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The highs and lows of an evening at Curry Café

Yesterday was my son's birthday and because we could not celebrate at home we decided to all go to his favourite Indian restaurant in Northcote - where he lives. As he said - he has helped to keep them going through lockdowns by ordering regular takeaways.

The restaurant - well it's a bit low key probably to be called a restaurant, and it calls itself a cafè/canteen anyway - Curry Cafe. It's sort of grunge inner suburban eating. I had been there once and I did indeed remember the food as being good.

This evening did not go smoothly though.

Problem number one - Northcote and parking. Easy to get to, but then a good ten minutes driving around narrow streets reserved for permit holders, or packed to the gills, before we found a spot on the main road round the corner. Not a good start for my city hating husband though.

Problem number two - being eleven people we were directed out the back of the very modest, even tiny café - yes outside - to a narrow sort of alleyway with three tables, into which the owner tried to fit us and another table of, I think, six. He tried to make the eleven of us fit around a table for eight - well six really, but we resisted and the other group went back inside. Only to return in a short time, but by then we had rearranged ourselves and indeed we did all fit in.

But we are outside. It's winter! And it's been raining recently so one of the benches at least had a puddle in it. I did wonder what would happen if it rained though. Although now that I look at the picture I think there might be some kind awning above. However there were three large gas heaters and we did all have coats and jackets - except for one grandson who had insisted on coming in shorts. I have no idea how he fared, although he seemed happy enough. The rest of us were warm enough but would have preferred to be inside. Anyway - different - but ultimately Ok and even included the Southern Cross (isn't that a station? said one grandson) directly overhead. It also meant that we could hear each other and the children could make as much noise as they liked. The other table included children as well. Besides when you are in the open air the noise disperses. Not as much worry about COVID either.

Problem number three - being outside, and being eleven people it took an awful long time for them to get around to (a) taking our orders and (b) bringing out the food. Well over an hour in fact. The drinks came a bit faster, but not the glasses required. Bit of a black mark there. I mean it's good that they were busy, but not good that we were virtually ignored for a very long time. The other table - having been in the front section for a time had presumably ordered in there, because their food came well before ours. But then on the plus side it did give us longer to socialise and catch up.

Problem number four - first of all our Tandoori chicken and a dish called Achari chicken - this is it - were brought to the adults table. We thought this was just the first of everything else. So we sat and waited for the breads, the rice and the curries. The children by now were very hungry - but commendably patient. But the breads, etc. didn't come, so eventually we decided to eat it. Obviously the café regarded these - from the BBQ section of the menu - to be starters only and didn't require anything else to go with them. Well at least we should have had bread I think, and we also should have been told that nothing else was coming for a while. Anyway we did dive in eventually and it was very good - particularly the Achari chicken - of which a little more later.

But for now I'll continue with the problems and then come to the food - which was really, really good.

Problem number five - when it came time to pay it was discovered that their card machine was not working. Cash was required. Lots of it. David I think was panicking about this - he would have had to walk a fair way to an ATM, but was rescued by me because by some very strange coincidence I actually had a lot of cash in my purse. Problem solved - phew! I mean who carries cash around with them these days? We have become virtually a cashless society so it was indeed very, very lucky that I had some. I never usually do, and I can't quite remember why I did at the time.

Problem number six - last one and minor. We had ordered naan and also some aloo parathas. But when they were delivered to the table we were told they were all naan. We asked for the parathas, the chef swore he had made them and so there was a bit of back and forth before it was discovered that the parathas had been in the same basket as the naan and our naan loving second son had nearly eaten all we three ladies' parathas. Well it was all delicious anyway. But still - a bit shambolic. Alas I forgot to take pictures until the end and what I took were pretty dreadful - this is the best.

And finally an actual complaint. The wine was carafe wine and not very wonderful but it cost $50.00 a carafe - horrendously overpriced and because it was a carafe you couldn't take any leftovers home with you. Wine by the glass was rather more reasonable.

To the food. Lots of butter chicken - well the children dined excluslively on this. Prior to the meal one granddaughter had wondered whether it would be better than hers. She admitted somewhat sadly that it was. I must tell her that in a way you would hope that it would be - otherwise what would be the point of being there? We adults also had a dish of this and a pumpkin masala and roghan josh I think. All standard things but done beautifully. I think the standouts though were the Achari chicken and something called Martaban - 'lamb slow-cooked in pickling spices for 48 hours served in an earthen clay pot.' I now see that actually these two dishes share the same pickling spice, but they are cooked differently. Both of them were new to me, so here is what I found about them.

Martaban or Martabaan usually has the suffix ka meat. It seems to be a north Indian recipe for lamb that is marinated in spices and then cooked very slowly. The chef - one Hemant Oberoi - at one of Dubai's very posh hotel restaurants seems to have cornered the market as it were for online recipes. There is lots about the restaurant on the net which has the name Martabaan, and Food and wine has reproduced his recipe. On the left is a picture of it as served in the restaurant, then a picture of the Food and Wine recipe (which doesn't look the same at all); below is a recipe from a website called Femina and finally a picture of the same dish served in a Californian restaurant. If you want to do it right it seems - the earthenware pot is necessary. And ours was. It was a bit spicy but then it's supposed to be. Ours was also much darker than the two non hotel pictures - it was more like the posh one. It was perhaps the best dish of the evening. You can just see the pot on the murky photograph that I took at the end of the meal above.

The other really nice dish was Achari chicken. That's what the café called it but I think it was really Achari chicken tikka. Achari chicken - there are recipes on the net - is more curry like than our dish - which is the first one shown below. It was indeed wonderfully spicy and sharp, but some bread to go with it would have been nice. The other two pictures are: Achari chicken tikka from a website called Foodies Terminal and Achaari chicken tikka from one Sanjeev Kapoor. It looks like the Indians - or rather the transliterators of the various Indian languages are often not sure whether to use two a's or just one. Not quite the same as Chicken tikka.

So there you go. A bit of a mixed experience, and today I realised we totally forgot to sing happy birthday and do the claps for each year. Considering how much went wrong though it was a very lovely eventing. Indeed some of the 'problems' actually made it more fun. Everyone enjoyed themselves anyway and the food really was very good. Not worth a trip to Northcote for us, but if you live there go and try it out - but don't order carafe wine.


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