Sometimes, a restaurant is a classic product of a country. Take Aangan at Derrimut where chef-cum-proprietor Sumit Malhotra has pulled every stop to highlight India through the cuisines, décor, taste, sights and sounds. Founded largely on the premise of “highlighting the best of India to Australia,” Sumit’s second venture has created quite a buzz. His first, Aangan at Footscray, set up in 2004 is still a trailblazer. But this one, opened in October 2015, has set the bar really high.
Aangan at Derrimut is definitely one of its kinds. This Indian restaurant run by the affable Sumit is a great package and the result of a year-and a half planning and a million dollar investment. The restaurant itself is comprised of three major sections or three restaurants which can operate independently. As you enter, the front dining room is more a corporate hangout with its classy look and feel. It has an open kitchen from where special South Indian dishes and varieties of chaat are churned out by two busy chefs.
Further inside is the cosy and busiest dining spot which gets easily filled up by 5 pm when the restaurant opens. The high ceiling space is divided into design elements. On one part is an ancient, antique-looking temple door – specially brought from India – sitting pretty on the wall. It is the bridal theme that is at play. So there is the dholi, the temple door and dancers symbolising the fun and colourful celebration of a wedding. On the opposite walls are the mehendi patterns. In Indian marriages, a mehendi ceremony represents the bond of matrimony. Aangan is showcasing Indian tradition quite effectively.
But it is the stairs from here that lead to the most coveted part of the restaurant the Bollywood Lounge, which opens from 7 pm onwards. What makes up this great space is also the five separate booths with artworks of films from different era – Mother India, Sholay, Lagaan, Dabaang and Chennai Express. At night, the colourful ethnic custom made lights hanging on the walls changes the room into another gear. A big projector running Bollywood films keeps the guest entertained. This is one of the cleverest ideas of the restaurant. Sumit says that during birthday parties’ guests bring their own movies to show and during cricket there is live screening. Interestingly, at the recent India-Pakistan match, for every six that India scored, patrons got a free Kingfisher beer.
As we sit there soaking in the ambience, our starters – Chaat platter – arrives via the lift, regally. Both the food and the lift get us excited. According to Sumit, in the entire Brimbank council this is the first restaurant to include a lift. “For purposes of hygiene, to avoid accidents on the stairs and to make the service more efficient, we installed the lift. It is not cheap to have this,” he says.
The chaat platter consisting papri chaat, tikki chaat and dahi bhalla chaat is soothing on a warm evening and is designed to share. A tangy treat straight from the streets of India, this is based on three sauces – tamarind, sour mint and cool yoghurt. Aangan’s replication of the chaats leaves no room for complaint. You are left wanting for more.
We continue this share approach with our main, ordering a Chinese platter and a non-vegetarian thaali. Given the option to choose, we opted for spicy corn, fried rice and chilli chicken for the Chinese platter. The Indo-Chinese here reminds us of the thrill of eating the same in Delhi.
The non-veg thaali consisted of three curries, different naan breads, entrees, pickles, pappadam and a hot gulaab jamun for desert was a perfect sharing meal. As Sumit says, it is the best way to sample Indian food and represents the exotic colours of India. There is sheer exuberance in the flavours.
Because of the success of Aangan at Footscray, Sumit admits to a lot of challenges while shaping the menu at the Derrimut outlet as people’s expectations were high. So while he has maintained most of what he serves in Footscray, there is newer addition such as Puran Singh Da Tari Wala Murgh, a special recipe sourced from Indian dhabas in Punjab where the chicken is cooked with the bone. Dum cooking which includes Handi Chicken and Handi goat (made in a ceramic Handi specially brought from India), and the Indo-Chinese platter are some of the additions to the menu. And with one of the most modern kitchen to boot, speed of service is remarkable. There is nothing worse than waiting for an hour for food to come to the table.
There is plenty to admire at Aangan. Sumit’s move to represent the soul and image of India within the space of his restaurant is evident. Even the stainless steel cutlery and steel wine glasses sharing the same pattern grab attention. Almost 900 kg of goods for the restaurant were transported by air for its timely delivery. This also included the clay plates from Rajasthan giving a blend of both ethnicity and modernity.
Sumit has also taken technology to restaurant business to a new level. “I can control the whole restaurant from my mobile and play different music in all the three sections.” Indeed the need of the customer is taken care of from all fronts. “If people have a party, they can give me an artist name or a list, I have a million song from all genres and languages installed,” says Sumit.
Having been in the hospitality business for over a decade, Sumit has the confidence to take a risk. “There is a risk in everything, even in driving a car from here to there, it is something you can’t avoid,” he says when asked if this massive spend on this big restaurant is worth the venture.
“The reason of setting up this restaurant is to bring that Indian-ness and the experience of dining in a high class Indian restaurant. This is not like a normal Indian restaurant although we have kept the prices as any other normal Indian restaurant,” says Sumit, adding, “We have kept in mind the earning capacity of the common man so we have not upped the prices. People ask us why we are keeping normal prices when we have invested so much or to keep the place for premium customers. I say no because it is the masses that give us the business and we want every family to come with their kids without any second thoughts.”
It is Tuesday but the noise reaches a Friday night crescendo and more and more and more people line up to get in. On weekends the waiting period is 40-50 minutes. Asked if he has achieved what he wanted to going by the volume of customers, he says “If you say you have achieved something, you stop yourself from going further. There is a lot more space for improvement and hopefully we will come out with more or better elegant things in the future. Clearly the location is not important to this enterprising chef who thinks it is food that is paramount to the business. “Even if I open a restaurant 15 km away, if I create something which you won’t get in Melbourne, people will come.”
Derrimut has just got one great dining option in Aangan. And Sumit sells the India image with ease.
By Indira Laisram