Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday - 137 A’beck­ett St, Mel­bourne,


GOLDEN and steamed ten­der, slightly nutty with a hoppy tang, the crunchy nuggets of beer-bat­tered cauliflower are great as they are, but they’re hands-down win­ners when dunked into the chilli-spiked mayo that’s served on the side.

These beau­ties were stand-out sig­na­tures of Sashi Che­liah in the Masterchef kitchen, so it’s no sur­prise they’re on the menu at Gaja by Sashi.

The pri­son of­fi­cer turned Masterchef champ has opened his début restau­rant at funky Asian food cen­tre HWKR in the city, tak­ing over from last year’s win­ner, Di­ana Chan, who ran her Chanteen pop-up there for the past six months.

It’s the ul­ti­mate mil­len­nial eat­ing hall, for with a ro­tat­ing cal­en­dar of ten­an­cies that changes ev­ery few months there’s lit­tle room for what-toeat bore­dom within its coloured neon sur­rounds. Grab a ta­ble (re­mem­ber the num­ber) and or­der at one of four stalls which in­clude Son in Law Thai.

At Gaja, you’ll find a small se­lec­tion of dishes that draw on Che­liah’s TV hits and his Malaysian-in­dian-sin­ga­porean food mem­o­ries.

Curry puffs – crimped cres­cents of but­tery pas­try en­clos­ing mildly spiced veg­etable or chicken – are good open­ers along with that crisp cauli, while big­ger dishes in­clude a deeply rich, co­conutsweet beef ren­dang and the pow­er­ful KPC (Ker­ala pep­per chicken) that comes with a proper black-pep­per kick and lin­ger­ing heat. Both are served with fab sweet pick­led pineap­ple (achar). Or­ders for drinks – in­clud­ing Fur­phy and Kirin on tap and a few wines by the glass – are taken ta­ble­side.

After­wards, the shaved ice flavoured with squig­gles of syrup – rose­wa­ter and palm sugar – on red beans in green jelly, the lot topped with chunky sweet­corn, won’t be to ev­ery­one’s taste; it wasn’t to mine. But for a cauli good time head down to HWKR where Gaja is open un­til Novem­ber.

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