During the pursuit of the hottest and newest eateries and restaurants Sydney has to offer, I try to be mindful not to neglect the classics. Perhaps you know what I mean, the classic restaurants that have been around for years and for a city where a restaurant's existence seems almost ephemeral, to last 10 years is an achievement.
It was a hankering for some Indian food, brought on by a cool change in the air that prompted Nick to suggest dining at Malabar. On busy Victoria Road in Darlinghurst, it has been open for 10 years serving up South Indian food. South Indian and North Indian cuisine is different. The north has a cooler climate so rich, creamy curries dominate while the warmer south enjoys less cream and more aromatics.
Owner and chef Mohammed Sali explains that the name Malabar comes from an area in Kerala, India. Malabar was also the name of the MV Malabar spice ship that used to sail from Europe to Australia. In 1931 it ran aground in what was formerly known as Long Bay during a trip from Melbourne to Singapore. The south eastern Sydney suburb was then renamed Malabar.
The restaurant is busy this Saturday evening and the two side walls feature enormous black and white photographs. The one on the right taken in 1905 is of a royal wedding, a couple perched above an enormous elephant. The bride is modestly covered in a elaborately jewelled veil - Mohammed tells us that at Indian weddings, the size of the elephant is directly related to the wealth of the couple. The one on the left is from 1920 and features a Maharajah and his family.
The menu is extensive but it is easy to choose with some dishes labelled "signature dishes" or highly recommended. The chefs work behind the glass panelled open kitchen and we make our choices quickly. The mango lassis are superb. I find a lot of mango lassis taste like tinned or unripe mango but these taste like sweet mango.
*Spinach Chaat $12.00 *
The spinach chaat is Nick's favourite dish here so he orders two. He and David share one while Mr NQN and I share another. And by share I kind of mean I ate most of this. The spinach chaat is an exercise in textures with crispy deep fried spinach leaves, potatoes and chickpeas covered in a creamy yogurt and sweet date chutney. It is served cold and I layer it on top of the pappadums giving it even more crunch.
Mysore Chilli Chops 3 pcs $16.00
The grilled lamb chops are juicy and marinated in in an aromatic paste flavoured with hot fresh chilli, carom seeds with the bone covered in foil which makes for easy eating.
Kheema Dosai $12.00
I've had lots of dosas before but the dosa here is superb and a cut above others. The dosa, a thin large rolled pancake made with rice batter and lentils is wonderfully crisp. It is served rolled and filled with flavoursome lamb mince flavoured with mint and cinnamon. It comes with a coconut chutney and a spicy sambar on the side, the latter going particularly well with this dosa.
Goan Fish Curry $22.00
Our mains come out all together and we have four curries. The first is a Goan fish curry, Goa being an area in the South West coast of India that is known for its fish and has its own distinct cuisine. The ling fish cubes are cooked in coconut milk with kokum, chilli and capsicum but the rich gravy never overwhelms the delicate fish.
Goat Mappas med $21.00
The goat mappas is slow cooked so that the goat meat is very tender. Served bone in, it is cooked in masala made with coconut milk, green chilli and a strong hit of ginger.
Chicken Makhani mild $20.00
Chicken Makhani or butter chicken here is a superb version of the ever popular dish. The chicken pieces are tender and come in a creamy tomato fenugreek sauce, sweetened with honey. If there's just one thing that I'd say though is that the meat in the curries comes in large pieces and whilst it's fine sharing the curries with two people, with four people, we need to take to the pieces with a knife.
Duck Moilee mild $22.00
The duck was one that I was particularly keen to try. It is skinless, bone in duck cooked in coconut milk, fennel seeds, ginger and red chilli. The fennel and ginger are strong in this and the duck is tender and rich in this curry.
Chilli Cheese Naan and Peshwari Naan $5.00 each
One of my favourite parts to an Indian meal is naan. We order two of the naans including my favourite naan, a Peshwari naan. This is generously stuffed with cream cheese, plump sultanas and coconut and is sublime. I could eat a whole quite happily. We also order the chilli cheese naan filled with grated cheese and chilli spice. It's also good but the peshwari wins my heart every time.
Garlic naan $4
By now I've put down my fork but the boys order a garlic naan and more rice for the curries which they are determined to finish. There's a happy almost silence punctuated by appreciative murmurs as they eat. The garlic and parsley topped naan gives a good hit of fragrant garlic.
Duo of kulfi $8
The duo of kulfi solves any sort of dithering between kulfi ice cream flavours. One half is mango while the other is pistachio and saffron. I must admit that while I liked both, the pistachio saffron with its creamy texture and aromatic saffron was my favourite.
Gulab Jamun $6 each
I do like gulab jamun, the sweet syrup drenched fried cheese dumpling but for me it's quite sweet at the end of a rich meal so I prefer the kulfi out of the two. We finish with cups of Madras coffee for David and a Masala Chai for me (they make their own chai blend).
So tell me Dear Reader, would you like to read reviews on more "classic" restaurants or do you prefer to read about the new ones?
This meal was independently paid for.
6/274-290 Victoria St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 1755
Lunch: Wed - Sun 12-2.30 pm
Dinner: Mon - Sun 5.30pm - till late
Fully Licensed. BYO Wine Only
Also located at Crows Nest