Although I consider myself a lover of Indian cuisine, I’ve only (really) recently discovered this world of aromatic spices and vibrant, colourful flavours. Before June of this year, I was ambivalent towards food from the subcontinent and never really gave it a thought, let alone craved it! Strangely enough, my ‘initiation experience’ was at a posh restaurant called the Ganges, in none other than Beijing! I had to go all the way to China to pick up a love of curries and pappadams! How random is that? In any case, after that I’ve been crazy for all things Indian. Regardless of whether you’re an Indian food guru or not, though, I think it’s safe to say Abhi’s North Strathfield is one of the nicest places to go for these things in Sydney.
Abhi’s had been on our metaphoric list of restaurants to try for a while, and finding ourselves unexpectedly free on Thursday night, The Boyfriend and I were finally able to dine here! Let me just say that I really, really like this place despite what I said in my last post about ‘fusion’ or modern cuisine which caters for the average Australian palate, and prioritizes accessibility over authenticity. Abhi’s is fantastic. First impressions: a lot pricier than your average ‘home cooking’ style neighbourhood Indian – but lovely modern decor, and lovely service.
The only thing that ‘pops’ in the entire restaurant (at first glance, anyway) is the gently shimmering metallic paisley wall, which is undeniably a statement piece. This daring choice of wallpaper is complemented by the most understated pieces, such as dark suede chairs and plain white china. I say “at first glance”, because there are also small tucked away details, such as a Hindu murti with a colourful garland of green, orange, red and white hung around it.
The Boyfriend ordered the chicken makhni, which consisted of tender pieces of boneless chicken roasted in the tandoor then finished in the pan with a subtly flavoured blend of fenugreek, tomato and cream; I ordered the Goa fish curry of fresh Barramundi fillets cooked in a sauce of coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric powder and freshly ground coconut.
I’m not experienced enough to know the subtle differences between regional cuisine, and in all honesty, I’m not even sure what ‘authentic’ Indian food is meant to taste like! Plus I’m only familiar with a handful of (chicken) dishes: chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, butter chicken… and naan (oh, and rose lassi). So it was nice to try a seafood dish! These two dishes may have a similar deep saffron colour, but don’t let looks deceive you! The fish curry was fragrant and had a hint of spiciness to it, whereas the chicken dish was richer in texture and a little sweeter.
This was all accompanied by plain basmati rice for two (as pictured below), and a selection of naans and a wholemeal roti. The rice was wonderful. It was buttery and soft and simply melted in my mouth! There was a subtle touch of coconut, and the sprinkling of herbs added wonderfully to the fragrance and taste. Some of the best rice I’ve had in my life – and I’m Asian, so that says a lot! Seriously, while rice is a staple food, it’s really easy to cook drastically wrong!
The tandoori breads, on the other hand, were a disappointment. I had imagined steam rising from the hot, flaky bread as I tore it apart with my fingers – but alas. I don’t know if we caught them on an off evening, or if they always taste like this, but the naan was slightly cold and just flat. And because it wasn’t hot, it was just greasy and unpleasant to chew.
To make matters worse, my wholemeal roti was paper-thin and rather burnt, giving it a bad type of crispiness (if you know what I mean…). It’s sad to say, but even the takeaway joint at my uni, Jewel of India, makes fluffier, flakier, fresher naan than Abhi’s. Fortunately, the evening ended on a good note, as Abhi’s more than redeemed itself with dessert. We ordered this lovely rose kulfi, which was an Indian ice cream flavoured with rosewater, gulukand (rose petal jam), cardamom and pistachios.
I don’t think anything can justify the appearance of this strange plating, by which I mean the ugly rectangular blocks of ice-cream. Hello, it looks like Spam (as in the canned processed meat), or fleshy chalk pastels – of the type you use in primary school art class. While I did like the fairy-dust sprinkle of crushed pistachios, I had been imagining a sort of icy-pink Snow Egg. Yeah yeah, I know. Unrealistic, right? At least something round and pretty! Maybe I’m not cool or ‘hipster’ enough to appreciate this kind of thing.
The rosewater taste also takes some getting used to. When I was younger, I used to think rose-flavoured things tasted like the scent of hand-cream from places like Crabtree & Evelyn. Sort of in the way that some badly cooked lemon chickens can taste like the odour of detergent. Once you’ve acquired the taste for it, however, there’s no going back! In any case, the rose flavouring was very subtle in this ice-cream, and the nuttiness of the pisachio-crust on top balanced it out. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful dessert :)
» Abhi’s is located in 163 Concord Rd, North Strathfield NSW 2137, (02) 9743 3061