Punjabi Curry Café: Classic Indian food in hipster land

Daniel visited this restaurant with his longtime friend and lover of Indian food, Angela.

Punjabi Curry Café is located on Johnston St in Collingwood, about a block away from Smith St. The distance from the hipster heartland is probably fitting as here you will find classic Indian cuisine that has not been adulterated by any superfood or miracle green. And that stand against the trend washing many restaurants in that area, suited us perfectly given that we love authentic Indian food. Spicy, rich and flavourful Indian meals occupy a special place in our friendship for it is the food stuff that has sustained many of our deep and meaningful conversations about life. Seriously, how can you not be inspired to solve existential life crises while chowing down on a delicious slab of naan dipped in a creamy curry?

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Given our long history of indulging in Indian food with wonton abandon – even though we both desperately want shredded abs – we were really excited about trying Punjabi Curry Café for the first time. Once we entered the restaurant we found two things quite notable: (1) the tandoor setup at the back of the restaurant where you can observe the chefs go about their business through glass windows; and (2) the lighting which cast an orange hue on everything and made you feel like you were somewhere exotic. We were then greeted by friendly waitresses who seated us at our table and started us off with Pappadum with tamarind chutney and raita – a crispy deep-fried staple which whetted our appetites for the meal ahead.

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For entrée, we were “adventurous” and deviated from our usual fare and ordered the: Veg Manchurian Homemade, a house special of vegetable Balls cooked in Chef’s special Sweet & Sour Indo Chinese Sauce; and Tandoor Prawns.  The Veg Manchurian was like a texturally-softer cousin of a falafel but was distinct given its sweet and sour sauce. We both enjoyed it but thought it would have been better had the exterior of the ball had some crunch to contrast with the smooth filling.  

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The Tandoor Prawns were flavourful and had that classic tandoor flavor on the exterior but it would have been enhanced had the flavor permeated further into the flesh of the prawn.

We then turned our eyes (and bellies) to the mains. We had Palak Paneer (an immutable favourite of Angela’s), Butter Chicken (perhaps the most famous and prevalent Indian dish), and Rogan Josh (beef). To mop up all the delicious sauces, we also ordered saffron rice, cheese naan and garlic roti. Before appraising each dish seriatim, can we just say that the mains eclipsed the entrée dishes. There was little room for improvement when it came to the mains; this is a considerable compliment as we both purport to know, through many years of excess consumption, what constitutes good Indian food.

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The Palak Paneer was exactly what it should have been: tender cubes of paneer swimming in a creamy sauce of pureed spinach with a hint of spice. This dish was simply delicious and, in Angela’s opinion, was one of the best she’s eaten! The texture of the paneer was so soft and was reminiscent of ricotta. As Angela can attest, nothing ruins a Palak Paneer more than a rubbery paneer. Happily, Punjabi Curry Café’s version did not suffer that weakness and left us fighting over the last block of paneer.

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The Butter Chicken was also enjoyable with flavourful chicken pieces coated in a creamy, but not overwhelmingly rich, gravy. Many butter chicken curries, especially the ones you find in food courts, are overly sweet and oily, but this was not the case at Punjabi Curry Café. We both heaped the curry onto our mounds of well-cooked saffron rice and devoured it in between a fast-paced discussion about the virtues of not being materialistic.

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The Rogan Josh was our spicy counterpoint to all the creamy lush goodness of the two other mains.  The beef and gravy were, again, packed with flavor and offered some spice but not so much that our tongues were searing with heat.

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The garlic roti and naan were delightful – the most delicious vehicles for conveying the mains to our mouths. The garlic roti had a good amount of garlic without being too pungent. The naan was pillowy and tasty given that it was embellished with cheese, coriander and spices. On reflection, it is a shame that breads of this caliber sit under the “Sides” heading as we both would have happily eaten just garlic roti and naan for the bulk of our dinner! #CarbsRule

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To finish, despite exclaiming that we were both filled to the brim, we capitulated and ordered dessert. In our feeble attempt at effecting restraint, we shared a single serving of gulab jamun with kulfi. After a few mouthfuls of the dessert, we both regretted not getting one each. The galub jamun was soft, sweet and scrumptious – there was no cloying sweetness afflicting this dish. The kulfi was refreshingly cold and a nice accompaniment to the gulab juman as it too was not overly sugary. The dessert was a sweet finish to our enjoyable dinner.

Overall, Punjabi Curry Café delivered on an authentic Indian dinner. The flavor profiles were familiar and comforting, and executed particularly well in the mains and dessert. If you’re after traditional and moreish Indian food, with no eccentric culinary license intruding on your experience, you should definitely give Punjabi Curry Café a try.

Loveatfirstbite_aus dined as guests of Punjabi Curry Cafe. All opinions are our own.

Punjabi Curry Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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