A touch of spice

Chris­tine McCabe re­cap­tures the ro­mance of the Bri­tish Raj, with a lit­tle help from Queen Vic­to­ria, at an Ade­laide new­comer

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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.

Check­list

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.

Pic­ture: Brett Hartwig

Glam­our puss: Bri­tish In­dia is heaven for those want­ing a taste of the van­ished Raj

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