When Sabby Soodan and Prakash Mahtolia opened Indii of Clare at the Clare Valley in South Australia more than a year ago, they knew the buck would not stop there. They shared a common dream: to open a restaurant. Together with another friend and business partner Jag Khairajai in the fray, the trio has made a double leap of faith towards that dream. Last month, Indii of Brighton was added to the bustling street of Bay Street in Brighton operating full throttle for lunch, dinner and parties.
With Indii of Clare bringing an Indian delight to one of the oldest wine regions of Australia, the three friends were prompted to replicate its success in Melbourne. Indii of Brighton is an ambitious project with a lot of wow factors. Chef Sudhir, who has 15 years of experience behind him, has been specially brought from India. A designer has worked at giving the place its plush look and feel with minimum décor doing away with overtly Indian artefacts that most Indian restaurants have. With 110 seating and three different dining areas – one suited for families, another for couples and romantic diners and the third on the porch with heaters installed for the cooler months – ambience along with food and hospitality has been given equal thought.
Sabby, Prakash and Jag have created food that is a product of their culture and homeland that they consider authentic contrary to what many people here are used to in the name of Indian food here. As students in their early days in Australia, they recall being a bit disappointed with “what we found and ate here”. That is why they are hell bent on giving ‘the satisfaction’ of Indian cuisines.
Of course, the critical factor to assess still remained the food. “Our food highlights are: authentic cuisine, quality meat and produce and attention to detail,” says Sabby. So we had a bit of a spread. The menu proffers mainly dishes from the north and few other parts of India. Therefore it wears its Indian credentials well and does away with fusion and the Indo-Chinese, a fad with many restaurants now.
Our entre consisted of the Amritsari fish and chicken tikka. Those who have explored these two dishes in Delhi would marvel at how authentic these are at Indii. “We don’t marinate the fish because nothing gets into fish, so we use cut pieces in fresh dip of the marinade and it is put on the tandoor rather than frying them,” explains Sabby. That explains the fresh light taste of the fish cured in lime juice and served with a tangle of extremely fresh salad leaves. The tikka was nicely charred and moist, almost melting in the mouth.
The main course of goat masala, saag paneer, prawn malabar, nizami tawa murg accompanied by garlic naan, butter naan and roti was indeed a big assortment and on a cold winter night, they worked really well. We were having our own culinary expedition at Brighton. Its lamb pepper masala and murg kali mirch is not common and even its Lucknowi Lamb or lamb shanks is a drawcard here. Each dish had distinct flavour and Sabby helped us with the wine, which is another highlight of Indii.
The owners’ ambitions in the menu reflect in their list of 35 wines which was prepared by award-winning sommelier Dan Sims. Dan has created a wine list to match the nuances of Indian cuisine. “Think soft, textured wines, rounded, fruit-driven style reds with soft edges and rounded mouth feel. All have been selected to best reprint their style, grape variety and region.”
Indii of Brighton ticks all the boxes – good vibe, flavoursome food and friendly staff. Sabby also believes they are filling a gap. “Between Elwood to Modialloc there are only few notable Indian restaurants, so it is exciting.” He has put his IT background into use installing a system where nobody goes into the kitchen with a docket. “The chef won’t prepare anything unless it comes through the system.” The day after they opened, they had a party for 45 guests. Such preparedness is sure to stand them in good stead, especially on busy weekends!
Work is ‘conveniently’ shared. While Jag looks after the front part, Sabby makes sure that food goes through him. “Quality is our focus and to stay in competition, to be on top we have to have that. We incorporate basic things which will work everywhere – quality food, good ambience and very good service. We also go to a lot of restaurants and we know what works.”
They believe they have started something unique. Admittedly, it was a long drive for us to get to Indii of Brighton but this will remain one of our fetish dinners, for sure!
By Indira Laisram