When we decided to try the Indian Rogan Josh parked on a humble shopping strip on Burwood Highway at Ferntree Gully, it was with a sense of curiosity we have about any new outlet. Being a Sunday, we were expecting a quiet evening and hoping to monopolise the company of the chef! But to our surprise, the small but cosy restaurant tucked along the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges was house full! A birthday party, takeaway clients and other diners gave us a crowded but a very multicultural vibe as we stepped inside and into the music of Jagjit Singh playing softly in the background.
I thought there was a lot of cooking going on at the mini kitchen of The Indian Rogan Josh where chef and owner Ranjeet Gujral is at the helm with two other assistants. He is all out to put his stamp on the menu. His wife Sandeep who looks at the front of the restaurant is the suave and engaging face of the Indian Rogan Josh. The décor of the place gets our attention with its few beautiful pictures, small Rajasthani artefacts, the slight yellow undertone of colour that is very reminiscent of sandstone walls in traditional Indian homes. After a glass of in-house red wine, we look at the menu which displays a variety of Indian classics.
We try tandoor chicken and tandoori mushroom for the entres. The tandoori chicken is evenly textured, pretty authentic and wrapped with all the essential spices but what surprised us was the tandoori mushroom which came with a cream and cheese sauce, onions and capsicum. I thought it was chef Gujral’s modern take on the button mushrooms. Tossed with a creamy sauce and a bit of cottage cheese and sprinkled with pepper, it was indeed a bold move I thought. It comes with confidence and reflects Gujral’s skills. Very tasty entrée and I am glad we ordered it as it was one of the best tasting tandoori mushrooms I have ever had.
For the mains we have the rogan josh (by which the name of the restaurant goes by), dal makhni, chilli garlic prawns with plain rice and lachha paratha which is a treat with the gravy-based dishes. The dal makhni and rogan josh are par excellence. The aroma of the rice not to mention the generous portions and simple style with which they are served is a great value for money.
Gujral is from Mohali in Punjab where he studied hospitality and cooking. After that he began working in reputed chain of hotels such as The Taj Palace and Maurya Sheraton, Le Meredian in Delhi, and Leela hotel in Mumbai before he moved to New Zealand and finally migrating to Melbourne in 2006. In Melbourne he worked with Haveli for four years and Ragam for another few years before he opened The Indian Rogan Josh nine months ago. “It is every chef’s dream to own a restaurant,” he says.
Gujral, 36, has successfully converted a café into a restaurant and even though he is a few months into running the restaurant, he is happy with his kitchen which speaks a lot about the passion element of this restaurant. Like every other true seasoned Indian chef, he says he is interested in serving authentic Indian dish “proper Indian style and not laced with sugar and added cream”. The Indian food reputation is dipping and I want to lift that, he says. “People say they feel bloated the day after they eat Indian food with its thick spiced gravies and I want to prove that it does not happen that way”.
It is an earnest effort and going by the steady stream of clients, The Indian Rogan Josh, a take on the famous dish of Kashmir is definitely worth a visit. But it is the other important elements – the hot fresh food, the amiable hostess, the very reasonable prices along with local wine to its equation – that makes the modest Indian Rogan Josh a very good experience. It is also exciting to see the Gujrals enthuse great energy and aroma along the Dandenong ranges.
By Indira Laisram