If there is something consistent to the buzz and busy nature of Flinders Station, it is Flora Indian restaurant bang opposite the station on Flinders Street. This iconic Indian restaurant that satisfies the palate of unending stream of tourists and locals quietly completes 18 years of successful operation. For those who hold the tenets of Indian cuisine close – good ingredients and variety or simply the staples of butter chicken and rogan josh, they will find all of it here.
A restaurant run by a close-knit family of four, Flora brings Indian charm, hospitality and warmth. Be it early morning, afternoon or evening, there’s piping hot food and snacks on the go. You can’t ignore the hot samosas, chicken tikka, pakoras (vegetable fritters) or chat papadi.
The menus are always on rotation, keeping it interesting for everyone. While there is plenty to choose from, you cannot neglect the butter chicken, chicken achari, lamb rogan josh or vindaloo, paneer (cottage cheese) and daal of the day. Wind off with a hot masala chai. For others, there is also the weekend special of chole bhature that many look forward to. The servings are generous and it is always value for money at Flora. It’s a surprise to find food of this calibre and price range in this prime location.
“We try to keep our food wholesome and not too commercial but make it like home cooked food without excess oil, fat, or spices. We try to keep it authentic too,” says Pankaj Bajaj. “We do have seasonal curries. We do Okra Masala a lot especially in the winters.”
Flora’s popularity lies in the authenticity of its foods. Bajaj admits that it is difficult to get customer feedback on an everyday basis but “it feels really good” when people do walk up to them and suggest why don’t they open another outlet elsewhere.
Eighteen years is a long time. The gamble has paid off for the Bajajs, who do not like to talk about themselves. More than the money, they modestly admit it is serving people that gives them greater satisfaction – be it tour groups who come with a set menu or everyday local customers.
The supplies are sourced from credible, reputable houses, hygiene is a big focus and quality is the name of their game. They understand they are in a business where they cannot afford to be complacent and hence want to remain on top of their game. Nobody can miss a flight for a dosa. Everything is on time.
Flora has a strong staff and a great team that ensures the business runs smoothly without any hiccups. The Bajajs are grateful to their dedicated staff without whom the business cannot function. With a strong 140-seating, this restaurant is a definition of home dining where food is served quick, hot, flavoursome and with love. Asked if there is any vision going forward, the Bajajs say people have asked about expansion but they have stretched to the maximum and don’t want to divide their time setting up another outlet. Just like everyone else, the restaurant, they aver, has given them full time employment. They are not ready to divide their attention elsewhere. “We are happy that this is unique and we would like to focus on serving better rather than expansion. There is so much competition around. We try to keep up with everyone,” says Pankaj, who believes he has evolved along with the restaurant.
What they would like of course is a bit of refurbishment. Make it bright perhaps! “The four walls of this restaurant is about love,” quips Pankaj. Indeed, Flora expands the definition of Indian dining on a busy street overlooked by a family that makes sure every customer is king and the staff its family!
Location: 238 Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000; Tel: (03) 9663 1212
By Indira Laisram