Founded by chef Kumar Mahadevan, Abhi’s Indian (named after his son Abhinav) at North Strathfield has been setting the benchmark for Indian cuisine in Sydney since 1990. The family also run Aki’s Indian at Woolloomooloo, a fancier, more refined experience, named after his second son, Akilesh. Over the years, Kumar’s commitment to regional Indian cooking has been showcased through menus featuring wheat-based breads and tandoori flavours of the north, string hoppers and dosa of the south (Kumar’s native region) and seafood dishes from India’s west coast. As Kumar himself says on his website, “drawing on influences from the major food regions of India, the dishes use only the best local produce and combine classical traditional recipes with a modern interpretation creating a true culinary experience”. It’s no wonder the restaurants have become so highly regarded by the Indian community and local Sydneysiders.
In celebration of Abhi’s 25th anniversary, loyal patrons were invited to milestone dinners themed ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’. The event was so well received that it had to be extended onto a third night. My dinner partner, Jen, and I walked in to a festive atmosphere buzzing with long-time customers. We were welcomed at our beautifully decorated table by Kumar and a glass of champagne. With the menu card doubling as a family album collage of behind-the-scenes photos of Kumar and his family, we too, felt like we had grown up with the restaurant.
The amuse bouche was Mulligatawny Soup accompanied with scallop and kingfish bhel, a play on the traditional Bhel Puri. The soup of Anglo-Indian origin in Tamil (Kumar’s home state) translates as ‘pepper water’. Kumar’s version was calming and rich with lentils. Bhel Puri is famous on the streets of Mumbai; this crunchy and slightly sour dish had our mouths popping and ready for more.
The first course highlight was Chicken Palli Palayam, crispy chicken lightly flavoured with a green chilli, ginger and black pepper crust. This was accompanied by a delicious South Indian Beetroot Porrial, made of finely diced beetroot, stir fried with mustard and fennel seeds, curry leaves and flavoured with freshly grated coconut, and a bed of Gucchi Paneer Khicidi, morrels, cottage cheese and mung beans with pomegranate pearls and lotus stem.
The second course featured one of Kumar’s personal favourites, a slightly sweet-sour dish called Salmon Kothmiri Tikki. Here, it is elegantly presented as a salmon roulade served in a spicy tamarind and chickpeas kozambhu (the Tamil word for ‘gravy’). The salmon was accompanied with Noolappam, more commonly known as String Hoppers which are steamed noodles made from rice flour. We were encouraged to go downstairs to witness the theatrics of a live demonstration of the string hoppers being made from scratch. Served with a spicy grated coconut mixture, this course defunct all myths about Indian cuisine being rich and heavy. The composition of the fish curry and the lacy string hoppers celebrated the salmon as the hero of the dish, and the overall lightness and aromatics were exquisite.
The main course spread was the ultimate Indian feast. We all agreed that the Tandoori Jumbo Prawns marinated with yoghurt, garam masala, mace threads and saffron were a winner, particularly with the charred flavour of the tandoor oven. There was also Chooza Masala, a flavoursome spatchcock rubbed with a Goan spice mix and oven cooked with potatoes, malt vinegar and pearl onions; Lamb Kari Kozhambhu, tender lamb in a ground coconut, cassia, fennel, tumeric and poppy seed sauce; Keerai Pappu, a comforting dhall with spinach, yellow lentils, browned garlic, cumin and dried whole chillis, and Abhi’s well-loved ghee rice and veech paratha.
Finally there was dessert – fresh raspberries, goats milk sorbet, vanilla custard, yoghurt shards and saffron honeycomb – it seemed to be of ‘Tomorrow’ as Kumar said he wanted to trial some new flavours to cleanse the palate. I was hoping for Abhi’s fragrant rose kulfi but perhaps that will still be on the menu as part of ‘yesterday’.
Thank you to Kumar and family, and the friendly helpful staff for a wonderful night. Cheers to Abhi’s and the next 25 years!
Abhi’s anniversary dinner was held on 14th, 15th, 16th July 2015 at $68/person.
163 Concord Rd, North Strathfield, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9743 3061
Photography by Jennifer Lam; taken on Canon 5d Mark III. Camera equipment from Discount Digital Photographics
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Abhi’s Indian