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Dhakshin – Crows Nest

It’s been a long stretch between outings and the team is toeier than Gandhi’s sandal for a feed, so on this crisp autumnal evening, we make a passage to Crows Nest (aka the New Dehli of the Northshore) and the as-recommended-by-an-Indian-dude Dhakshin Restaurant.

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Ambience
It’s difficult to miss this one – located on the Pacific Highway just down the road from PUNJ AAB’S, across the way from The Last Train to Bombay and two doors up from the Malabar (one of our perennial favourites) …. so you’re getting the picture here – some stiff competition in the ‘hood.

We are the first to arrive, early, as usual, and the staff seem a little startled to see us but we are efficiently welcomed and shown to our table. Not a large establishment but open and cleanly laid out with pleasant decoration and minimalist Bollywood paraphernalia without being over kitschy.  It’s Friday night and it soon loudly fills up with a variety of diners including a fair few South Asian folks giving some curry-cred.

Service
Attentive, friendly and …. patient. The waiter appears knowledgeable and is happy to make some recommendations but calls for back-up when our Guru enters into an unfathomable debate about the origin and authenticity of the masala accompanying the Kundapor Squid? The food is served promptly. We don’t order the squid.

Food
Apparently, in ancient Sanskrit, Dhakshin means ‘south’ and the menu offers traditional and home-style dishes from various southern Indian regions as well as popular favourites from the rest of India. For entree, we choose Kuzi Paniyaram (Rice and lentil dumpling), Vendakai Varuval (spicy fried okra) and Chicken 65′ (Marinated chicken thighs with apple salad). Stand out was the dumplings. The okra a little on the dull side.

For mains – Khozi Milagu Chetti (chicken thigh in spicy tomato curry), Kairy Ka Goat (goat on the bone), Dhal Maharani, Kattu Kootu (smoked eggplant mash) and Roti (no butter). All well flavoured and nicely spiced. Standouts were the chicken and eggplant. Not the best goat we have tasted (try The Rangoon Racquet Club over the road)

A few sample desserts for sharing (only for thoroughness) – Wattalappam (coconut creme caramel), Gulub Jamun and Carrot Halwa (think Carrot fudge – divine!)

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Wine
BYO Wine ($4 per head) some big flavours on this outing:
2015 Henschke Keyneton Euphonium – rich and complex
2013 Nugan Estate Durif – a spicy and full-bodied delight
2014 Churchview St John’s Zinfandel – a favourite with curry – a big, ballsy fruit bomb

Value
Standard / reasonable – at around $65 per head.

Overall score
7.5/10.

Cosy atmosphere, flavoursome distinctive food and good service. Holding its own against some strong competition from the neighbours.

www.dhakshin.com.au

 

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Lal Qila – Darling Harbour

A new year is upon us and time to push our comfort zone a tad so it’s off to the Northern Delights of Pakistan and Lal Qila at Darling Harbour. A warm summers Friday evening finds us sampling a most excellent cream ale over the road at the All Hands Brewing House for pre-dinner drinks.

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Ambiance
Conveniently located on Lime Street, just behind King St Wharf, Lal Qila promises to offer a unique blend of traditional Pakistani Mughlai flavours to tantalise your taste buds. We are a little early so only a few tables occupied as we arrive, but the place soon fills up with a mainly young (and mostly south-Asian) after-work clientele. A good sign we think. The decor is best described as ‘Bistro style’ with an eclectic Raj-Victoriana decor – but a bit soulless and lacking in atmosphere.  The interior is open, bright and by mid-evening bustling, loud and a bit warm.

Service
Attentive and efficient if not overly-friendly.  The waitress is happy to recommend some dishes and the food is served promptly.  We had a mix of waiters – not all of whom seemed to be familiar with the dishes being served.

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Food
A comprehensive and extensive menu offering traditional Pakistani fare. For Shuruat (Appetizers) we choose Kurkuri Anarkali (Sliced Okra marinated in lemon juice and spices), Dilpasand Lahori Seekh (Tandoori fine minced lamb) and Lahori Machli (Ling fillets marinated in a traditional Lahori way). No standouts – all good.

For mains – the Biryani seemed to be a mandatory selection as everyone else in the joint seemed to be eating it (we chose goat) along with Chicken Karahi, Phaldari Masala (baby potatoes and cauliflower cooked with herbs and spices) and Dall Khushbudar (a rich mix of yellow lentils cooked with a secret blend of herbs, spices). Tandoor Roti (no butter). Overall we found the mains to be well spiced but lacking a little in the flavour department. Again no real standouts, our favourite was the Phaldari and one criticism was that the Biriani was a bit dry.

A couple of desserts to share a morsel or two  – Saat Samznder Paar (Faluda – think Ice Cream Bolognaise) and Badami Kheer (Pakistani rice pudding). Both nice.

Wine
BYO Wine (no alcohol sold here) – quality not quantity this evening:
2014 Bremerton Tamblyn Cabernet Shiraz Merlot Malbec –  great match with curry – joyous!
2015 St Hugo Shiraz – bold and opulent.

Value
Reasonable – at around $50 per head.

Overall score
6.0/10.

Bit more Bistro catering for the after work folks rather than a dining destination. Food and service okay if not outstanding.

www.lalqila.com.au

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

(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/