Sydney Food Diary: Masala Darbar, Surry Hills

Drop by for a dosa at Masala Darbar. I know that Indian cuisine has contributed many delights to the world, but this is my current obsession. A perfect, crisp pancake that looks like it will be too filling to eat… but is light and airy. The filling, usually of potatoes, may fill you up, it’s true. And then there’s the condiments: a small tin of dahl, some chili sauce (not as spicy as it looks) and a delicious coconut chutney. This really was a very good dish.

It’s location? A new restaurant that has opened up in the strange little strip of restaurants on Cleveland Street between Bourke and Crown streets. South Asian restaurants have had to compete against the long-established and seemingly unbeatable Maya empire. Sushi Suma attracts crowds year after a year. Bar Cleveland on the corner seems a neighbourhood institution. But lots of other restaurants fall to the wayside, the Japanese one with a reputation for rude service, the one trying for fine dining, and the candied apple store.

Masala Darbar offers a really extensive menu, both Northern Indian , and Southern Indian cuisine. Aside from the above-mentioned Mysore Masala Dosa, we had a goat curry, a Prawn Dum Biryani and a crab masala.

My dinner date, an early Tuesday night, is braver than I, so I’m glad I followed her lead. I’d normally think crab was a bit daunting. The dish came with one crab split neatly into two, the sauce was beautiful, and the flesh tasted particularly sweet, digging it out myself.

The goat curry and biryani were good; very savoury. I was a little full after but not too much, with that dosa, two curries and a rice dish. Actually, in consideration, I’d say the dishes are more substantial and more nicely presented than busy Maya da Dhaba across the street.

Still, the restaurant feels a little new, as if there needs to be something to make it feel more comfortable or cosy. There are some nice photos up, but with only 2 or 3 other tables dining, the place felt a bit quiet and empty (they haven’t got their liquor licence yet, so they really are still settling in).

Then again, Maya Vegetarian a block away, which also has pretty good dosas, was doing renovations last lunch hour we were there; and it looked half like a cafeteria (as you order from the counter) and a bit like a worksite. So, this is a step up.    

I think they should be able to make a good go of it here, though once things feel a bit more settled in. I also wonder how they’ll convey to potential customers that they have some really great dishes here. I think it was a bit of luck that we got the tasty crab and goat dishes. With almost 20 dishes under Chef’s specials on a 9-page menu, the choice is a little overwhelming!

In any case, those are our recommendations if you go. Drop by for a casual and quick meal, it’s not a fancy place. Go for crab and goat and definitely try a dosa, one between two or three people is enough for a taste but not to fill you up too much and prevent tasting other dishes!

We dined as guests of Masala Darbar. The opinions and the review are my own.

Masala Darbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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