Bringing some spice into our life at Varq, Wembley

“I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parent’s room above the restaurant.” These words from one of my favourite movies, The Hundred-Foot Journey (like Chef, this is akin to comfort food for me) are something that always spring into my mind at the mere thought of Indian cuisine. 

Indian cooking is something I really enjoy. The heady aromatics of spice, the richness of sauce. There’s so many subtle nuances to each dish, flavours so deep that you feel yourself warming from the inside out. We love to eat and cook Indian, and for my boy in particular, it’s something he continually gravitates towards. And in this kind of chilly weather, you can’t really blame him!
Recently I was contacted by the owners of Varq, a local Wembley North Indian restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try for some time – I just always seem to fall back into my tried and true habits. But I was confident it would be an enjoyable experience. Knowing Jeremy’s penchant for the spiced road, I brought him with me so we could have a bit of a date night one Friday (followed up by going to see Entourage at the movies – yay to getting my Ari Gold fix!). 

We arrived at the restaurant early and it was relatively quiet, but within the next hour it began to fill up and the pleasant hum of chatter surrounded us. Run by husband and wife team (the husband is also the Head Chef), the venue is clean and bright in appearance. I like that you can see straight into the kitchen from the restaurant, and there’s a lovely aroma filling the air.

Jeremy and I peruse the menu, deciding to skip entrees so we can focus on the mains. After all, the best part of eating Indian is having a selection of curries to share. Once we’ve placed our orders, a complementary serve of papadums with mango chutney is brought out.

Sometimes when you’re eating at home and the papadums are from a packet, you can forget how great fresh ones can be. These were excellent, with fennel seeds throughout, and the crisp texture light but perfectly crunchy. I really enjoyed the sticky chutney which was well balanced, slightly sweet but also a little tart.

Not long after we cleaned up the papadums, our food started to arrive in a flurry of activity. The Channa Masala ($15.00) was our vegetarian choice – a well cooked Punjabi style chickpea curry. Normally I’m all about dahl, but my boy was pretty tempted by this chickpea version so I was happy to try something different (especially since I knew I was going to get my go-to butter chicken).

The chickpea curry was really different to other curries I’ve tried. Thick and almost starchy, it had layers of spices and a unique flavour.

The butter chicken ($22.00) looked promising the moment it hit the table. The oven roasted chicken thighs in a tomato based creamy sauce with fenugreek leaves were vivid and warming – a classic comfort curry with it’s buttery goodness.

For me, I can’t help but always gravitate towards this curry in any Indian venue, so I feel like it’s the constant I compare between venues. To date, Bollywood in Innaloo is my benchmark and I have to say, Varq’s version comes extremely close – the only thing that I felt was slightly missing was the smokiness that Bollywood’s butter chicken has.

Our saffron rice ($4.00 per person), raita ($4.50) and butter naan ($4.00) came out at the same time as our final dish. When we’d placed our order we thought we’d picked the malabar fish curry but what came out was a lamb dish instead. We didn’t realise until we’d had a bite each, but neither of us minded at all since what we did eat was tasty. I’m thinking the name must have been similar to cause the confusion!

The lamb was flavoursome and for the most part tender. I did have a couple pieces that had large veins of sinew running through the middle, but it was easy enough to navigate around these. The sauce was coconutty and again well balanced, something I can say happily was the case with all their dishes.

While I enjoyed the curries, I actually have to say the standout dish of the night was easily the butter naan. Flaky, slightly smokey in parts and so light it dissolved on my tongue. It definitely lived up to it’s buttery name and every bite got better and better.

The mark of a good naan bread for me is whether you can enjoy it with or without curry to dip it in – and in Varq’s case, yes you could. Great value and absolutely spot on flavour and texture. I loved it.

With so much food you can imagine at that point in time we were feeling very full! But I’d earlier spotted a saffron poached pear dessert on the menu, and was unable to shift it from my mind. I was captivated by the sound of it, so I was all ready to order the moment our lovely waitress came by our table.

But it wasn’t meant to be! They’d run out of the pear on that evening (yes, cue devastation – I guess a visit back for this plus some other curries I had my eye on is in order) so I was out of luck. Since I’d already made up my mind that I wanted dessert, we chose a couple dishes off the menu on a whim. I had no idea what to expect as I don’t think I’ve eaten many Indian desserts except kulfi.

Jeremy’s choice was the rasmalai ($10.00) – cottage cheese sponges served in a milk reduction and sprinkled with pistachio nuts. The texture of this dessert was really different – a little grainy in the cake but creamy from the sauce. It was really sweet! I have heard from most of my friends who eat Indian desserts that this is the case, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for how much it would be.

My on-a-whim dessert choice was the gulab jamun ($8.00), which is warm cheese dumplings served with vanilla ice-cream. Again the dish was sadly too sweet for me, but Jez has had a version of this elsewhere and was quick to tell me it compared really favourably. I liked the flavour of my dessert better than his, with the sugar syrup going well with the oh so creamy vanilla ice-cream. I wonder if they make this in-house? It was great ice-cream! I loved the addition of pistachio nuts to tick the box against texture and offer that necessary crunch. 
So it seems we’ve found a new Indian place to add to our repertoire, and one that’s a bit more local too! The flavours we experienced were tasty, and the prices seem consistent with other Indian venues. What I particularly liked about Varq was that they have some dishes on their menu that I haven’t seen in other places, which is definitely alluring. If only I could fit more in in one setting – but next time I think I have my eye on the dahl palak, the rara gosht and their signature grilled duck breast. 
Thank you to Smita and Shyam for inviting us to try your lovely restaurant, it’s quite the neighbourhood gem and worth checking out! 

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  • Reply
    Martine @ Chompchomp
    16 June 2015 at 7:00 am

    LOL I know that feeling! You get your heart set on a particular dessert and obsess over it in the back of our mind for the whole meal only to be deflated with the news you miss out! Oh the sad lives of foodies he he he

  • Reply
    Sandy @ Hungry Again
    17 June 2015 at 2:37 am

    What an anti-climax haha. I find most desserts at Indian restaurants way too sweet and have strayed away from them. Pity because a cold sugar hit is what you want after a few spicy curries!!

  • Reply
    Queen of Bad Timing
    17 June 2015 at 1:09 pm

    I know! Thankfully the curries and naan bread were stellar enough to leave me a happy chappy ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Queen of Bad Timing
    17 June 2015 at 1:19 pm

    It was my first Indian dessert experience properly and I can see why people say they're so sweet! I kinda wanted some more naan after to cleanse my palate ๐Ÿ˜‰

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