Taking over the interesting space (a converted terrace house, I suppose) most recently occupied by Pork’d and before that by the famous Red Lantern is new kid on the block Masala Theory.
While it’s a stone’s throw away from the cluster of Indian restaurants on Cleveland Street, the Maya empire, or the tasty Pakistani restaurant Lalqila, Yashpal and his team are aiming to do something different: bring a very contemporary version of Indian food to the table.
I love this idea. There are some places serving new Indian food. I hear Indu is amazing. I’m totally bummed that the wonderful Sub-Continental closed its doors, after its lease ran out. But I think it’s a great idea to both take some old classics and spin them up in a different way, or to introduce dishes that are less familiar.
Meanwhile, I love the space. It’s colourful and fun. It feels upmarket without being stuffy. We went on a Tuesday night, and it was good to see some steady traffic. It’s a tough market for restaurants in Surry Hills (note Zambo recently closing and Besser next door doing a rebrand).
After a very delicious mango lassi and a chai that had a nice chili kick, we opted for a variation of the banquet menu ($65 a person). What better way to try a variety of food, and Yashpal explained to us that many people, when ordering Indian food, don’t hit the right mix: they tend to order too many spicy dishes. But some of the beauty comes with the contrast of dishes, something more mild balancing out the spice. Good advice, I think.
The appetizer was three different bites – a slider with lamb mince, a crispy prawn with corn, and a tasty piece of chicken.
This ‘Three Sisters Chat’ was pretty spectacular, the sweet yoghurt and the mint and date-tamarind chutneys contrasting with the crispy chickpea wafers. Very interesting, really.
I loved that we got four small dishes of curry, all to ourselves. I find with ordering a curry in a traditional restaurant that the portions can be either too big or too large, and I’m not quite sure how much to order and in what combo.
The ‘village fish curry’ had a thinner broth, slightly sour, in a nice way. I loved the salty and rich goat curry. The butter chicken was super sweet, and yet, apparently with no sugar added, it’s all from the tomatoes and cooking technique. The Chicken Dhansak is a Gujerati specialty, apparently, not found often in Sydney. I liked it: a very homestyle feel, like something your Mom would make during winter. But I was also glad it came as as a contrast to the other curries. I’ve often ordered a house-specialty curry or something that looks particularly unusual, and found that I liked the first bites, but it was too much if it’s the only curry or one of two.
The desserts were a highlight. I loved this chai pannacotta (glowing rather nicely under the pink fluorescent lights of the bicycle wheels). I’ve got to try making something like myself at home!
And this is a motichoor laddoo. This is interesting, it’s a festival pastry, and I think I’ve had it from Maya Sweets or another Indian dessert shop. It’s super rich. Tiny balls of chickpea flour, I believe, deep-fried and simmered in a sugar syrup until they plump up.
Here, it’s been deconstructed, with a scoop of ice cream to add a balance of flavour. You mix it all up before you eat it, and it doesn’t look very pretty then… but there’s something absolutely addictive about the taste and texture. I was hooked.
In retrospect then, as much as anything, these are traditional dishes (as noted in this review in Broadsheet) served up in ways that are slightly more accessible to non-Indians, and in a more contemporary style. Don’t think there were any particular fusions or innovative cooking techniques, but overall, I really, really liked this place, and I’ll be back.
We dined as guests of Masala Theory. The opinions and the review are my own. I can see some debate has risen on Zomato about the practice of treating food bloggers to meals. It’s true: it’s a nice thing to have happen, and I’m more likely to look kindly on a restaurant. But I don’t write nice things unless they’re true. If a restaurant is not great, I’ll post some photos and use neutral language. And, I’ll put some sort of disclaimer like this at the bottom of the review.
It’s also interesting to see the opposite effect happen, a review that seemed overly harsh because of the other good reviews, though I’ve seen this before on many food review sites where too much praise results in a pushback. Aussies never like tall poppies.
In any case, it’s good though that we’re all striving to be transparent and objective in the interest of good food. Cheers to that.