Assessed on food alone, Darbar Fine Indian Cuisine produced one of the five best Indian restaurant meals I’ve eaten in Sydney. The food is spot on, even if negotiating variable portion sizes can require a bit of staff assistance. Seeing the size of our Jal Pari Hariyali ($17) caused the next table to remove it from their order. It’s a shame because the pan-fried Tasmanian salmon fillet, presented on spiced potatoes, is beautifully cooked. Hiding under a crisp skin, the tender flakes of pink flesh suit the spice blend of turmeric, cashew paste, cumin and coriander powder, turned into a marinade using lemon juice.
Tucked down the bottom of a two-page entree list, Bamboo Charcoal Tuna Fish ($17) would be easy to overlook. It reads a bit like a science experiment, and appropriately our tuna balls arrive in a lidded glass jar. It's uncapped at the table to produce a wonderfully aromatic, hunger-inspiring cloud of smoke. The clever bamboo charcoal infused cornstarch skin keeps the tuna wonderfully moist, allowing you to appreciate its treatment with fenugreek, mustard seed, garam masala and mint.
Each time this dish lands on another table, the fragrant smoke twists beguilingly through the gothic sandstone archways and pillars that make up this underground cavern, making me hungry anew. On this Friday evening, every table is full, and a steady stream of Indian clientele file past, wearing glorious sari fabrics, heading into private functions of eighty and one hundred people in the rear and lower dining rooms.
The standard and speed the kitchen holds up under this Friday night onslaught is nothing short of extraordinary, evidenced in the rapid arrival of our Pulled Lamb ($16). These well-formed, crumbed balls of finely grained lamb shoulder flavoured with a hint of chilli, curry leaf, coriander and cashew, are a real crowd-pleaser.
Don’t let the menu descriptors talking about “tickly taste” from a “mystery sauce” put you off the Chicken Chat Pat ($21). It’s a rich and round tomato-based sauce that’s “been secret for fourteen years, none of the staff know, just the chef," our server explains. It’s likely to please those who are ready to level up on complexity from chicken tikka masala.
We round out our curry with Pudina Paratha ($5), which has an interesting minty taste, but is slightly doughy in texture, and thus bested by spicy, potato-filled Aloo Paratha ($5).
Along with a single serve of nicely textured and well-separated Saffron Basmati Rice ($3) you should have an adequate main course for two people. With an enlightened BYO philosophy that allows you to bring wine - yes even on a Friday night - we supplied our own vinous accompaniment, but were pleased to see a list with a number of interesting, cuisine-appropriate selections.
The dessert menu was also enticing, though when my first choice – milky, cottage cheese Rasamalai ($10/2) – were unavailable, I had to console myself with Gajer Halwa ($9). This carrot pudding cooked with milk, cream, sugar, cardamom, dried fruits and ghee was a warm, fragrant delight against cold vanilla ice cream, and the perfect way to reassemble my mouth after an evening of big, interesting flavours.
Darbar Fine Indian Cuisine
134 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 9660 5666