In Short: Masala Theory takes you on a trip through India with beautifully presented dishes. Our tip, gather a few buddies and try a sampling of the starters and mains.
I have just returned from a foodie jaunt down to Melbourne, and on the flight home I reflected on the two Indian restaurants I have visited in the last week. One here in Sydney, Masala Theory, and another one that I will talk about in more depth in just a few days. What was common between these two restaurants was how they were both focused on smashing through the stereotypes around Indian restaurants and cooking. The focus at Masala Theory, like many contemporary restaurants, was on produce and technique. It aims to deliver regional favourites, spanning from the heat of the south, to the seafood of the coastal regions, and to the subtler spicing of the central and northern regions of India. All of this is done with a level of refinement and well thought plating, at a level that’s rarely seen in Indian cuisine in Sydney, at least thus far.
Housed on the bottom level of a Victorian styled terrace on Crown Street, the distressed look on the outside is a complete contrast to the interior. Step inside and you’re transported to the streets of Mumbai, with vibrant hand-painted walls (by 8 foot walls, who are responsible for a lot of the art work at Merivale establishments). Whilst the colours are vibrant, the mood is intimate, with a relaxed vibe.
While deciding on what to eat, I am served a mango lassi. While mango lassis are a mainstay of Indian food menus across the city, Masala Theory sets the standard for the rest of the meal with a lassi that’s perfectly balanced. None of that syrup sweetness that is commonplace, rather, it’s a grown-up drink with the infusion of cardamon. I particularly enjoy the drink with the meal as well, with the yoghurt soothing the taste buds.
Easing into our culinary journey of the subcontinent is a Bollywood bhutta, aka corn on the cob Indian style. Like all corn on the cob, it’s slathered with butter, yet Masala Theory’s take includes a spice rub and lime juice. There’s a tingle of heat from the spice rub, with a refreshing dash of lime to cut through the butter. If you find Indian cuisine confronting, this is the perfect starter.
Continuing with the theme of ‘easy does it’, is a prawntini; a cocktail of crispy fried prawns coated with a curry paste. Again, as with the corn, the spicing is subtle and although fiery red in appearance, it’s not going to exactly have you reaching for the water. The prawns are still moist and juicy, with little bursts of chilli, cumin, and coriander. Sitting under the prawns, is a bed of puffed rice, with vermicelli, tomato, and red onion that does a brilliant job of quelling the spice.
A roadside staple of India and Pakistan are various forms of chaat. These savoury snacks are pocketfuls of flavour and are increasingly becoming popular here in Sydney as a great start to a meal. Masala Theory’s playful Three Sisters chaat is composed of crispy fried spinach, garbanzo beans, sweet yoghurt, date tamarind, and mint chutney. It really is a textural tour de force; from the crispiness of the battered spinach, to the firmness of the chickpeas, and the softness that comes from the chutney and sweetened yoghurt. There are elements of sweetness and sourness. Ultimately, a very cooling dish that shows that not all Indian food is about heat and complex spices.
Sali bolti is our first main. If you want to know how to make a curry look good, chef Rushabh Rupani is your man. Matchstick slices of potatoes form a crown, hiding the treasured goat curry beneath. This dish of Parsi origin is spiced with black cardamon and cinnamon. The goat is cooked on the bone and just falls apart. There’s a distinct tangy flavour to the dish that really is like no other curry I have tasted. It’s a beautifully balanced gravy, where no one spice dominates.
Continuing with the spectacular looking curries is the village fish curry. Wafer thin plantains sit atop the curry, hinting at the tropical southern coastal origin of the dish. A rich coconut based gravy contains chunks of perfectly cooked barramundi. The unmistakable flavour of barramundi is preserved, and complemented by the citrus hints of lemongrass and kaffir lime. Spices are omnipresent, and as with everything we had tasted, there is a nice depth and dimension to the flavour profiles.
To mop the delicious gravy of both sali bolti and village curry are cheese and coriander naan. Who doesn’t love melting cheese with bread? It’s no different at Masala Theory, with a light naan with nice hints of herbs and heat.
With our appetites sated, it was then time to fill our dessert tummy with two beautiful creations. A chai panna cotta, with that perfect wobble, was placed in front of us, garnished with a nut praline and cinnamon glass. There’s a beautiful perfume that comes from the dish, and the spice of the chai is balanced by the sweetness of praline.
Last, but not least, is a deconstructed motichoor ladoo with saffron rabdi and dry fruits. The deconstructed ladoo crumble with warm rabdi (which is milk that has been cooked gently for between 3-4 hours) is gorgeous, rich, and inviting. With this dish alone Masala Theory will transform your perceptions of what Indian desserts are all about. Truly stunning!
An afternoon or evening at Masala Theory is like taking a trip through India, yet it does it with a refined and contemporary touch. It was some of the best presented Indian food I have seen. Kudos to owner Yashpal Erda for setting up Masala Theory on Crown Street and bringing neo-Indian cuisine to the area.
*Coco and Vine dined as guests of Masala Theory.