A flurry of curry in 'Little India'
Wigram Street, in the Sydney suburb of Harris Park, offers nearly the full spicy spectrum of India's famous cuisine.
What is your idea of an adventure? For my food loving friends and I, an adventure was one in which we would arrive at a very special street in which bright lights twinkle like Christmas and restaurants in heritage listed houses serve us authentic Indian cuisine and we would eat our way up, down and across that street.
Wigram Street in Harris Park, Sydney, is not your ordinary street. In fact when you drive down it at night, you might think that it were awaiting Saint Nick all year round with the sparkling fairy lights and lit up houses. These Harris Park Indian restaurants are mainly concentrated in a one block radius of Wigram Street although Harris Park itself is replete with Indian restaurants with about 14 or 15 in the suburb due to the resident Indian population. Each restaurant has a distinctly different atmosphere and as we find, even while the menus may initially look the same, the execution is often quite different. Some focus on North Indian cuisine while others Southern Indian cuisine. And some…well they focus on a fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisine but you’ll have to stay tuned for that one!
My partners in crime for this Indian feast were David (owner and chef at Xanthi), his wife Belinda as well as friends Louise and Viggo. They all love food just as much as Mr NQN and I do, although I did discover that we might be pushing our love of a single cuisine by sampling six restaurants in the space of an afternoon and evening!
David suggested that we inject a cricket theme into the event to tie in with the Indian theme. After explaining the rules of cricket to me, David suggested that we order three main dishes at each restaurant that we visit along the street. Along with that, scores for naans and rice would count as one score and scores for atmosphere and service would count as one. Lastly, to make up the sixth score, we would combine the scores for the desserts of gulab jamun and kulfi. We would rate each dish according to a score out of six. Zero would be an "out” and six would be the highest and commensurate with cricket we wouldn’t include five as it happens so rarely in cricket. I must admit that they tried to explain why there was no five in cricket but I drifted off…it’s no wonder I was never picked for school cricket. The final score would be a "batting average”.
Ginger is the fanciest Indian restaurant on the street with an all blue interior which is disconcerting at first when you first walk in from the daylight. Indeed when you sit down in the front dining room, it feels almost like dining underwater such is the effect of the blue walls. Service is very friendly and we are dining at noon so we are the only diners there. I was recommended Ginger by friendly NQN reader Brett who also sent me photos of the brightly lit up street. Here, they serve North Indian or Mughlai cuisine which is influenced by Persia and Iran and uses whole and ground spices. Interestingly, this is the only restaurant that doesn’t have a sweets display. At each restaurant, our plan was to order butter chicken as a constant as well as naan. We’d also order a vegetarian dish and try the house specialty. Dessert would be gulab jamun and kulfi ice cream.
The food comes out in a timely manner. The butter chicken thigh pieces are soft and cooked in the tandoor oven and finished with a sauce of ground cashew, tomato, cream and fenugreek. Whilst the balance of flavours were great, some of us wanted the sauce a bit creamier.
The eggplant with the lovely caramelised edges and soft voluptuous texture was a favourite here along with the lamb rezzala.
The lamb rezzala was soft with a rich sauce had a tomato and cream based sauce which was mostly tomato based with a little cream at the end to finish it. It was said to be very hot but they toned it down for us although all of us can handle spicy food. And we note that throughout the day, all of the Indian restaurants are traditional ones that don’t serve beef because of course the Hindu religion considers eating the cow as taboo.
We order a garlic and peshwari naan and the peshwari naan is redolent in whole spices and is strong in fennel seed (perhaps this is where the north Indian influence comes in). The naan itself is quite flat and the strong flavour of anise gives it a strong taste.
The dessert choices arrive and they are the gulab jamun, below, and the pistachio kulfi ice cream. The latter is cut into quarters for easy eating. The pistachio kulfi is icy and quite light in flavour with some pistachios sprinkled on top. The gulab jamun, two to a serve are soft and syrupy.
Score notes: Top marks for atmosphere and service. Awarded one "out” from David for the peshwari naan.
Our next stop is just a very short walk away at Spice of Life. Here, the atmosphere is quite different, more like a cafeteria and it looks to be more family style rather than the polished surrounds of Ginger. The menu is a double sided laminated tri-fold one. There are families with small children and couples eating together here. "Are you ready for round two?” I ask my friends and at this point there is no tummy clutching.
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