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Lonsdale Street in Braddon has the reputation of being one of Canberra’s favourite foodie strips.
But there’s one place along there that you may not have heard of—and that means you’ve been missing out. I’m talking about Darbar, an Indian restaurant tucked away in the Mode 3 building.
I’d heard about Darbar from a friend who said she’d heard it was one of the best Indian restaurants in Canberra; so when an invitation to dine there landed in my inbox, I jumped at the chance.
Indian food is best enjoyed shared, so I recruited some friends to come with me—it was the first visit for all of us and we were interested to see dishes on the menu that we’d never heard of before.
In situations like this, I think it’s fun to be surprised, so we decided to let Darbar’s owner, Vinay Yalamanchili, and his team choose for us. We were amused at his heads-up that we’d be really, really full by the end of the night—we should have taken proper heed of his words (more on this later). Vinay and his team have been running two restaurants in Sydney for over 15 years so it’s safe to say we were in good hands.
First up was a serve of pappadums with cucumber and yoghurt raita, and mango chutney—a delicious take on the traditional starter and a wonderful way to whet our appetites.
Next was one of the most visually stunning dishes any of us had ever seen: Darbar chaat. The menu describes it as crisped spinach tossed together with potato and chickpeas topped with ‘tongue twisting’ sauce.
It was a shame to ruin such a pretty pattern, but the taste was worth it—a cold dish, it was wonderful and refreshing with a great mix of textures and flavours. One of my friends called it ‘dinner cereal’. A must try—we all loved it.
A serve of beetroot bonda followed, dumplings made from potato and beetroot with a chillies, mustard seeds and spices, coated with chickpea flour. Their crispy exterior and moist centres were moreish, with a kick of spice after each bite. Stuffed zucchini flowers were next, each offering a delicate crunch and packing a lot of flavour into a small package.
Chicken 65—so-called because it features a ‘65 days aged chicken’—is one for the spice lovers, with heat building and really kicking in a few moments after eating— the chicken was beautifully tender.
Jal Pari Hariyali—marinated Tasmanian salmon fillets with turmeric, cashew paste, cumin, coriander powder and lemon juice, served with crisped sweet potato mint sauce on a bed of spiced potatoes; and Prawn Vepudu—prawns with spicy lentil powder, curry leaves, garam masala, cracked pepper, onions and fresh coriander were next. Both dishes were elegantly presented and had an impressive depth of flavour.
We all perked up when the next dish came, an impressive looking Masala Dosai—a long rice pancake rolled with spiced potato masala, served with coconut chutney and sambar. This was a table-favourite—really fun to eat.
By this point we were getting pretty full, so when Vinay told us that we’d only eaten the entrees, we weren’t quite sure how we would fit the rest in! The first dish of round two was a serve of Aloo Tikka Chole—spiced potato patties served with chickpea curry and was absolutely delicious.
The presentation of the next dish was very unexpected: bamboo charcoal tuna fish—fresh tuna simmered with mustard seed, pepper, garam masala, mint leaf, methi and fried with bamboo charcoal infused corn starch. A serve of Gutti Vankai followed—stuffed whole baby eggplant in a ground paste of cashew, peanut, sesame and coconut.
Next was a Desi lamb shank with whole spices, shallots, carrot, garlic cloves and tomatoes served on a bed of potato mash. This was delicious. The meat was juicy and tender and had soaked up all the flavours, and who doesn’t love potato mash?
You can’t really go to an Indian restaurant without trying the Butter Chicken (unless you’re vegetarian/vegan of course), so we were pleased when this was brought out. We loved it, and there was plenty of naan to lap up the sauce.
I have to give props to Darbar for presentation. We’d already had some beautifully presented dishes, but the Hyperabadi chicken biryani was on a different level. It was brought out in a bread covered pot. The bread was then sliced open and pulled back to reveal the chicken biryani inside. A word of warning – this one packs a bit of spice.
Our last savoury dish of the night was lamb chops marinated in Kasmiri spices. This was another winner with the whole table, the meat was tender and the flavour was excellent.
And, because we weren’t full enough already (just kidding—so stuffed by this point) and there’s always room for dessert (not kidding), we still ate the sweets that Vinay brought out to end the night: Chocolate crepes with ice cream, mango ice cream, and some Gulab jamun.
So, did I agree with the assessment of Darbar as one of Canberra’s best Indian restaurants? Yes. I really like that they have dishes that you won’t necessarily find at other places, and the quality and flavour of the food is also excellent. I’m looking forward to my next visit—the hard part will be deciding whether to try new dishes or just order more of my favourites!
Where: 139/24 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
When: Monday 5.30pm-10pm, Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10pm (11pm Fridays and Saturdays). They also do catering for corporate functions and parties.
Drink: Lassis, wine, beer, soft drink
Contact: Call 02 6248 5117 or visit their website or Facebook page
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