrance and stairs lead up to a bustling and busy room. The term compact and bijou comes to mind, busy and a little cramped. Intimate and cosy. The decor has a whiff of a bygone Royal Palace about it. The clientele a good mix of nationalities and no doubt a few tourists.

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Service
Brusque and efficient if not overly-friendly. A plethora of different waiters but all knowledgeable and willing do discuss dishes and answer our questions. Dishes are served promptly with minimum of fuss.One gets the impression the idea is to get the punters in, fed and out again – as dictated in our reservation – a condition to be out by 8pm for a 6pm booking.

Food
Offering  a selection of street food, sharing platters of tasty nibbles, royal banquets, tandoori delicacies, delicious curries and sweet desserts. Delicious starters (as always) included Pani Puri Shots, Chilli and Okra Fingers, Cauliflower Pakora Pops (yum!) and Lamb Seekh Kebab – Peshawari style. All Fabulous. For mains: Chicken Chettinad,Railway Canteen Goat Curry,Yellow Dhal and Eggpant Bhartha. All good if not outstanding. For desert:Saffron Rice Pudding and Badami Ras Malai – washed down with a Kraken Spiced Rum! No particular stand out dishes – but  honorable mention to Cauliflower Pakora Pops, Chicken Chettinad and the Rice Pud.

Wine
Fully licenced so no BYO :-(.
We chose the following from the reasonably stocked and priced  wine menu:
2011 Scarpatoni Cabernet Sauvignon
2014 Grant Burge Merlot (a bit Insipid)

Value
Very good at around $75 per head for three courses and wine.

Overall score 
7/10 – Good if not outstanding food, a busy in-and-out dining experience.

http://www.thespiceroom.com.au/

Epilogue: Worth mentioning some of the nicest Toilets we have come across – powder your nose with the ancestors looking on!

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Nithik’s Kitchen – Rozelle

A rave fave of one of the team so its off to Rozelle for a Friday Night Ruby with a shed load of good red in tow. We are are on a roll as turns out to be another corker. Quick stop for some dutch courage in the Lord Nelson Hotel first.

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Ambience
Tucked away among the unassuming shopfronts of Darling Street we are the first patrons to arrive on this wintry evening. The decor is open and cheery, a colourful corner of the sub-continent. We are welcomed warmly and met with a heady – if not a tad overpowering – perfumed scent that fills the room.  Its Friday night and it soon fills up with the usual mix of  local diners from young hipsters to families. Altogether Pleasant.

Service
Willing and polite but the waiter is a little out of his depth with the food  and has to revert to the kitchen regarding our usual barrage of questions and queries. The dishes are served promptly initially but slows down a bit as custom busy’s up a bit – but to no real inconvenience.

Food
With a reputation for what real South Indians eat this is not the usual fare on offer but street food with a regional focus. We are on a roll lately with fabulous Entree’s coming our way.  Firstly Tree of Taste – an introduction to six ‘Rasas’ with sweet, salt, sour, astringent, bitter and pungent followed by Kuzhi Paniyaram – a mixture of black lentil, rice dumplings served with Arimalam thovayil (tomato, onion, chilli, Coconut)and home-made curry leaf gunpowder? Then Kotaiyur kozhi varuval – crispy fried chicken thigh fillets marinated in kotaiyur marsala. All delicious and so well presented….

For mains we chose Lamb Chukka – a dry preparation of lamb in a blend of peppercorn, aniseed, red chilli and tempered with fresh curry leaves, Tawa Subji – a bouquet of vegetables, Dal of the day, Kathirikai Chops – Baby eggplant tossed in masala of coconut, peppercorn, cumin, fennel and curry leaves. All excellent.

A selection of deserts to finish a most enjoyable feast: Orange Kulfi,  Pazha Payasam – rice pudding with seasonal fruits and Beetroot Halwa – shredded beetroot reduced in milk & sugar, finished with ghee and ‘gulkanth’ (rose petal jam).

Stand out dishes: all good but the Entree’s to die for.

Wine
BYO – corkage $3 pp – four bottles this time out – a few of us feeling a bit dusty the following morning. The three I can remember:

2012 Massena The Twilight Path
2013 Massena The Moonlight Run
2012 Cookoothama Cabernet Merlot

Value
Good at around $65 per head for three courses plus all the fixins’

Overall score 
8/10 – Distinct, unusual and delicious Indian fare in pleasant surroundings.

http://www.nithikskitchen.com.au/

Manjits at the Wharf – King St. Darling Harbour

Been procrastinating about this one for a while as a few of the team are familiar with the sister establishment at Balmain but given the bunch of wino soaks we are, always put off by the no BYO option. Anyway glad we did because this place is bloody awesome.

Manjits

Ambience
Located amongst the trendy hip establishments of King Street Wharf and offering a splendid view over darling harbour Manjits offers a most excellent setting. Upon entry you are met with a formidable floor to ceiling wine display containing some top shelf plonk, which got the teams attention and some discussion around the need to check limits on credit cards. We are greeted politely and shown to our table. The decor and vibe is high-end classy and the excitement mounts in anticipation for a promising evening. Its early Friday evening and we are one of the first party of customers – but the place soon gets busy with a mix of after work types and tourists alike. The girls-night-out on the next table had us strutting around like contestants on batchelorette. I let slip to the waiter I am an international curry blogger and it just gets better and better……

Service
Friendly, professional and attentive. The waiter answers our many questions and explains recommendations and dishes with confident knowledge.The dishes arrive promptly and with aplomb….

Food.
Modern, innovative Indian Cuisine. Our selections below -all outstanding.
Entrees: Gol Gol Gappa –  Crisp pastry filled with spiced chickpea and potato, served with tamarind and amchur caviar. Amritsari Machhli – Fish fillets marinated with garlic, ginger, red chilli, tamarind and coriander; coated in chickpea batter and shallow fried until crisp. Bharrah Kebab – Lamb cutlets marinated with yogurt, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and red spices.

Mains: Mums Goat Curry – Traditional home style cooked goat curry, with a gravy of browned onions, ginger, garlic, black cardamom and cassia bark. Baingan Takatak – Smoke-roasted baby eggplant mashed with onion, tomato and chilli prepared on the traditional “tawa” hotplate. Kaju Ki Sabzi – A preparation of cashew nuts sautéed with mixed spices, served with caramelized onion. Malai Kofta. Dal Khushbadar. Roti (no butter, no oil) 

Deserts: Deconstructed Shahi Tookra – A modern twist on a royal Mughal bread pudding, with crunchy bread topped with a creamy saffron milk reduction, and dusted with nuts. Rasmalai – milk dumplings, soaked in a saffron & cardamom milk reduction served with ground pistachio.

Standout dishes: Amritsari Machhli, Kaju Ki Sabzi (just delicious) and Shahi Tookra.

Wine.
No BYO but an impressive wine list. These guys look after their wine and we are offered various levels of ‘Airation’ – a nice touch.
2014 S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga
2013 Clos Clare ‘Cemetery Block’ Shiraz

Value.
A touch pricey at around $100 per head including wine but great value and worth every penny.

Overall Score: 9/10 – Great food, great service, great setting. We don’t give a nine easily – but this place deservedly so. The best joint we have visited to date.

http://manjits.com.au/

Harbour Indian – Millers Point

After all the whinging about our expedition out west to Harris Park we settled on something a little closer to home for this outing , so up Kent Street to the Harbour Indian nestled under the iconic Observatory Tower. Now this particular establishment is quite new – opening just last January  and with previous occupants of this lease (a brasserie, wine bar, restaurant) not lasting too long,  we thought best to get in quick. But not as quick so as to forgo a cleansing ale at the Lord Nelson pub beforehand.

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Ambience
Tucked away under Observatory Tower the unassuming exterior opens into an open and airy interior with a  lush, colorful  and slightly kitsch contemporary decor, much to our liking. Looks like this business is still finding its feet so not overly populated for  a Friday night but nicely busy with a few occupied tables and a quiet and genteel vibe. A bit cold with the A/C on full tilt – maybe just our table.

Service
Very friendly, courteous and welcoming. The service a  little sporadic at times but the waiter(s) are knowledgeable and willing to make recommendations, answer our many questions, tolerate our debilitating indecision and graciously accept our feedback at the end of the evening.

Food
A pretty standard (bit dull?) menu with all the usual dishes. We started with mixed entree – Onion Bhaji, Seekh Kebab,Tandoori Octopus, Samosa and Tandoori Chicken. All tasty and nicely spiced. For the mains – Bhuna Goat (of course), Kadai Panner (paneer and tomato based spicy gravy laced with spices), Goan Prawn. Malai Kofta and Lamb Rogan Josh. Roti (No butter). Various usual deserts. All the food appropriately spiced but a couple of the dishes (Bhaji, Kofta) a bit flourry and undercooked.

Wine
BYO and advertised as licenced – but not actually licenced at time of writing, so unable to partake in a beer. A petty pet niggle of ours is lack of decent size wine glasses, as is the case here. Kent St Cellars just round the corner if you need a top up.
Great BYO this time out:
2014 Mollydooker Two Left Feet Shiraz Cabernet Merlot (voluptuous, mouth-filling)
2013 Brash Higgins ‘SHZ’ Shiraz
2014 Massena the twilight path (zippy, fresh, fruity and gorgeous)

Value
Standard at around $50 per head for three courses.

Overall Score
7.5/10

A good night out, welcoming and friendly staff, a convenient location and decent if not fabulous food. Just need to get that licence sorted and turn down the air-con. I hope this place goes the distance.

www.harbourindian.com.au