I love Indian food. Love curries. Love spices. Love all the carbs and sauces and everything in between. I’m really lucky that Jeremy is a great cook, and curries are where he shines… and it’s because of this I don’t dine out for Indian as much as I’d like. I’m also guilty in that when we do get Indian, it tends to be takeaway since Bollywood is only around the corner from me and I’m disgustingly obsessed with their butter chicken.
But when Sauma opened up in Northbridge on the corner opposite Aisuru, next to Lot Twenty, my attention was immediately piqued. It’s a gorgeous space, bright and airy, and the lure of trying it was strong! However as is often the case, I just hadn’t found the time to go in – and before I knew it time had flown by. It was upon this realisation that I mentioned to my boy that we should go in soon… and then literally a couple days later I received a lovely invitation to dine there for a blogger’s lunch. Don’t you love how fate can just line up sometimes!
It was a small group, with myself and two others making for an intimate lunch with way more food than I was expecting. The owner and head chef, Gurps, is friendly and welcoming – taking the time to explain each dish as it hits our table. In the stylish setting of this venue, the plethora of natural light streaming in through the windows is my idea of a heavenly blogging experience.
But how would the food turn out? After The Australian’s rather scathing review, I was apprehensive. I love the complexities of Indian cuisine, the layers of toasted spices and the heady aromas that waft from dishes. I really wanted this experience to live up to my expectations of what a great Indian meal should be.
The menu has a good mix of some classic Indian dishes, as well as street food style bites. Sitting on the Bombay imported furniture, I note that the food on offer utilises great Australian local produce so while the dishes aren’t quite fusion, they are teetering towards the cusp.
The first dish to come out was the chai smoked oysters with shallot dressing ($4 per oyster). I adore fresh oysters and these were delicate and sweet, with the chai flavour subtle and the dressing zingy. The burnt lemon on the side created another dimension to the profile, and was a great aftertaste once I’d slurped mine down.
Next up was a dish that’s not currently on the menu though Gurps tells us he’s considering adding it. Light chickpea flour parcels sit on top of a punchy coriander cold soup that you pour into the parcels and gulp down in one bite. It’s really vibrant and unlike anything I’ve tried anywhere else – yum.
The chargrilled chilli squid with watermelon salad, spiced aioli and roasted cumin ($14.00) was one of the most popular dishes of our lunch – coming out to the table and begging to be eaten. The squid was tender and perfectly cooked, with a nice kick from the chilli. I really like the combination of squid and watermelon, with the juxtaposition between textures and flavours on point. I could quite easily see myself munching on this for lunch more often than not if I still worked in the area! Thankfully (for my wallet’s sake) I don’t anymore.
The freshly baked three cheese naan ($6.00) was so, so good. Another shining star – it was soft on the inside, with crisp edges. The cheesiness wasn’t overpowering but was still a present factor, and it was light and morish.
The bheja fry ($16.00) came out to the table and looked pretty as a picture. Gurps cheekily didn’t tell us what was inside the dish, instead encouraging everyone to have a bite first. I was already aware that this was lambs brains (and caramelised onions, tomatoes, coriander and paratha) but offal doesn’t phase me at all, so I was first to dive in.
It had a really distinctive flavour and for those who are new to eating offal I think the blend of spices makes this a good entry point that’s not fried like most offerings. The paratha was just the right vessel to scoop up the brains, and the plain flavour but crisp slices were another textural element. I would have liked to see even more flavour injected into the fry, with some smokey spices creating the base of taste.
What stands apart Indian cuisine from others, is the way they can really make vegetarian dishes shine. The tandoor roasted field mushrooms with garlic, kewra sultanas, pomegranate and cashew sauce ($14.00) was meaty and yet sweet from the pops of fruit.
I thought that the mushrooms were cooked just right, yielding a little resistance when I cut through them, and great for scooping up with the creamy sauce. These were enjoyable, though I didn’t quite think they felt like they had enough Indian flavours – just dialled up a bit more this would have knocked it out of the park.
At this time we also enjoyed the saffron cauliflower salad ($16.00) with chickpeas, tomato, cucumber pickle, green leaves and a raita inspired yoghurt dressing. While this was a relatively mellow dish, I still really enjoyed the freshness and creaminess. Pickles are so tasty and addictive in salads, and brought some crunch to the salad which I welcomed.
All hail the lamb ribs ($16.00) at Sauma! These were a complete knockout of a dish and I am planning on ordering these on my next visit for sure. Twice cooked, and coated in a sweet tamarind sauce with chilli, radish and coriander – for me, this is the stuff food dreams are made of. They were actually fingerlicking good!
The meat just slid off the bone, the fat well rendered and complimented by that wonderful sauce. I was pretty damn full by this stage, but I think if the others hadn’t gobbled up their ribs I would have dug in and force-fed myself… so worth it.
With our fresh juices and chilli mojitos to enjoy, we moved on to our final savoury course for the lunch. Arriving at the table in a tiffin box, the vegetarian express ($14.00) was a stack of vegetable moilee, rice, mini naan and bindas bonda (in ours there was a salad instead of the naan).
This is a great value item on the lunch menu that would be worth checking out if you stop by for meals during the week. You get everything you could want in those containers, and while the flavour of the vegetable curry wasn’t quite as deep as I’d want, it was still an enjoyable set.
Holding our stomachs and protesting a little, we just couldn’t say no to Sauma’s signature dessert. The saffron and cardamom poached pear was presented quite elegantly, atop of a praline crumb and next to a soft, creamy chai ice cream. What a gorgeous dish!
My fork just slid through that pear, which was a big tick. There’s been so many occasions when I’ve ordered poached pears, only to find that they haven’t been cooked through completely. This one was unctuous and supple, perfect for scooping up the ice-cream with. The flavours are well balanced and complimentary – and every bite was a pleasure.
So what did I think of Sauma? I really enjoyed it! I thought the food was flavoursome, playful and still maintained the warmth and welcoming nature of Indian cuisine. While I think the spices and flavours could be dialled up a little more on some items and the authenticity is perhaps not quite as some might desire, I was left full, happy and ready to return. I’ve been given the hot tip that their goat curry is something not to be missed, so I’ll have to go back soon with my boy in tow since he loves Indian food even more than I do.