VERDICT: HELL YES
Every now and again you happen across somewhere that is just bizarrely good. Confusingly good. This is one of them. And what makes it all the better is its somewhat unlikely location.
Between the two of us, we flog ourselves silly trying to cook things from all over the world. We fuck up often, but we do enough research (and travel) to get a general idea of what’s considered ‘authentic’ and ‘good’. Given this, we’ve found that Indian or any ethnic food (or even bog-standard meat and three-veg) in country towns is a coin toss. Sometimes you chance upon these absolute gems, but more times than not, you’re stuck eating food that resembles whatever unpleasant, vomit-inducing image you have in your head right now. For this reason, we find ourselves sticking to the local pub.
Except in this case, we didn’t go to the pub (Jack Ryan’s, what the fuck is wrong with your price point? You are not a gastropub. Get your thumb out of your fucking arse and make a mortgage-free parma.) A quick Urbanspoon search later, we decided to take a chance on the local Indian place that promised a $20 buffet. While the cheap buffet didn’t materialise when we got there, we decided to go with the banquet menu (after lots of driving on flat, open Australian roads, your ability to make simple decisions like picking your dinner seem to vaporise).
The place was more suited to a date night than a cheap takeaway place. The decor is nothing special, but simple and classic and totally devoid of crossing the line into general-ethnic-kitsch-shite.
We started off with typical North Indian starters: samosa, pakora, kheema kebab, chicken tikka. All of these were really well seasoned (something that a lot of restaurants haven’t cottoned on to). The chicken had a healthy amount of garlic (measured in heads, not cloves), the kebab moist, and the pakora crisp, but somewhat heavy. The real standout was the humble samosa. The best pastry since Punjab turban malone cooked one on a roadside in Jullunder. Friable texture, filling whole spiced, lovely chutney. Delicious, as far as seasoned potato wrapped in pastry can get…
What the HELL is this doing in Sale, a town in rural Victoria whose main claim to fame is being impossible to Google because they’re also a noun???
The mains were served with naan and saffron rice, both fresh and done right. The first of the curries was dhal mahkani – not completely authentic as it wasn’t prepared with whole urad dhal cooked overnight. Instead, it was made with yellow split peas and kidney beans. Apart from the somewhat erroneous name, it was still very well seasoned, and weighty enough to be a vegetarian dish by itself. The second was lamb rogan josh, which was standard fare, with the added bonus of the lamb not being overcooked.
The last curry was phenomenally good, and somewhat of a surprise. It was balti chicken SERVED IN A BALTI. These guys absolutely nailed it, along with the obvious burnt butter character. Let’s start again, this time you can picture it right: you’re in Punjab (I’d say somewhere rural, but none of the towns there are particularly big). You go to a dairy to buy freshly churned butter (made that day, from fresh cream, taken from fresh, unhomogenised milk, hell, probably from their own cows out back). You render THAT butter down for your curry, that milky dairy nutty butter, with almost caramelised milk notes – THAT WAS THERE.
I know, I know, we’re going on and on about the fucking butter. There is a reason for this. Apart from being unbelievably tasty, it adds a great deal of character without needed to have a separate layer of fat and emulsifies brilliantly to make curry rich. An exceptional dish which probably relied on either scratch ghee from fresh milk or a verrrrrrry good commercial version.
Only complaint was that they had no coffee. Busted coffee machine. Whatever. Big deal.
Being the type of people who try to recreate all the food we eat, we tried to find out just why the food managed to be so goddamn good, No secrets were forthcoming. All we were left with was a surreal experience.
AND all of this for a gnat’s wing over thirty dollars a head. What the shit, world. Why is this place in Sale? And a million Indian places in Sydney still serving indifferent warmed-over cumin-flavoured Curry 1.0 from a bain marie. Such is life.
CB: HELL YES.
MW: HELL YES