The first, many years ago, was a romantic Valentine’s Day banquet when I lovingly ate vegetarian food with him.
And in late September we were back again, this time with a host of food bloggers, being treated to a BBQ Banquet.
Zaaffran is located in a strange spot, accessible through the touristy Harbourside shopping mall in Darling Harbour. Fortunately once you enter the restaurant, the bright fluorescent shopping strip is replaced by soft, intimate lighting and the twinkling of the city skyline reflected across the water view.
I do a head count around the restaurant and note that more than half the clientele are Indians. Always a good sign!
Our host for the evening, owner Rush Dossa, had certainly done his research when he hand-picked the group of bloggers. My own email invitation made reference to a raft of ideas and recipes across the years, indicating he had done more than just skim through my blog, and when I arrived he greeted Jonas and I with knowledge of our lives and even of Jonas’ vegetarian past. It was the first sign of the great warmth and hospitality Rush displayed throughout the evening.
Rush had invited us to demonstrate that Indian food isn’t always about curries. And while we all (well, those of us with any sense) love Indian curries, there’s so much more to try from the vast Indian continent and its diverse ethnic groups.
And so we were all shouted the 5 Course BBQ Banquet, usually charged at $54.50 per person.
We start with canapés on the balcony. Three delightful little morsels: wonderful whole-wheat pancake-like wraps stuffed with mushrooms, mint, coriander and cheese; fat and round potato dumplings plumped up with carrot, peas, ginger, cashews, mustard and chilli; and spoons of prawns in fragrant coconut broth flavoured with saffron, chilli, lemon and lime. So rich and flavoursome, easily everyone’s favourite of the canapés and already sparking ideas for new recipes at home.
|prawns in coconut broth|
To start the meal proper we’re served a pleasantly-salty salad of greens and brimming bowls of pappadums and steaming garlic naan. The four colourful dips are a thick, syrupy date chutney (not too sweet), beetroot & yoghurt, tomato & chilli and mint & yoghurt. Surprising even myself, the date turns out to be my favourite.
Gol Guppas are next. These strange mini pooris are like the Indian answer to Mexican tortilla chips and salsa. Their hollow, spherical shape was perfect for holding the moong bean & potato mix, and dousing in mint or tamarind water, then shoving into our gobs before the liquid destroyed the thin crunchy shell and gushed all over us.
My favourite starter, as always, was the chaat. I’m a sucker for these street snacks, usually made out of vegetables (spinach, potato), always drizzled with mint, yoghurt and tamarind. I adore them and Zaaffran’s Aloo Makkai Tikki Chaat were particularly good: 20-cent sized circles of warm potato and corn crisscrossed with yoghurt, date-tamarind and mint sauce.
|aloo makkai tikki chaat|
Our second course arrives: Tandoori King Prawns and Chicken Seekh Kebabs. The prawns are cooked perfectly and flavoured heavily with cardamom, their tails crunchy enough to eat. The chicken mince kebabs are flecked with loads fresh minced coriander leaves, just the way I like it.
They serve the second course with mushroom and truffle naan! It's delicious, and while there's a heady scent of truffle in the air, the truffle flavour is not very strong.
|mushroom naan with truffle butter|
Throughout the meal we drank Blickling Estate Riesling 'Methode Champenoise' 2007 (New England Tablelands NSW), Aja Sauvignon Blanc Semillion Verdelho 2008 (Polkobin NSW) and Kalleske Clarry’s Grenach Shiraz 2008 (Barossa Valley SA)
|Rush was thoughtful in his choice of wines to match the food|
Fried seasonal fish turns out to be barramundi. The flaky white fish meat is complimented perfectly by a very spicy, crispy batter and a side salad of red chilli and spinach.
|crispy seasonal fish|
The oven-roasted salmon is flavoured with ginger, garlic and chilli, then covered in a lemon-turmeric reduction, drizzled with mint chutney and sitting atop a bed of fiery mustard mash. A surprising winner.
|oven baked salmon|
Interestingly, we’re served a small scoop of mango kulfi to cleanse the palate for the next course. In European restaurants, this is usually served after the savoury courses and before the sweet dishes, but after the spicy fish dishes it’s an excellent reprieve before launching into the meats.
Jonas hates eggplant, which was problematic when he was a vegetarian, but fortunate for me because I love it and therefore get his serving. At Zaaffran they served thin slices topped with spicy lentils and doused in tamarind and mint sauces and fresh yoghurt.
Tandoor lamb mince skewers, singly with the vibrant notes of onion, herbs, ginger and garam masala, lay across pretty streaks of bright pink, green and black sauce.
|lamb seekh kebab|
The moreish, rich lamb ribs had been braised and roasted, flavoured heavily with ginger, honey, pepper, cardamom and yoghurt. They with an inspired and wonderfully refreshing salad of julienned celery, carrot and green apple – a perfect accompaniment to the fatty ribs.
Dessert was a combination of the usual and the unique. Kulfi, an Indian classic, was taken to new levels in a cone of subtle saffron, luscious honey and almond crunch. I adored it. The sphere of rose kulfi was almost as good, but matched the dome of gulab jamun well. But the hitherto untried, newcomer on the plate was the Bibinca, a Goan multi-layered cake strongly spiced with honey, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
|banquet dessert platter|
Overall it was a wonderful evening and Rush and Vikrant were very successful in demonstrating how amazingly diverse and delicious Indian barbecued food can be.
The regular BBQ menu that we were served is great value for money at $54.50 because you really do get a lot of food and a chance to sample a wide range of dishes from the delicious Zaaffran menu.
Yes, I will be back to Zaaffran again for Round Four!