"I just have two rules: no photos of me and no asking for the bill" Rush, the owner of Zaaffran says smiling when he seats us. Mr NQN and I are on a date tonight, just the two of us although when we start to see the number of dishes, we think that perhaps bringing friends might have been a prudent idea. Zaaffran is located on the second level of the Darling Harbour Harbourside Complex. Despite it being a touristy area, and there are tourists aplenty, there are also a lot of large Indian groups and families which is always a good sign when you're dining out. Zaaffran (named after the spice saffron) has been open for 12 years and has been lauded by the New York Times as well as many local press for having creative Indian food.
Strawberry & Rose Petal Syrup Lussie $6.00
I start with the strawberry and rose petal syrup lussie (or lassi). It's just the right balance of flavours and sweetness and it has tiny chips of ice throughout it. I'm starting to feel rather relaxed now...
Mini Poories Gol Guppa $10.80
The kid in me loves interactive food. Food with the possibility of a sartorial disaster is even more exciting unless I am wearing something silk. What has to be one of the most fun foods to eat are the mini poories. You take a thin, hollow, crispy shell and filled it with the spiced mung beans, potato, crunchy chickpea and vermicelli noodle mix and add a dash of mint and sweet tamarind liquid and down the hatch! The sensation is crunchy, spicy, sweet and tasty all at once and we can imagine kids and adults would like this bit of DIY at the table (and yes they can do a mild kid's version too).
Crisp potato and corn mini patties laced with yogurt, date-tamarind and mint toppings - Aloo Makkai Tikki Chaat $11.30
Mr NQN especially loves these tiny flattened balls of potato patty drizzled with yogurt, a date tamarind and mint sauce. They're quite tangy and spicy and remind me, bizarrely but stay with me, of potato wedges in an extra dousing of flavour. I'd imagine these would be great with a beer or drinks as a more sophisticated alternative to wedges.
Zaaffran Apple Cooler $6.50
The Zaaffran apple cooler is a mix of saffron syrup, apple juice, lemon juice and honey. It is very lemony and sweet with honey although I can't really taste the apple.
Thirst Quencher $7.50
We both liked this drink as it was very refreshing with a vividly hued rose petal syrup, copious amount of fresh lime and mint and lemonade and a little peek of cardamom. In fact we could have had seven of these each but we didn't want to overstay our welcome :)
Palak Paneer $21 Aromatic rice infused with saffron $4
Do you always have a dish that you have to order when you go out for a certain cuisine? For me and Indian food it's palak paneer, a cottage cheese and spinach curry. The Indian cottage cheese cubes are very soft and creamy and the spinach sauce with fenugreek, ginger, garlic and green chilli is incredibly silky smooth. It is perfectly paired with the saffron infused rice. Even though I know we have a lot of courses to go, the temptation to have more of this is hard to resist and I do.
Seafood sampler $29.30
We try the seafood sampler with a piece of salmon, battered fish and prawn as well as herbed mashed potato with a distinct dill flavour-this is one of their classic fusion dishes. It comes with two sauces: a mint and a tamarind sauce. The tandoor barbecued seafood is good with the pick of the three being the salmon as it is cooked tender and moist. Service is smooth throughout the night and friendly although there are a couple of times where drinks are brought to our table which are meant for other tables.
Lobster meat stir fried in curry - Goorur e Dariya $39.50
My favourite dish of the night would have to involve lobster in some way (you knew that right? ;) ) but this dish is probably the best value too with a generous amount of lobster tail in a curry sauce flavoured with tomatoes, onions, ginger, mustard seeds and curry leaf with a sprinkling of coconut. It is served with string hoppers which are a speciality in Kerala and Tamilnadu and are made up of rice noodles made into a round disc and steamed. The lobster is tender and the string hoppers are a good accompaniment as they soak up the sauce and eating the two together is like having lobster with noodles really. And a little tip: have this with the raita yogurt which really rounds out the flavour.
Tandoor Glazed whole baby snapper with seeded fennel, dill, scallions, ginger., coriander and chilli $29.80
The tandoor glazed baby snapper is enormous. It comes with three sauce: a beetroot yogurt sauce, a mint sauce and a very sweet grated carrot sauce which add moisture and flavour to the fish. The wedges that it comes with are sprinkled with curry powder which is actually delicious on wedges-a new taste sensation!
What lays beneath my lovelies?
Biryani Rice and chicken with garam masala, mint and saffron combined under flaky pastry, served with raita $29.80
Our waitress tells us that this is the traditional way to serve a biryani and this method was supposed to have originated from the Royal family. Here the par cooked chicken is placed in the bottom with the rice covering it and it is then covered in puff pastry. It takes 30 minutes to make this once an order is placed as it bakes for 30 minutes to get the chicken fully cooked and the pastry golden. It's a very interesting way of serving it and the chicken is juicy and tender inside.
Mixed Seafood in a lemon, coconut, onion, tomato and pumpkin sauce with "Qasoori Methi", garlic and chilli $29.50
This was quite a popular dish judging from what we could see on the tables around the restaurant. It's filled with bug meat (balmain bug, not actual bugs darlings!), prawns and scallops which all remain lovely and juicy and it sits in a thick, creamy coconut sauce. The flavours of this remind us of a Thai dish and the texture of the seafood in this dish is excellent and it is obviously cooked straight to order as the seafood is very tender.
Mushroom naan with truffle butter $5.60
The mushroom naan is chock full of mushrooms and is moist and delicious although I taste more mushroom than truffles.
Chef's banquet dessert
Usually this dessert is served as part of the chef's banquet and at special events. It is a rosewater kulfi which is a milk based ice cream, a almond and cardamom kulfi and half a gulab jamen. I really enjoy Indian kulfis which are milk based ice creams and the roasted almond and cardamom one is especially delicious especially with a drizzle of syrup which heightens the saffron flavour. The rose petal syrup kulfi is also very delicate. The gulab jamen are milk dumplings that are fried and then soaked in syrup are sweet and rich (although I must admit I can eat plenty of these) and it has an unusual stretchy skin on it.
The bibanca is an interesting multi layered cake which reminds me of the Indonesian kueh lapis. Our waitress tells us that it is hard to make (much like the kueh lapis is) as it has to be cooked layer upon layer. The cake is quite firm with distinct layers that can be taken apart. It is flavoured with nutmeg and cardamom and doused with strawberries, vanilla ice cream and a brandy glaze. It's a mysterious one, we can't work out if we love it or not.
Symphony of kulfi $8.50
We finish off with a trio of kulfi: rosewater, mango and pistachio with a crispy, buttery tuile biscuit. The mango is my favourite followed by the rosewater and the pistachio which tastes more almondy than pistachioey.
Absolutely stuffed to the brim, we reluctantly leave the stunning view and the food.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a dish that you always have to order?
NQN and Mr NQN dined as guests of Zaaffran
Lvl 2, 345 Harbourside Shopping Centre, Darling Harbour, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9211-8900
Parking $12 at Harbourside Parking (managed by Wilson Parking) with any bill of $40 or over.