Malabar, Darlinghurst

When it comes to excellent and authentic Indian restaurants, the area of Sydney where I live is a bit of a desert.  Such a shame because I do love Indian cuisine.  However, an opportunity recently presented itself where I was invited to dine at an award-winning Indian restaurant.  I leapt at the chance.

Malabar, a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of South India

Malabar, a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of South India

Malabar at Darlinghurst is a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of South India, that part of India famous for being ‘on the spice trail’.  Spices, that were discovered long ago and imported by the Greco-Roman world and later by the European nations, where pepper became so valuable it became a currency considered more stable than money.

Interior

A stunning interior

And all these years later the spice trail of Southern India continues bringing spices like pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and curry leaves to every part of the globe.  Mohammed Sali was born in Southern India where he grew up to become a chef then work at prestigious hotels in India and the Middle East, and now his talent has taken him to Australia.

Bar area

Bar area


Mohammed opened Malabar in 2003 where he works as head chef, and his Swedish-born partner, Emily, runs the front of house.  In December last year the restaurant moved five doors down the street to its current position on the highly visible corner of Victoria Street and Craigend Street.

Open kitchen

Open kitchen

Mohammed says Indian cuisine is based on wellness and, as it dates back 5000 years, is one of the oldest cuisines in the world.  There are historical Indian books from that era that give advice on balancing meat with vegetables, instructions on what foods pair best together, and information on under what circumstances food should be eaten.  Mohammed has taken this approach into his kitchen with a goal of creating healthy food which can improve, repair, strengthen, and sometimes cure the body.

A wall of framed art

A wall of framed art

Malabar is very centrally located however, parking on the streets near the restaurant is an issue as there is a time limit of just one hour.  We did find valet parking within 50mtrs of the restaurant for just $15.00.

Hard at work

Action in the kitchen

We arrived at Malabar on a scorching hot summer’s evening.  I was trying to keep cool by wearing a sundress however when we stepped into Malabar I experienced ‘climate change’.  The restaurant is very cool and coming inside from a 27C (80F) evening was a bit of a shock.  I’d advise bringing something to put over your shoulders to keep you warm.

A pretty interior

A very contemporary setting

The interior of the restaurant is stunning.  Brand new, a lot of effort has been put into sound-proofing the venue so there is no issue with noise.  The 110-seat restaurant is contemporary and minimalist with incredible, wall-sized black and white images depicting scenes from a royal Indian wedding in 1905.  Your eyes are drawn to these images that depict India as it was over a century ago.

An image of a wedding in India from 1905.

An image of a wedding in India from 1905.

The lighting in the restaurant is very contemporary and while dim enough to be flattering, there is still enough light to see what you’re eating.  There is plenty of wait-staff who are dressed in smart uniforms, are attentive, gracious and smiling.

I love the lighting

I love the overhead lights

The kitchen is run completely by Indians as Mohammed says they best understand the spices and the balance of Indian flavours.

Open kitchen

Open kitchen

We were shown to a table with a view through the window to the city’s skyline.  As the day had been very hot I started with a gin and tonic made with organic tonic water.  It was very refreshing especially with the slice of orange giving it some citrus notes.

Four pillars gin with organic tonic: $14.00

Four pillars gin with organic tonic: $14.00

Drew started with an Indian beer, a Kingfisher, and apparently, Malabar was the first restaurant to import the beer into Oz.

Kingfisher Beer from India: $9.00

Kingfisher Beer from India: $9.00

Our first entree to arrive was the Kheema Dosai.  Southern India is famous for it’s dosai that is a crepe however unlike the French version, it’s made with rice and lentils.  It was extremely light and crispy and filled with homemade lamb mince with fenugreek, fresh ginger and a hint of cinnamon.  The dosai was served with a coconut chutney that was delightful and while the crepe was crispy, the filling was very soft creating a wonderful contrast of textures.

Kheema Dosai

Kheema Dosai

The next dish was one of my favourites of the night.  It was the Cauliflower and Potato Bonda which is a traditional street snack.  These little balls reminded me of aranchini balls but were cauliflower florettes mixed with spicy potato, coriander and red onion and served with a mint yoghurt.  Excellent flavours in these balls that were light and delicate but packed with flavour.

Cauliflower & Potato Bonda: Chennai Street Snack

Cauliflower & Potato Bonda: Chennai Street Snack

The Mellagu Prawns, tiger prawns tossed in peppercorns, red onion, tomato relish and fennel seeds, had a lot of heat which is typical of Southern Indian cuisine.  Good thing I’m happy with a lot of heat!  Drew loved these prawns.

Mellagu Prawns: From Tamil Nadu

Mellagu Prawns: From Tamil Nadu

We were given the opportunity of trying some Indian wine.  I didn’t actually know that wine was produced in India.  Apparently you can’t buy Indian wine in Oz and Malabar is one of the few places you can find it.  We had a bottle of Grover Zampa La Reserve Viognier from the Nandi Hills, India.  It’s a very light-coloured wine that smells like it’s going to be quite fruity but is actually very dry.  On a hot night it was a very drinkable wine.

Grover Zampa La Reserve Viognierfrom the Nandi Hills, India: $34.00

Grover Zampa La Reserve Viognier from the Nandi Hills, India: $34.00

We tried a selection of curries for our main course.  The first was Lamb Varutha; lean diced leg of lamb braised with homegrown curry leaves and coarse peppercorns, seasoned with garam masala based on fennel and star anise.  The aroma as this curry hit the table was incredible and I couldn’t wait to try it.  The lamb was extremely tender and it was deliciously spicy.

Lamb Varutha: From the Chettiar kitchen (HOT)

Lamb Varutha: From the Chettiar kitchen

The curry I really loved was the Duck Moilee; duck slowly simmered in coconut milk with red chilli and seasoned with coriander and fennel powder.  This was a more creamy and mild curry and the duck fell from the bones with a gentle nudge.  I enjoyed this with the paratha bread.

Duck Moilee: Popular dish around Kerala backwaters

Duck Moilee: Popular dish around Kerala backwaters

We also had the Goan Fish Curry cooked in light coconut milk with a blend of chilli, turmeric, cumin and coriander seeds.  This was a curry with a modest kick of chilli and definitely a favourite with Drew.  He said it was ‘absolutely fantastic’ and too good to eat with the provided rice and breads and instead wanted to enjoy the flavours all by themselves.

Goan Fish Curry: From Goa

Goan Fish Curry: From Goa

There are plenty of vegetarian options on the menu and another curry that Drew really enjoyed was the Baby Eggplant and Potato Curry.  This was a more mild curry that was soft in texture and excellent sandwiched between some naan bread.

Baby Eggplant & Potato: Andhra Style Brinjal Potato Fry

Baby Eggplant & Potato: Andhra Style Brinjal Potato Fry

We didn’t need anything else but there were desserts on the menu and as I don’t know a lot about Indian desserts, we decided to try them.  The first was Rasmalai which is a handmade steamed paneer bonda in a velvety cream with a saffron and cardamon infused milk.  I didn’t really enjoy the texture or taste of this dessert.

Rasmalai: Paneer Bonda

Rasmalai: Paneer Bonda

The next dessert we tried was the Gulab Jamun that are served warm and are a sticky sweet milk dumpling soaked in rose and cardamon sugar syrup.  This was like a doughnut and as I’m a fan of rosewater, I really enjoyed the syrup that soaked into the dumpling.

Gulab Jamun: Golden Dumplings

Gulab Jamun: Golden Dumplings

My absolute favourite dessert was the Mango and Pistachio Kulfi which is Indian ice cream made from condensed milk.  I loved the presentation and thought the little mango pearls were stunning as well as a delightful burst of flavour as they popped in your mouth.  A chilled and refreshing dessert like this is an excellent way to finish off an Indian feast.

Pistachio and Mango Kulfi with mango pearls

Pistachio and Mango Kulfi with mango pearls

During our meal I watched as Mohammed went from table to table, warmly greeting the diners.  There was fuss made of a woman celebrating a special birthday, attention given to a large table celebrating an event, and warm greetings to other diners who clearly are regulars.  Mohammed is a warm and friendly chef who is keen to meet and converse with diners at his restaurant.  If you ask him questions about South-Indian cuisine, his face lights up and he’s eager to share his knowledge with you.

Chef Mohammed

Chef Mohammed

Malabar is a stand-out Indian restaurant that offers a comprehensive menu together with an extensive wine list in a contemporary and stunning setting.  The flavours in the dishes presented are incredible, original and so interesting you pause as you taste each dish.  For anyone seeking an authentic Indian dining experience, I can highly recommend Malabar at Darlinghurst.

Malabar Paratha

Malabar Paratha

Verdict:  I can’t wait to dine there again.

A light and refreshing wine

A light and refreshing Indian wine

Malabar South Indian Cuisine:  Cnr Victoria Street & Craigend Street, Darlinghurst

Having a chat

Having a chat

Hotly Spiced and Crew dined as guests of Malabar.

A large image from 1905

Comments

  1. It looks like you enjoyed a very diverse and flavourful array of dishes. I’m a fan of rasmala though I know some people don’t care for the spongy texture. If having to choose though, I’d take the gulab jamun. 🙂

  2. Clearly Peter and I need to get to Sydney more often!

  3. I have seen pictures of this restaurant before, its lovely isn’t it?. Well Charlie I never, Indian wine is new to me, although why they wouldn’t make it I don’t know but i would love to try it. Mmm embarrassing look at me all I can do is ask for a glass of wine when there are dosas on offer. Love them too.

  4. I like Indian food, too, although I’ve only been to one Indian restaurant in a town 15 miles away. There are few Indian restaurants in rural Minnesota. The food, with the exception of one dish featured here, was not at all like you ate. So I was perhaps getting an Americanized version of Indian food. Still love the taste.

    What a lovely setting. I could probably study that wedding photo all evening.

  5. I love Indian food! North, South, East, or West — I’ll eat it all. But I particularly like the food of the south — tends to be spicier, and so inventive with vegetarian dishes. Plus there’s dosai! A real favorite of mine. Terrific review — thanks.

  6. I love Indian food too and by the photos it looks like you dined very well. Indian wine? Who knew that – but why not I guess. I would have been mesmerised with the old photos too!

  7. The decor and food both look marvelous!! I need Bill to expand his ethnic cuisine beyond Italian 🙂

  8. Looks like a wonderful place to dine. Not anything like that in our part of the state.

  9. What an absolutely stunning restaurant, and the food looks superb. Thanks for sharing this find.

  10. Hi Charlie, I did not start eating Indian food until a year ago and now it is one of my favorites, looks like a great place.

  11. Love love love Indian food!

  12. That’s the nicest looking Indian restaurant I’ve seen. Up in our area there are icons, velvet curtains with or without tassels and it’s like they want to be sure that every cliche is catered for.

    This place looks classy.

    • That’s what impressed me, Maureen – we’ve moved on from 1970 and are doing something contemporary and eye-pleasing – not a tasseled velvet curtain in sight!

  13. i had no idea that india made wine but then again i didn’t know till a while ago that china has a huge olive oil industry. this looks amazing. i love the wedding photos on the wall. so fascinating.

  14. Malabar is fabulous! I love their peshwari naan-but of course he won’t share that recipe! 😉 It is very cold in there I agree!

  15. Kris Radge says:

    Wow Charlie,
    That looks gorgeous!!! What a treat tasting so many dishes.
    I look forward to going too & hopefully get to chat with Mohammed. Thanks for the great review!
    Kris xx

  16. All the dishes look gorgeous. fish curry is my favorite and of course the desserts. So clean and beautiful restaurant.

  17. I enjoy some Indian food, but unfortunately it doesn’t like me much & I suffer for it.
    It’s great to hear of a restaurant taking steps to reduce noise. I’m soooo over having to shout at dining companions in noisy restaurants.

  18. What a fantastic place!! I love the marvelous array of flavors and textures you received with each course.

  19. I love Indian food but most of the places I dine are not as fine as this establishment. This looks divine. The food is presented quite attractively as well. The overall ambiance of this lovely restaurant really appeals to me. 🙂

  20. Ooo, wish I could have join you.
    Have a happy weekend Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  21. Sounds fantastic and interestingly our favourite indian restaurant here in Melbourne is called Malabar Hut. I would love to eat that eggplant curry in some naan bread. The blown up photos on the wall are stunning – they remind me a bit of Reaching Tin River by Thea Astley.

  22. I’ve never eaten in an Indian restaurant. The next time we go to Seattle we’ll have to seek one out. Something about eating Indian food in our little city doesn’t appeal to me. ha The food looked fabulous and I would love the spicy heat!

  23. We have recently driven past this restuarant several times and each time the husband has said, “Let’s go, it looks good”. I will now get into action and make a reservation, it sounds yum and I think the boys would like it too. Indian desserts are an acquired taste, generally they are too sweet for my palate (the intent being the sugar content will cut through the previously consumed chilli) …the Mango Kulfi would be my pick…thank you for the review. xxx

  24. I love Indaian foods & this restaurant sounds like a real winner! I love it all! 🙂

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