Indian Food Taken to the Next Level
It is with huge thanks to Milo from Markson Sparks and the fantastic staff and hosts from Manjit’s on the Wharf in Darling Harbour that I got to have three of the best things in my life. 1) The best lamb cutlets I have ever eaten, 2) The best Indian Food I have ever eaten and 3) (the most important) – the best meal I have been able to take my mum out to. It honestly doesn’t get any better than that.
Manjit’s are Indian Restaurants that have been running for over thirty years in Australia. They have a venue in Balmain and the newer location mum and I were spoiled at overlooking Darling Harbour on King St Wharf. Manjit’s is a “family” of Indian cuisine masters that have been generational in their skills and knowledge. Manjit’s great great (I don’t know how many greats) grandfather was literally part of inventing butter chicken. These people know Indian food and it is probably this reason I have never seen or eaten Indian food like it. It was like Bennelong or NOMA having an Indian night, every dish was a work of art and the flavours and presentation was next level.
The staff were incredibly friendly and the venue is stunning in its layout and view. It is a large venue and can cater for large and small groups and even large corporate or wedding functions. The venue is managed efficiently and the place is immaculate, I could literally white glove the entire venue and not get a speck of dust – my OCD was buzzing as much as the tastebuds.
We sat on the (enclosed for the day) balcony on the large Sydney storm day for lunch and I thought we would be here for an hour, have an entree or two and a couple of mains. We ended up with a twelve course feast with wines, each dish chosen for us and explained in detail. Mum has had a few medical issues over the years and it has left her diet quite bland, she had lost her culinary sense of experimentation so to say. Not so in Majit’s – I saw mum come out of her shell and try everything, and love most of them.
We had plans of an afternoon birthday party with food and were then going out to review another restaurant for dinner after Manjit’s. Hahaha – we rolled in to the party, stayed for an hour or so and had to cancel dinner because we were so full. But that good full with food you dream about.
Of the food we couldn’t finish mum suggested we ask for doggy bags. I was mortified – “mum this venue is way too nice to request doggy bags, just NO.” The venue, thinking ahead and not wanting for anything to go to waist, had paper bags filled with left over containers for us waiting on departure. They weren’t asked, they packed it up nice for us to eat at leisure, it was those little touches that sets this place apart from others.
As we arrived we were served the very original papadums above – lovely presentation and perfection in papadums. This started what is unquestionably one of the best meals I have ever eaten, we were treated like Mahārāja and Maharani and the food matched our title on every level.
Gol Gol Gappa
First off the mark was the stunning Gol Gol Gappa – a contemporary twist on a classic street food delight. Crisp pastry filled with spiced chickpea and potato, served with tamarind and amchur caviar. The amchur caviar comes in a little pouring jug and you pour it into the pastry and pop the entire thing in your mouth for a tart and spice explosion. Once we got this one in our mouths we knew we were in for something special and not your touristy Darling Harbour eatery, this place was the real deal.
The following was a family favourite and one that made me miffed with the mother. Shanabuk Seasoned Hervey Bay scallops seared with fennel oil and served on a bed of lotus root and beetroot powder. One of the best tasting scallops of all time – I wanted to face plant into that dipping powder and lick it up puppy style. Why was I miffed with the motheroo you may ask? Out of the four scallops on the plate one would imagine two each would be fair, nope – she nicked a third one like a starving convict. Perfect excuse though “I probably won’t be able to eat much of the food coming.” Oddly she managed just fine!! You will keep old lady!! Got you pegged!
Cottage Cheese gets Sexy
We started to notice the dishes all had a vibrant artistry in their presentation and said presentation easily matched the taste. Next up was Rawat Ka Paneer Tikka – 24hr marinated cottage cheese smoke-roasted with onion, capsicum and tomato, finished with fresh coriander. Another of my favourite dishes, I already loved it before it went in my mouth. It was like it was painted on the plate. The combination of the marinated cheese with the coriander sauce had my toes curling and my eyes rolling back in my head. This plus the scallops are MUST ORDER dishes when visiting Manjit’s.
Best Lamb Cutlets of ALL TIME
And so is this dish – easily the best lamb cutlets I have ever eaten – I could have ordered another plate of these. Bharrah Kebab – Lamb cutlets marinated with yogurt, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and red spices. Don’t even think about it – order these babies first – and one plate per two people or get a plate each, I still dream about them. As for the colour of them – in this pic I have actually toned the vibrance down a splash – sunglasses required.
Following on from the lamb was a sublime following dish that was subtle in flavour plus a contemporary artwork in presentation. Fish Malai – Lightly marinated market fish fillets tenderly roasted and served with the four signature chutneys of Indian cuisine. The serving plate was a ceramic painter’s palette with the five sauces served in a row to paint on your fish. No brushes but the serving knife was as perfect a utensil as the fish was cooked. It was lightly seasoned in the cooking to take full advantage of those punchy sauces.
To be honest mum and I would have been happy with that and one dessert to share but we had only just begun – they truly took this extravagance to town on us – something I will never forget. Here came one of their signature dishes and the first smoked cloche dish mum had ever seen. Baingan Takatak – Smoke-roasted baby eggplant mashed with onion, tomato and chilli prepared on the traditional “tawa” hotplate. Beautiful in presentation but too bold in flavours for both mum and myself.
Of the dishes we had tasted so far this was the one that came closes to the older, traditional Indian flavours that I would imagine. This did taste nice when paired with Manjit’s Naan bread – honestly the biggest naan I have ever seen – I wasn’t happy with the pics of the naan but trust me – it was as long as my arm.
Manjit’s Signature Mains
We were honestly stuffed by this time but the food kept coming and it was sensational to eat. I wanted to die of gluttony in this place and these next two dishes are MUST ORDERS. At the top of the pic is their genius Dum Ki Biryani. A specialty from the Moghul days. Fragrant basmati rice, pressure cooked in stock with tender chicken thigh fillet, safron, sultanas and nuts.
The clever part of their biriyani – it’s made as a pie – all the ingredients are put in a ceramic pot with a pastry pie lid and oven baked. The entire thing pressure cooks itself into heavenly delight. Our very awesome waiter removed the pie top for us, stirred up the ingredients and then served it for us. A delightful dish ingeniously designed and delivered.
Following on is the bottom dish in the pic. The absolutely mind blowing Lamb Shoulder Anark ali. A popular version of “hadi walla” lamb hailing from the North of India from the times of the Mughal Empire. A preparation of pomegranate and molasses in a rich pot gravy. This dish had me close to passing out in bliss, besides the flavours I put it down to the quick whip it up slow roast of FORTY HOURS!!! Eat this one with either rice of naan. I ate mine with biriyani rice and I am in awe at this dish. Fave dish right there!!
The final main we indulged in, or more so force fed ourselves was Chicken Annah Khas. A semi dry style curry with black pepper and fennel blended with Manjit’s signature spices, finished with okra. It paled in comparison to the above scene stealers but it was still a delightful dish. This was one of the dishes we could not finish however lucky for me, two days later it was the most epic work lunch of the week.
Following the mains mum and I had the honour of meeting the man himself, Varun Gujral, head chef and gastronomic extraordinaire. He told us the story of the restaurant and confirmed the butter chicken tale. He has designed this menu to highlight the modern gastronomy that is booming in Indian chefs. His kitchen is made up from chefs from all over India and the diversity of skill is evident in the food. It can’t be placed in one region but more represents the future of food from India.
Mum was a little taken at the man, he has a real presence and somehow managed to talk us into two desserts without us even umming or ahhing.
Lucky for us because MY ANNAPURNA (Hindu goddess of nourishment) they were insane!! First off for dessert was the Kaala Jamun. The classic Indian doughnut, soaked in a sweet syrup spiced with cardamom and served warm with rose ice cream. I should never have told Varun it was international doughnut day the day prior because he insisted we must have this dish. We were not disappointed, and my OCD went nuts that they were like babushka doughnuts with each one smaller than the previous.
Then out came the signature dessert, their famed Mango Pistachio Kulfi. India’s favourite ice cream! A tall spire starting with a sweet mango cream on top complimented with an earthy pistachio on the bottom. It was like a mango pistachio upside down Cornetto without the cone but it was so much better. For my invite to attend Manjit’s from Milo – all he sent me was this picture and “would you like to review Manjit’s?” My fingers couldn’t type fast enough. Simple, elegant, sweet and sublime. It made the entire dish wrap to a close with a cone of heaven.
Thank you for your patience in making it to the end of this epic review of what has now taken the title of me favourite venue in Sydney. I am not usually a fancy food lover, NOMA and Bennelong (and the like) are out of my price range. Manjit’s may appear as extravagant and expensive however the most expensive dish was the lamb shoulder at $42-. The Mango Pistachio Kulfi is only $11- and the rest of the dishes are in between. I kept wine out of this review or it would have been a thesis on Manjit’s. I found the best way to enjoy the drinks was to ask the waiters what they thought – every wine for mum and myself was exquisite.
If you think Indian food is only something you collect on the way home in a plastic container think again, this is not traditional. Manjit’s has taken the traditional and made it exquisite while maintaining respect for the ingredients and the dishes you may know.
It’s a perfect five spoons from me, the only one awarded this year so far.
Manjit’s @ The Wharf Deets:
King Street Wharf, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Phone: (02) 9279 3379
7 days: 11am to 10pm
*** JK (and any guests of Spooning Australia) were invited guests of the establishment. However, ss always, if it was shite I would happily tell you as such.