In Short: ISH in Melbourne’s Fitzroy blends traditional Indian tastes with modern Australian flair in an inviting and eclectic space that is part cocktail lounge and part innovative eating experience. Tip: The Spiced Duck Pâté accompanied by the Black Garlic Naan is not to be missed!
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience the kaleidoscopic sights and sounds of modern India, you’ll know that its identity is a tapestry of tradition and progress intermingling at the same moment. Its deep culinary heritage is a coalescence of influences that play off one another to elevate Indian food to a revered position on the world food stage.
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That interplay of influences has found a home in Melbourne’s Fitzroy in the shape of ISH, a modern Indian experience that embraces the vibe of the local community and underlines it with all that makes the flavours of India so remarkable.
Stepping into the urban textures of this warm space, accented by woods, copper, and brick facades, ISH feels as much a stylish cocktail lounge as it does a stage for the accomplished kitchen to showcase a blend of traditional tastes with modern Australian flair.
Front and centre is the well-stocked cocktail bar with some seriously talented hands crafting a plethora of pretty and potent concoctions for us to sample. Soon we’re sipping away on a trio of triumphant tipples. The Saffron Envy, Pink Elephant, and the Indian Elixir are part potion and the rest pizzazz. Christopher, the bartender, has outdone himself in carefully mingling a magical element of whimsy into these colourful cocktails that set us up perfectly for the starter plates to come.
The sambar arancini bring mouthfuls of pearl cous cous, sambar dahl, tempered coconut, and tomato chutney.
As good as the arancini are, I’ve got to admit I’m a sucker for pâté, and what a pâté Chef has conjured up! The South Indian Spiced Duck Pâté is not what you’d expect when you’re in Indian dining mode, but oh my, this surprise is a showstopper for me. Notes of cardamom leave no doubt that it fits perfectly into the menu, and it’s an inspired creation that makes a memorable impression.
What’s Indian cuisine without great naan!? Never fear, ISH has it covered with a delicious twist in the form of the Black Garlic Naan. We could easily eat endless baskets of this!
I managed to leave the rest of the Coco & Vine crew at the table and have a “sticky-beak” in the kitchen where a secret weapon hides. The super-friendly kitchen crew reveal one of ISH’s magical ingredients, the tandoor oven. And from this traditional cooker comes the Victorian Tandoori Lamb Cutlets. Perfectly charred and endlessly moist, that tandoori flavour is unmistakable.
Medallions of tempura encrusted eggplant are the next wow moment for the table. Circles of golden, crispy, goodness are accompanied by capsicum “chhonka” and tamarind peanut salan.
Next up… Crusted Spanish mackerel is an island in a moat of Ghassi curry, young coconut, and samphire. The fish is beyond tender and succulent and the light, yet richly flavoured curry lifts this dish to another level.
Seared king mushrooms blend with Moilee curry as heirloom tomatoes and dulce seaweed mingle with snow peas.
Roasted carrots, that were served as a side, were easily tasty enough to be a main as they come to life with dashes of coriander seeds, and fenugreek jaggery.
As if the side of carrots isn’t enough, Chef doubles down with this stunning plate of tandoori broccoli crowned with wild black rice, chili, and candied cashews.
After such an inspired journey through the innovative flavours of ISH’s take on modern Indian plates, we’ve been wise enough to leave just a little room for a sweet ending. The Purple Carrot Halwa rests on lashings of condensed milk, pistachio dust, and is ornamented with milk sheets.
Fittingly adding that last playful note of whimsy to the evening, the kitchen goes out with a bang on the ISH Deconstructed Chocolate Mess. Like the very best bits of a chocolate cake all ready to be drizzled and scooped, I couldn’t think of a better way to finish this feast.
ISH offers a new and revitalising approach to old Indian favourites that bring them into the contemporary frame. It’s the calibre of experience you’d expect in the eclectic mosaic of the Fitzroy food scene, and it deserves to stand proud with it’s own brand of innovative style.
*Coco and Vine dined as guests of ISH Restaurant and AGFG. However, all opinions and photos are our own.