A touch of spice
Christine McCabe recaptures the romance of the British Raj, with a little help from Queen Victoria, at an Adelaide newcomer
WHEN I lived in Britain the kedgeree dished up occasionally by country hotels, more often by culinarily challenged chums, was nothing to write home about. Although associated with lavish Edwardian breakfast spreads, in the late 20th century kedgeree was more often a meagre affair, flecked with dried-out flakes of haddock and the merest soupcon of spice, level pegging on the Scoville heat metre with Rice-a-Riso (for those who remember that old larder standby).
At the recently opened British India, just around the corner from Adelaide’s Gouger Street, head chef Palam Manes has sexed up this Anglo-Indian standby with the addition of seared prawns and scallops, slow cooking the rice with lentils and finishing with a smidgin of sour cream and fresh dill to give something closer to a delicious, spicy, wet risotto.
Just the thing on a chilly winter’s day and heaven for Indophiles keen to recapture a whiff of the romance and glamour of the British Raj. And glamorous are the interiors whipped up by Naveen Irkulla and the team behind Adelaide’s Charminar Restaurants at this Morphett Street eatery, with the adjoining Thali Room as groovy as a Vegas lounge bar.
We’re propped in a corner of the main restaurant near the window beneath a huge portrait of a very young Queen Victoria, giving us a long view over the handsome dining room kitted out as if Ralph Lauren had got his hands on a colonial bungalow (all that’s missing are the bespoke cambric punkahs).
Stuffed creatures — deer, turtles and a peacock — adorn the dark timber panelling in the bar area; Vanity Fair caricatures of pukka chaps line the wall above a long red chesterfield; the very comfortable dining chairs are inset with leather bearing the restaurant’s pineapple motif. A huge portrait of a resplendent Edward VII guards the door to the loo while whimsical teacups and saucers have been co-opted as lights hanging upside down in front of large mirror, or doubling as tea lights on the bare, dark timber tables.
These are casually set with paper napkins, a relaxed attitude reflected in the service, for much of the time as insouciant as a stamp-wielding ticket-seller at a Mumbai railway station.
The food of chef Manes, however, is very good and his take on Anglo-Indian cuisine is delicious and fun.
Fish is battered in Bangalore-brewed Kingfisher ale, flecked with cashews and sesame and served with a tamarind mayonnaise ($23); rack of lamb comes tandoori style with a date and apple coleslaw ($26).
We start with the kedgeree ($12), which is cooked in the traditional manner, much like the simple khichri (versions are found all across India) on which the dish is based, the combination of rice and lentils providing a rich, creamy texture that is augmented perfectly by the scallops.
With this we order a bowl of mulligatawny. Translating literally as pepper water, the soup is generally understood to contain meat, often chicken. Manes has come up with a tasty vegetarian version ($7) featuring rice and lentils flavoured with turmeric, green apple, black and white pepper, ginger and fresh coriander. My flu-afflicted husband declares it a better tonic than chicken noodle soup. Better again sopped up with some organic wholemeal naan flavoured with nigella seeds ($4).
I’m in full memsahib flight now, spurred on by the indomitable Victoria who looms above our table, and decide this brisk winter’s day demands nothing less than a shepherd’s pie ($19). But the chef has flummoxed the sahib dullards again. For while the pie looks innocent enough, topped with a blanket of golden mashed potato, beneath lies a fiery brew of bhuna gosht featuring succulent Hay Valley lamb.
It’s the first time I’ve felt the need to pile steamed rice with saffron ($3) and mango chutney ($3) alongside pie, but the whole combo works very well and there’s more than enough to feed a gaggle of gasbagging memsahibs.
The barramundi masala ($20), cooked in ginger and garlic, likewise is very good and one of several traditional dishes — hardy comfort food of the butter chicken and rogan josh variety — supplementing the Anglo-Indian selection.
Channa masala ($10), chickpeas cooked in onions, tomato and cumin, joins a handful of vegetarian dishes in rounding out the menu.
The small wine list, largely South Australian, has been thoughtfully compiled and the Adelaide Hills Alto pinot grigio ($8 per glass) and Tomich Hill pinot gris ($9) work well with the spicy food.
Next door, in the funky, dimly lit Thali Room, with its velvet padded stools, black curtained walls and table lamps suspended from the ceiling, thali platters can be ordered from the bar for a more casual experience.
Either way this cleverly conceived restaurant duo looks set to become all the Raj in downtown Adelaide. Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.
British India and The Thali Room 270-276 Morphett St, Adelaide. (08) 8212 2411. Open: Lunch: Wed-Fri and Sun, 12-3pm; dinner: Tues-Sun from 5.30pm. The Thali Room, dinner only, Tues-Sun. Cost: Entrees or small plates: $7 to $12; mains: $16 to $26. Drink: SA-centric wine list and small selection of cocktails. Try the Indian Summer, vanilla-infused vodka, shaken with orange and cinnamon and served straight up. Better yet, an ice-cold Kingfisher (perfect with the kedgeree). Reason to go back: Tasty decor and even tastier food.
Glamour puss: British India is heaven for those wanting a taste of the vanished Raj