Food isn't always just sustenance. Whether it's spaghetti on toast or gefilte fish, the taste of a dish can evoke powerful personal and cultural memories. A little of that power seems to be at work at the Afghan Gallery, which for 24 years has been winning over Brunswick Street diners with generous servings of deceptively simple-looking food.
The care with which it's prepared creates a strong impression that this food means something to the people behind the scenes. The family-owned restaurant occupies two storeys of an older-style building, the ground floor a conventional à la carte establishment with rugs and posters for colour, and the first floor laid out like a traditional Afghan banqueting room. The 'tent room' is an excellent space for parties: dimly lit and scattered with cushions, it encourages lingering as guests slide ever further under the low tables.
The menu contains some amusingly vague descriptions, like spinach with “different spices” and mungbeans served with “vegetable dish”. If you need to know what’s in there, the staff will be happy to help, but if specific ingredients aren’t an issue it’s best to just relax and trust that the food will be good. Highlights include a qorma slow-cooked with chunks of eggplant so tender they collapse at the sight of a fork; lightly spiced meat samosas with homemade yoghurt; and a smooth, delicately flavoured yellow dhal served with perfect long-grained basmati rice with hints of cumin and clove.
The bar is basic, but BYO is fine with corkage at $3.50 a bottle. Which brings us to our next point: it’s cheap. We’ve fed three people to bursting for under $80, and the staff can be relied upon to prevent you over-ordering. It's no surprise that this welcoming, unpretentious restaurant remains so popular after all these years. Una Cruickshank