Whether you want thick, creamy, red curries; soft, charry naan breads; oily, hot pickles; a fiery vindaloo; or a cooling lassie, there's an Indian restaurant primed to sort your spice cravings in Melbourne. There're tropical flavours from the south and the earthy heat from northern fare, and if you really want to go on a subcontinental adventure, branch out to the cuinsines of neighbouring countries that feature many similar elements and flavours. As a result, we've also included some excellent Sri Lankan eats in this list too.
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The best Indian restaurants Melbourne has to offer
Welcome to the alternate reality of Tonka, where chef Adam D’Sylva and partners have conclusively proven Indian food was ready for its fine dining close-up. Tonka remains in a league of its own in going for the high-end jugular, showing no mercy in its $40-plus curries and winning the love of a city by making it worth the splash-out.
There are two kinds of people in Melbourne, those who have heard of Aangan, and those who have not. For the uninitiated, Aangan is the 15-year-old, well-oiled machine serving multiregional Indian cuisine to the local community and anyone determined enough to travel for their near-flawless food. Footscray may be known as one of Melbourne’s main Vietnamese hubs, but if you keep heading west, you’ll find yourself in Little India.
Places serving northern Indian cuisine are ubiquitous in Melbourne, so a nondescript restaurant on the less populated part of Commercial Road is unlikely to draw any attention. But that’s the point of a home-cooking gem; it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and inside the Spice Pantry they’re serving a kaleidoscopic array of steaming, vegetable-laden curries out of their compact kitchen.
Delhi Streets may be named in honour of India’s capital, but its menu criss-crosses the country. South India is represented by the dosas (thin crisp pancakes made from fermented batter), while Mumbai’s famed pav bhaji (vegetable curry served with soft bread rolls) makes an appearance. Fusion dishes marry Western and Eastern influences, with the paneer pizza using India’s version of cottage cheese instead of mozzarella, and the chicken burrito swapping wheat tortillas with naan.
It doesn’t surprise us that multicultural Melbourne houses one of the largest Sri Lankan diasporas in the world. What is surprising is that this hasn’t manifested in plenty of places to eat a decent hopper – a bowl-shaped crepe made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk, and the Sri Lankan breakfast of choice. Now Lankan Tucker is correcting that curve.
The Rochester Hotel kitchen shifted gears mid 2018, rewriting its standard pub menu to one focused on Southern Indian flavours, with chef Mischa Tropp drawing inspo from his mother’s homeland. Now your pub dinner comes with restaurant-style service where waitstaff know Kerala from Kashmir, and swiftly wipe away evidence of the city’s flakiest parota (layered flatbread) and crisp chilli-laced poppadums.
You'll want the tandoori lamb chops, where smoked meat is softened by a spicy yoghurt masala marinade spiked with cumin, paprika and turmeric. Also the gosht khada masala that falls apart, the meat infused with a thick reduction of coriander, cardamom and garam masala. Befitting the festive air of the restaurant, where Bollywood tunes are broadcast and birthdays are commemorated, waitstaff pour chai back and forth between the pot and the cup from a great height to ensure it’s frothy and aromatic.
Inspired by travels across north and south India, Sway Quach and Dougal Colam, owners of nearby Tom Phat, opened Bhang in mid-2017. Their aim? To showcase the curries Colam grew up eating in the UK and to bring new Indian tastes to Melbourne. Bhang is championing regional street food in shmick surrounds. They cater for all dietary requirements too, with a menu that has plenty for vegetarians and vegans and is pretty much entirely gluten-free.
In India, Babu Ji is a term you’d use for an older male, say your dad or grandfather, and since opening on St Kilda’s Grey Street in 2014, the original Babu Ji has earned the respectful title. The original owner Jessi Singh packed his bags, along with the Babu Ji concept and took it to New York and Southern California. But that whole time the St Kilda outpost, alongside sister restaurant Horn Please, continued to tick along, serving their modern take on Indian cuisine. Smart money is on the $49 set menu.