If there is one cuisine that I consider to be the most often overlooked, it has got to be Indian. Most people I know have only ventured so far that their idea of Indian consists mainly of butter, and chicken. If they're a bit more adventurous, then maybe some sort of enterproteinhere korma.
However, tucked away near the corner of the entrance to the long sunfilled walk of Woolloomooloo wharf, sits Aki's Indian - a place where Terry Durack once referred to as the high point of Indian cuisine in Sydney.
Pappadums - aren't they just adorable?
The choice here was simple - a $55 per head banquet menu with an extra dish on the side (which I claimed to have ordered for research purposes). I will warn you now, this banquet isn't for the faint-hearted - it kept me filled for both lunch & dinner. A great bargain if you ask me!
Relishes - Cucumber & Yoghurt "raita", Tomato & Onion 'kachumber", Sweet Mango Chutney
The banquet menu comes with a basket of pappadums and a selection of relishes on the side, too!
Since JL, SK, AY and I were planning to go all out for the day - why not have a few luxurious cocktails with our meals? Make that a few cocktails and a bottle of wine, just for kicks.
Crab with Iddiapam - $23
First up was the Crab with Iddiapam. This was an extra which we ordered on the side of our banquet. Why? Because it is Aki's signature dish, and a dish which I frequently have terrible cravings for. The crab was so tenderly cooked, JL and I were so gobsmacked by the layers upon layers of flavour which was embedded that we straight away agreed that we would be happy eating this for the rest of our lives.
What's that brown bedding you ask? Tamil Brown Rice string hoppers. I liken it to the Indian form of rice vermicelli.
Palak Patta Chaat - $13
Did I mention that Aki's Indian has a brother restaurant? Oh my bad - blame it on my memory. Situated in North Strathfield is Aki's understated brother restaurant- Abhi's Indian (review coming up soon). This Palak Patta Chaat, a dish which is a revved up rendition of the humble spinach, is the signature dish of Abhi's. It consists of deep fried spinach leaves in a light, crispy lentil batter, doused with layers of yoghurt, tamarind and date and chilli and mint sauces.
Talk about flavour explosion much? It even had the non-vegie-eater (SK) hooked.
Namkeen Squid - $16
While we're on the topic of revving up humble dishes - here we have exhibit B. Aki's rendition of the ubiquitous salt & pepper squid. Immediately after I made my first cut into the squid, I noticed just how easy it was to pierce through the flesh. There were none of the usual criss-cross scoring - and yet...still so tender?I couldn't have been anymore pleasantly surprised. No doubt whatever the secret spices were in the "spiced tapioca flour", it worked like magic. The tamarind and ginger dipping sauce was also a huge hit with me, being a rather exotic and delicious alternative to the typical sauces you get presented with.
This one most definitely goes in the list of most memorable salt & pepper squid - along with Cantina, Darlinghurst.
Achari Tikka - $14
The Achari Tikka bore a resemblance to the usual Chicken Tikka - except with a slightly more natural colouring than the flaming red that we usually see. The chicken was most pleasantly moist, but a touch on the salty side for my liking. JL nommed it up good, though.
Post-writing-thought: Wouldn't it be funny if "Achari" meant "Chicken"? That would make the opening of this paragraph rather redundant wouldn't it?
Gola Kofta - $15
This is a must have dish for all you lamb-lovers out there. The lamb mince used in these balls are hand-minced, and you can most definitely taste the strong lamb-smell with every bite. I was sad to have only eaten one - despite how hot they were and how much they made me cry, they were simply divine with lashings of the cool cucumber yoghurt served with the pappadums.
Next, we move on to the mains.
Yeah, those were just the entrees. There's still another 2 courses to come.
Beef Vindaloo - $27
This is Aki's version of the "not-your-average-vindaloo" Beef Vindaloo. The beef was meltingly tender and fully imbued with the flavours of tomato and cumin sauce. Oh and did I mention that this one made your tongue catch on fire? Well, it did, but AY and I ate most of it anyway because it was just that dang-freakin' good!
The mains came with a serve of perfectly cooked Pilau Rice and a stack of plain Naan breads. Perfect for soaking up all the sauces!
Subzi Kofta Curry - $18
The Subzi Kofta Curry was probably my favourite main out of the 4 which were served. The list of ingredient generates eyebrow-raising first impressions, but the dish does not take long to convince even the biggest skeptics and that flavours DO indeed work hand in hand and that they couldn't be more wrong to have doubted it. So what's in there?
Carrot, raw banana, beans and fresh English spinach. Amongst other "ridiculously appetising ingredients" (says JL).
The kofta balls were incredibly moist, and almost makes one wonder how they retain their shape yet still manage to have a fall apart and dissipate effect in one's mouth. I couldn't begin to describe the myriad of flavours present.
Chicken Makhini - $25
Butter. And Chicken. I know I love it, and I know most people out there love it too. Aki's version definitely strikes the uncanny balance between tanginess of tomato with sensual creaminess and a hint of smokiness from the chicken cooked in a tandoor.
Once you taste this, butter chicken from the local food court just won't cut it. You have been forewarned.
Goan Prawn Curry - $29
The last of the mains was a dish of curried prawns. Black tiger prawns cooked in a sauce of coriander, cumin and freshly ground coconut - a must have for the seafood lovers. We all agreed that this was good, except that we were all so bloated by this point that we couldn't really bring ourselves to fully relish in its flavours.
Having said that, JL still mopped it up good.
Indian "kufti" Ice Cream - $13
Lastly, after requesting a LOOOOOOOONG, drawn-out break to allow us to digest (the peeps at Aki's are most definitely flexible with their service), we were finally presented with a light slab of Cardamom and Pistachio ice creams to cool our mouths downs. These were definitely flavours up my alley, but may be a hit and miss with others.
To me, the experience at Aki's was not only memorable, but rather the quality of dishes it produced was rather humbling for the palate, and reminded you of just how much of an art there is to match flavours with produce. The dishes which were served up not only fascinated and intrigued me, but it kept me wanting more and challenged my curiosity. You can bet your ____ that I'll be heading back there sometime soon.
Aki's Fine Indian Restaurant
1/6 Cowper Wharf Road
Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
Tel: (02) 9332 4600