Pancake fanciers, let us introduce you to the magical world of hoppers. Made from fermented rice batter, the wispy, cloud-like things take a lifetime to master cooking – and less than a minute to eat. At Aki’s, the fancy Indian restaurant that made its mark on Sydney more than a decade ago, they do a version piled with striations of blue swimmer crabmeat fragrant with coconut, lime and chilli. They’re lacy, they're light, they're game-changers.
There’s clarity in the flavours across the board at chef Kumar Mahadevan’s restaurant, which sprawls out on the Woolloomooloo wharf. A little snack of saag paneer, here a highly spiced Indian set cheese cooked in the tandoor, comes out as chewy, more-ish little cheese sponges. Crisp-fried spinach leaves coated in thick chickpea batter and dressed in a sweet yoghurt sauce are a festival of crunch. Tender little pieces of lamb are fragrant with cumin.
It’s balance and refinement with guts here, with most dishes geared towards sharing. A piquant curry of chicken, cashew and white poppyseed arrives with more of those hoppers (yay!). Or try the five-spice lamb masala in a tomato-rich sauce baked in a clay jar - it comes with its very own little bread hat. (Use it to dip into the curry, or order the sweet peshwari naan for a bit of sweet/savoury spice contrast.) And all this is accompanied by a fairly killer wine list heavy on fresh French whites.
Sadly, our rosewater and buttermilk pannacotta is hard to enjoy over the waiter spray-and-wiping the tables around us. And our lead waiter, though well-spoken, treats us in a manner that can best be described as perfunctory. But for all that we don’t exactly feel the love on the floor, there’s such a level of skill on the plate that it’s pretty easy to let it go.
Yes, the prices match the views. And yes, there are still a few old school touches on show – the old “have a drink at the bar while we prepare your already-ready table” routine still lives on here. But there’s no denying this is some of the most elegant Indian food you’re likely to find in the city. And for that reason, we'll be back for round two.