If you shut your eyes and imagine Sydney City CBD, the visions that come to mind aren't exactly going to be that of dark, exotic hideaways, brightly coloured dishes, a slice of South India in the middle of Sydney City.
Instead, particularly for those that know the George Street area well, you think of busses that have the capacity to take you out with one side swipe (prior to the "no bus" era we now know and love), club kids lined up outside The Ivy, the frantic pace of passersby jostling out of Wynyard Station.
Would it surprise anyone, then, that a fine dining restaurant, specialising in Southern Indian cuisine, has opened up in the alluring area around Angel Place? It's surprising that it took so long for a restaurant like Indu Dining to open in Sydney, particularly the CBD. Sydney is home to a number of people from all over the world, not the least some 90 thousand people of Indian heritage in NSW alone.
Bells adorn the ceilings in the restaurant
But I'm glad it's finally made its way here. Located in the basement level of a heritage-listed building, it already feels enticing and otherworldly when you take the stairs from street level into the restaurant. The décor calls to mind elements you might see in a travel journal. The ceilings are beautifully decorated, and the waitress who greets us is dressed in a colourful outfit.
The thing that hits you first of all is the aroma! Cinnamon and a whole shebang of spices get you before you've even taken a seat at your table (best to book on a Friday or weekend evening). As you walk into the restaurant, men behind a glass window are busy making flat bread – I'm later told it's a specialised dosa kitchen. I wave shyly to them as we pass, feel free to say g'day to them, they're pretty cool with it!
At the dosa station
When you're seated at your table with a glass of 2015 Keith Tulloch, 'Per Diem' Pinot Gris ($11 by the glass or $48 by the bottle) or whatever you fancy (they have a great range of cocktails too), you'll notice the music softly piping through the speakers. It's like George Harrison & Ravi Shankar sat down at a table in the restaurant itself and injected their hippie sensibilities into the musical atmosphere of the place. And somehow … it works. Song of note: Across the Universe by The Beatles. Naturally.
To begin our central Sydney CBD adventure through southern Indian cuisine, we started with the Smoked goat's leg, zucchini ribbon raita, pomegranate, chilli & bacon jam ($18), and a serving of Paratha ($6, and a great option for vegetarians). It was a great way to ease into the evening, neither dish was overly filling (the goat was not as filling as I originally thought) and we were starving anyway. Aromas and atmosphere are really enough to keep your mind ticking over at all times, a good sensory overload. Other patrons were busily chatting with the people at their table, enjoying their evening. You'll notice an equal amount of locals and visitors, and you can tell who the visitors are by the guidebooks on their tables and the shopping bags by their feet.
We then had the Beetroot & apple raita with roasted walnuts and fresh mint ($6, another good vegetarian option, and gluten free), with Amma's dal (Red lentils, mustard seeds, fresh ground coconut - $12). These are both accompaniments/sides to the main course, and for ours we chose the Pumpkin & green mango curry (made with pandan & curry leaves, basil, coconut milk - $26). For those worried about spiciness, this was fine for me, and I'm pretty wussy with that kind of heat in my food. You can always ask for basmati rice ($6) and the raita and dal go a long way cooling the dish, without taking away from the flavour (of which there is plenty). Curry is a wonderful dish to have if you're up for a "food hug", and by this I mean you just shove spoonful of it into your mouth and damn the consequences – the creaminess and the sweetness of it is what makes this so delicious.
Pumpkin & green mango curry, with Beetroot & apple raita and Amma's dal
No trip to a restaurant is complete without the dessert segment of the evening, and this visit was no exception. We tried two desserts – one was the Watermelon & fresh mint popsicle ($6 each, and again gluten and dairy friendly, and a tick for the vegetarians). As expected, this one was refreshing and interesting, and certainly a treat to have at the tail end of the evening.
But special mention goes to the Gulab jamun ($16), a kind of Indian doughnut-type dessert is the closest comparison that comes to mind, rolled in coconut sand, saffron anglaise, Kashmiri honeycomb shards. It was delicious, dangerously so. Enough to make you want to order another dish of it.
Indu is a special place, an Indian restaurant in the heart of the city that offers a memorable experience for its diners. I would go back in a heartbeat.