*NOTE: Review update at the bottom. 22 July 2016
We’re friends right? Yeah? So I’m just going to confess it upfront: we’ve eaten at over 60 Indian restaurants to date. Yuppers! And that doesn’t include repeat offenses to our favourite spots. You may laugh, but we wear that statement with pride, and I’d go so far to say we’re connoisseurs of the cuisine, at least of the Australian renditions.
Meat eating hubby bear never has a problem with choice whenever we dine Indian and as a vegetarian, it’s probably one of the few cuisines that offer up an insane amount of choice and intense flavour. That said, it’s little wonder we regularly cook it at home (from scratch mind you, as in recipe + mortar & pestle + fresh spices…no pre-made jar mixes in our kitchen!), so when we go out to Indian, it’s serious business.
Sad thing though, despite a majority of Indian places being generally pretty good taste-wise (with only a handful like Machan – our local – that are tasty enough to keep us coming back time after time), they all lack in atmosphere. But that universal truth was broken when we walked into the Curry Cafe in Northcote!
On this particular evening, we decided to try their $15 Thali Time special, available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6pm-7pm, as a way to sample their fare. You get a choice of an entree, two curries (veg & meat options), rice, and naan bread. Impressed by how much you get for the price? Yeah, us too!
We were slightly shocked once in the door, the interior was more in line with a hipster cafe than Indian restaurant (I suppose it’s a nod to their name sake). The relatively small area was fitted with old school diner tables and mix-matched chairs, small bottles of fresh flowers and candles sporadically clinging to the longer wall, and music that made us think there was a DJ hiding underneath the small bar – which had craft beer on tap! Oh yes, that made hubby bear uber-happy!
Service was attentive, albeit it a little scattered at times by what appeared to be the kitchen crew when delivering the meals, but the sweet, smiling English hostess was able to tie everything together smoothly; atmosphere was pumping and perhaps a little on the loud side; and the food was churning out for both the dining room and takeaway. So what did we, the self-proclaimed Indian Food Connoisseurs, think of Thali Time? Two bears’ thumbs up! And here’s why…
We both chose the Pav Baji as our entree, which was a delectable little sammy of spiced egglplant in a brioche bun. OMG! We both couldn’t eaten a plate-full of these, and I think we will next time we go! Hubby bear chose the Lamb Saag Curry which had tender pieces of meat (granted there weren’t many, only a handful – but hey – it’s part of a $15 deal) swimming in a tasty spinach based curry. His second choice, the Mushroom Dahl would have to be the best dahl he’s ever had! Big statement here because hubby usually dismisses dahl as the flavours tend to be pretty subdued. But he enjoyed both curries so much he’s incredibly keen to return to try out the orhers not featured on the Thali Time menu. (He’s not alone in that keenness)
I had the Mixed Veg Curry, which was a bit more ‘classic’ (standard tomato and onion base) in terms of taste and veg variety, but still very good. I also got to try the spinach one as my second option was the Paneer Saag Curry. I can confidently back up hubby’s new found love of this spinach goodness – its creamy flavour was spiced just enough in order to excite the taste buds. The saag left me satisfied with its smooth simplicity after each mouthful. Oh yum, yum, yum!
|“Thali Time” – Pav, Paneer Saag, Mixed Veg, Naan and Rice|
The generous sized naans were well done, crispy but still held some of that bready softness, and the rice was, well rice. And there was lots of it. As a matter of fact, I think we’d go so far as to say there was too much rice compared to the amount of curry on the plate. Okay sure, that’s the only knock we can place against Curry Cafe, and what a minor one!
Oh, and one more thing. Hubby bear was still a little hungry after the thali (yes, that’s indicative of the serving size for you bigger eaters out there, but I was sufficiently full), so he ordered a serve of Samosas ($5/2pcs) to top up the tummy. They were good. Nothing particularly special, but good for the price. The tamarind dipping sauce was the actual stand out for that plate.
So, how did the Curry Cafe fare for us? Very well.
Are they our favourite? No. But they’re high in the rankings and have the potential to be (hey, we only had the thali, hard to judge solely on that)! So, that’s left us with the all important task of having to go back to this trendy little ‘cafe’ to systematically eat through the whole menu! 😉
Quality: ★★★★★ ✔
Value: ★★★★★ ✔
Atmosphere: ★★★★★ ✔
- 22 July 2016 – Update: We went back for dinner the other night for dinner here with very high expectations (given the previous yummy Thali Time meals we had), which were all dashed and slashed! Excepting my Pav Baji entree, the rest of the meal was VERY ORDINARY! Hubby’s Fish Tikka, while flavoursome itself, was so over-charred (yes, we expect some crusty charring with food from the tandoor, but not entire big chunks of the fish turned to charcoal). The salad the fish was sitting on hadn’t been washed properly, so Hubby kept getting bits of grainy-sand when we got closer to the bottom of his plate. Speaking of the plate, it was too small for the portion – as in a small plate sized for a bread roll – making the oil/juice spill all over the table. Hubby’s Lamb Rogan Josh was devoid of any of the Rogan Josh flavour – it tasted like a bowl of bitter tomato and not much more (*note, the lamb was very well cooked though). My Dal Makhani (with added paneer cheese +$4) tasted slightly better but had no real flavour. And despite advising we’ll have our curries “medium” heat spiced, there was no heat at all — and not like in the ‘I never have any chilli sort of way’ — we are seasoned Indian food foodies, we know what to expect when requesting a mid-range spice level. The rice was okay, but the Garlic Naan was pretty bad. Not only was the bread very chewy and gummy (that’s so not what naan bread is meant to be like!), it was – like the fish entree – extremely charred. To the point you got mouthfuls of intense bitter charcoal flavour, which easily over-took the curry flavour because, well, there was no real curry flavour. And to top it off, our server looked like she’d rather be swinging a cat by its tail than be there. So, we don’t mind dropping a bit of money for good food – but the near $78 it cost us to eat and drink there felt like a total waste; and in all honesty, excepting the Pav Baji, there’s nothing to go back for…. and with so many amazing Indian restaurants all over Melbourne, we can’t see going back there anytime soon. If you go, we hope your experience is faaaaaaar better than ours!
- Flavour: ★★☆☆☆
Atmosphere: ★★★★★ ✔