I’ve had an interest in Indian food for about as long as I can remember. There’s something special about the complex melange of aromatic herbs and spices and the yin-yang balance of spicy heat juxtaposed with cooling elements such as yogurt that I find alluring.
That is when it’s done right. More often than not the food that comes to mind for a lot of people is what you would typically find at a food court vendor – the safe mild flavours of butter chicken, the hellfire heat of a vindaloo, soggy samosas, dull daals, and chicken tikka and naan bread that have turned to jerky from extended exposure to the warming lamps. It’s the sort of food that tends to be heavy, greasy, muted, one-note, reflux-inducing and rather ordinary. I’ve had so much of that of late that it’s put me off Indian food somewhat.
There are however, a few Indian restaurants that break from this mould of mediocrity. Ahbi’s is one such restaurant; one that I’ve covered during the early days of the blog. Ever since then I’d been meaning to dine at their more upmarket and refined sibling restaurant Aki’s. So when Ouffer, the online daily deals company, had presented the opportunity to preview one of their upcoming voucher deals for Aki’s, this was one ouffer that I could not refuse.
Aki’s Indian Restaurant is located by the water at the base of the wharf in Woolloomooloo along with a small group of high end restaurants. The restaurant is geared towards the finer end of the dining spectrum, though with a calm, casual atmosphere that does away with some of the pretence and formality that can often be symptomatic of these sorts of establishments.
We begin with individual entree platters consisting of (clockwise from the top right):
- Baingan Jaipuri – crispy eggplant dusted with spiced chickpea flour and served with cumin flavoured yoghurt dip.
- Gola Kofta – steamed lamb koftas with mint, ginger, green chilli, cashews and roasted yellow split lentils.
- Murgh Malai Tikka – chicken thigh fillets marinated with hung yoghurt, cream, mace, ground green chilli and coriander stem.
The Baingan Jaipuri eggplant chips were really good. The texture of the crispy chickpea batter is reminiscent of the coating on beer battered fries, which yields to the tender eggplant core.
The lamb koftas was moist, rather spicy and quite delicious. There’s an appreciable kick but without the lingering after-burn that some might find unpleasant.
The chicken tikka is likewise good. The meat was flavourful and firm without being dry or overcooked, while the coriander stems gave a fresh contrast to the earthy flavours of the spices.
The main course consists of three curries, served along with a single garlic naan split in half to be shared between two and a generous bowl of steamed basmati rice.
Saag Paneer – Cubed paneer (cottage cheese) with pureed spinach, fresh tomato, garlic and fenugreek.
The Saag Paneer pictured above is quite a mild vegetarian curry with little to offend the palate. While the semi-firm cubes of the fresh paneer cheese (similar in texture to bocconcini) are nice enough, there wasn’t a lot there in the curry that I personally found all that interesting. Not to say that it was bad. It was fine. Aside from a hint of background heat, there’s nothing remarkable to speak of.
Railway Goat Curry – Slow cooked goat with tomatoes, ginger, garlic, black cardamom and fresh coriander.
The only curry on the restaurant’s menu to be cooked and served with bones, the goat curry has a wonderful meaty flavour which I found to be devoid of the gamey aroma akin to lamb that some find to be off-putting. The meat is rich, tender and infused with the wonderful flavours of the curry. The spice of the curry is mild save for a bit of a background heat, much the same as the Saag Paneer.
For the bone marrow connoisseurs, you may be fortunate enough to find a precious nugget or two of gelatinous goodness infused with the rich flavours of the curry. If you do, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Murungaikai Meen Curry – Fresh Barramundi fillets cooked with tamarind, dried whole chillies, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and ‘drumsticks’ – a fibrous Southern Indian vegetable (Murungaikai).
This was a fascinating curry dish on many levels. Firstly the wild caught barramundi was cooked to utter perfection with moist, tender flesh that yields to very little pressure. The curry itself is light and clean tasting with a considerable hit of chili that may be a challenge to some, but is firmly situated on the pleasant side of spicy for those that can stand the heat.
Lastly, I found the ‘drumsticks’ (murungaikai), the long, bean-like vegetables, to be quite intriguing. It was both familiar in flavour and texture but at the same time entirely unique to anything else I’ve eaten in the past. The murungaikai has a fibrous exterior layer that is inedible. However, the flavour and texture of the core are quite similar to what you might expect from casseroled string beans, including the fact that they soak up all the wonderful flavours and aromas of the curry.
There are two ways I found to properly consume the murungaikai. You can either suck and chew on them to squeeze out the tender innards and then discard the fibrous parts or slice the murungaikai along its axis and scrape out the tasty innards.
One thing that you should know is that the curry that is officially available via the voucher is unfortunately not the Murungaikai Meen Curry. The curry that is meant to be a part of the voucher deal is a Goan Seafood Masala – fish, scallops, and tiger prawns cooked in a sauce of coriander, cumin, tumeric powder, ground coconut and kokum (a refreshing sour fruit native to India). While I am unable to offer an opinion on this curry, if it’s anything like the one I was served, it’ll be great.
I guess you could try for a substitution if you want to try your luck. I make no guarantees for your success but if you’re able to, you won’t be disappointed.
Jackfruit Pasayam with Kulfi – Jackfruit and rice cooked with milk, vanilla beans, pistachio and cardamom pods with Indian ice-cream laced with cardamom and pistachio.
The last course of the meal is a small dessert platter which, unlike the entree course, is a single plate shared between two. If you’re expecting a large dessert course for each diner, you’ll need to temper your expectations. However, by the time we had reached this portion of the evening, this was more than enough as we’d pretty much had reached our limit by that stage.
While the Jackfruit Pasayam may seem rather exotic, it’s not that far removed from a rice pudding. The Pasayam is thinner and lighter than a typical rice pudding with the flavour of jackfruit and a background sticky-sweet note similar to sweetened condensed milk.
The kulfi is somewhat icy in texture compared to regular ice-cream, though not unpleasantly so. The cardamom flavour dominates the kulfi, leaving the pistachio to be more of a textural component than a flavourful one. There’s also a pulse of raspberry sauce as an additional flavour element for the kulfi.
“Let go of all preconceptions (about Indian food)”. That was something that Chef and owner Kumar Mahadevan had said to me during a brief discussion we had that night. It’s not something I’d given all that much thought but the more I think about it, the more I realised that in spite of my interest in Indian food, I’m still very much anchored by my preconceptions as to both my expectations and what I’d likely order.
I’m glad that I was finally able to dine at Aki’s. Not only is it good food, it’s reinvigorated my interest in exploring the breadth and depth of Indian cuisine; to think beyond the safe options that I tend to fall back on and to try something different.
the heart of food dined at Aki’s Indian Restaurant at the courtesy of Ouffer.
Aki’s Indian Restaurant
6 Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo
(02) 9332 4600
Thanks to all the entrants for the Taste of Sydney “The Amazing Taste” giveaway. There were a lot of great entries but unfortunately there can be only be a few prize winners.
The winner of the VIP double pass goes to Gianna. Congratulations! It was a hard decision to make given quite a number of interesting ideas but that was the one that resonated the most with me.
As for the General Entry double passes, congratulations to the following people (in alphabetical order):
- J Thomas
- Lola (Figs & Brie)
- Louise Rhodes
- Ramen Raff
To all prize winners, I will be in touch via email to discuss details of how you may collect your passes.
For those of you heading to the Taste of Sydney festival, I hope you enjoy your time there. If it’s anything like the previous years, it’ll be a great time!