'Masti’ means to have fun without any bad intentions in Hindi, and Fitzroy’s latest North Indian eatery by the same name is determined to embody this word.
Upon arriving you immediately spy a large mural splashed across the back wall. The portrait of an Indian woman stares at you with piercing brown eyes in a playful manner. This is masti.
Owner and head chef Manpreet Sekhon opened the Fitzroy venue following the success of her Geelong venue Eastern Spice. Originally hailing from Bihar in eastern India, she later moved to Ludhiana, and eventually found herself working at a five-star hotel in Punjab where her dishes caught the attention of Indian celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. Drawing upon her Punjabi heritage, her dishes at Masti honour her mother who passed away six years ago, and who unfortunately never got to visit her restaurant.
Her mother would whip up dishes from different regions of India at home without a central focus, but there was plenty of emphasis on whole ingredients. Fresh fig (a less common ingredient) would be used in curries, and dried fruits and nuts like walnuts, pistachios and pine nuts would always be on hand.
This translates to the menu Sekhon has curated for Masti. Flavour profiles are well balanced and a nod to familial traditions. Butter chicken isn’t sweet, and the spice in the green chilli naan isn’t overpowering.
The first entree to arrive is comprised entirely of minced soybean, and if there wasn’t already the knowledge of it being vegetarian, you would think it was meat. Tender chunks of spiced, minced soybean are fried, marinated with a mint, chole masala and coriander paste then popped in a clay oven. The result is smoky, juicy skewers of soy protein.
An anjeer kofta soon makes its way to our table, and being the dish that pays homage to Sekhon’s mother, is the one she’s most particular with. It’s fragrant and creamy - each kofta is stuffed with fig, pomegranate and ginger and swims in a curried gravy of tomato, cashew and shallot. Pomegranate seeds lathered on top add a layer of textural complexity to the dish.
The bhindi do pyaza contrasts the anjeer kofta. Its dry-fried morsels of okra are crisp, void of moisture, and spiked with dry spices like turmeric, red chilli powder and chole masala. It would be too easy to just sit back with a bowl of this and white rice, and any vegetarian will feel at home here. It's also clear that vegetarian dishes are more intricate here than their meat counterparts so they're our pick on what to order.
The venue is bustling, but it’s no surprise given its central Brunswick Street location. As night falls the neon sign in the doorway bathes the venue in red and service is in full swing. Wait times can take a while as the venue finds its feet, and you’ll often see friendly waiters and waitresses rushing around with pints of Asahi and Kingfisher which they issue on tap.
As we order a drink a bartender tells us he’s on his trial shift, and we’re advised separately that the extensive cocktail list is creative but still evolving. Time will tell for Masti, but as it stands, it’s off to a promising start.