Indian food isn’t hard to come across in Sydney, but whether or not that Indian food is good, unique, and worthwhile is a different story. Amidst all the excessively creamy take-a-way butter chickens and greasy cheese naans (always a guilty pleasure), there are some truly fascinating dishes to be had in Indian restaurants from Woolloomooloo all the way to Harris Park, you just need to know where to look. Within the past few years good and distinctive Indian dining has been dominated by restaurants like Aki’s and Vrindavan, but now this new restaurant, Indu, from the owner of Mejico Dr. Sam Prince, has shot to the forefront of the list, having only been open for a few months but providing enough to instantly place it as a “must” for Sydney’s dining scene.
Located just off George Street, at the entrance of Angel Place (right before City Recital Hall), Indu is an underground and seductively dark modern Indian restaurant that interprets a mix of Sri Lankan, traditional, and coastal southern Indian dishes to arrive at something unique and memorable.
Prince has based the food around his time as an aid worker across India and Sri Lanka, where villagers would cook for him as payment for medical services. His background as a medical doctor and philanthropist, as well as a restaurateur, has added to the philosophy behind Indu, where their Village to Village program connects the brand to the villages where Prince drew inspiration, returning the hospitality by providing employment opportunities to those in need via a partnership with ACFID accredited grassroots organisation Palmera, contributing to village economies by building infrastructure for local village enterprises and providing job security, skills training, and business opportunities like crop farming. You’re doing a good thing by dining here, not just for your tastebuds but also for those who deserve the help.
The entrance is lined with ceramic pots holding aromatic spices, leaning against the first kitchen and playing against the light to colour the space, an illustration helped along by the charming bar that preludes the main dining area, stocked with colourful bottles and decorated with various trinkets recalling the streets of India. Past that is a large space where most of the eating and socialising takes place, centered by lush green booths that look gorgeous in the dim light with off-shot cave-like dining areas with large communal tables. The air is thick with a beautiful, balanced aroma wafting from the island dosa kitchen, which is separate to the main kitchen on the other side of the booths. There may be some awkward transporting of produce from one kitchen to another if you choose the booth seating, but this hardly detracts from the atmosphere and is easily ignored once your attention is focused on the food, the drink, and even the hit-after-hit soundtrack of 60s rock bands with connections to India; think The Beatles and Led Zeppelin with alot of The Rolling Stones thrown in.
The wine list is fine, with whispers of Indian wine soon to be added, but the interesting cocktails – classics with little Indian-inspired twists – are most definitely the way to go. For starters, The Village Negroni ($18) is an essential order, with lillet rouge, Campari, and a garam masala spiced Gin that doesn’t overdo it on the spiced edge but draws on the unique hint of garam masala just enough to separate itself from your average negroni.
For something sweeter and fruitier head for either Liquid Yoga ($19) which has Gin, averna, fresh strawberry, lemon juice, and honey, or the superb and oh-so-coastal Kerala Kolada ($19) with Spiced Rum, coconut & chai syrup, pineapple, and coconut sorbet. Those wanting their drinks a bit harder shouldn’t overlook the Across the Universe ($19) with Whiskey, pomegranate chutney, lemon juice, and egg white.
Get comfortable with your choice of cocktail and order up some dosas to start with; the Smoked Goat’s Leg ($18) being the highlight. It comes with zucchini ribbon raita, pomegranate, chilli, and bacon jam, sitting as a tower on one side of the large, crispy dosa which has obviously been shifted from it’s roots as a vegetarian option and interpreted through the kitchen’s imaginative scope. Also available from the dosa bar is an option with Chicken Masala ($16), pineapple chutney, and spiced nuts, one with Flame-Seared Turmeric Cured Salmon ($18) served up with cardamom aioli and pickled fennel, and finally a vegetarian option with Garam Masala Eggplant ($16), kale, lentil vada, bitter melon, and burnt garlic raita.
Pair a few dosas up with some other starters from the menu’s “From the Coast” section, particularly the Cured Salmon & Prawns ($16 for 4), two-bite servings on a papdi base with chilli, coriander, tamarind, and mint chutney. The papdi is more biscuit-y with a different texture than tradition requires but it’s nice and sweet, holding the topping well. It’s no surprise Sam Prince was the brains behind Mexico, because this dish is very much in line with the freshness of ceviche, juicy and full of flavour, going down well with one of the lighter cocktails.
The Sesame Crusted Okra ($12) is nice enough, large and generous with cumin & burnt chilli salt, served alongside some beautiful banana & tamarind chutney. There’s not much flavour here if you don’t make full use of that sweet and sour dip, but the texture is beautiful, flaky with a nice crunch.
Before you get to the mains make sure you have a serving of fresh Beetroot & Apple Raita ($6) with roasted walnuts and fresh mint on the table, it’s a palate-cleansing side which you’ll need on hand with all the curries, especially the spicier ones. Also be sure that there’s a few serving of fluffy, slightly crisped Paratha ($6) for you to scoop up the mains, with either Lemon Rice ($9) (with crispy lentils, smashed peanuts, green chilli, and fresh coconut) or Basmati Rice ($6).
All these curries are quite dark in colour but vibrant with generous spicing and flavour without being overly rich. Those craving the indulgence of say a butter or mango chicken may need time to adjust to a more balanced curry here, like the Goan Pork Belly Curry ($32) which is a beautiful blend of gelatinous pieces of pork belly drowned in a mild, thick taste, equal in standing to the Bone Marrow & Kashmiri Lamb Curry ($36) which comes with yoghurt and black cardamom. The latter could do with a little more bone marrow to scrape out but the lamb is beautiful and rich.
If you’re looking for seafood go for the beautifully presented 5-spice Crusted Barramundi ($34) with string hoppes, turmeric, and coconut molee. It’s a gorgeous sight before you pull the soft flesh apart, using each serving to soak up the bright, rich coconut-flavoured curry. Though if you want a bit more of a kick, the spiciest curry on the menu is also one of the best, the Slow Braised Devilled Beef Cheek ($24) with village kachumber salad. The heat will creep up after a few bites, but it’s still nothing excessive, focusing on the strongest taste of the meat.
Indu’s signature main is The Great Lamb Raan ($45 for half a serve; $80 for a full serve) and if you’re sharing amongst a group it’d be advisable to go straight for the full serve. The half is still enough, especially once you get a taste of this incredibly soft mound of lamb which has been marinated and slow-roasted over 48 hours with spices and yoghurt. There’s mint chutney on the board with the huge serving, topped with lunu miris, sweet chilli, and salt. The flavour is intense but well balanced, best had with the fresh mint chutney.
Desserts continue taking spins on traditional Indian, like the Gulab Jamun ($16) rolled up in coconut sand, saffron angalise, and served with Kashmiri honeycomb shards. The fried doughnut-like dessert is interesting but far too small for the price; more substantial is the White Chocolate & Coconut Cream ($14) which is layered with caramelised pomegranate and fig, soft, fluffy and deliciously creamy. Also on the menu is a dish of Caramelised pineapple ($16) served with cardamom dulce de leche, chilli and ginger granita, and yoghurt jelly, a heavenly mix of flavours that’s more for those looking to avoid anything overly sweet.
Head Chef Bimal Kumar showcases creativity throughout the menu, working with a focused team – which you can see through the open kitchen – that has perfected the various, unique textures and flavours found at Indu. Having only been open for a few months, the restaurant is steady picking up a solid reputation, and returning on that with what matters, good, original food and good, original drink, augmented by a cosy and memorable atmosphere in the basement of a heritage listed building.
Address: 350 George Street, Sydney, entry via Angel Place
Contact: (02) 9223 0158
Hours: Mon-Sun; 12pm til late.
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