New kid on the block, Masala Theory is definitely bringing the heat with their south Indian fare. Standing out from the crowd on Crown Street, Masala Theory aims to take Indian restaurants and culture as you know it, and reinvent it to show the true colours of modern India. With vibrant interiors and modern twists on classical Indian dishes they’ll have you convinced in no time.
When you step through the door, you’re likely to notice the elevated neon bicycle above the fire place, then let your eyes sweep across the room to the boisterous artworks by Indian company The Republic. Take your seats and order a margarita glass of the Botanical Brews ($7.50 each) and appreciate the sentiments of the decorative choices. Edgy designs of sari clad and RayBan wearing women on skateboards really play into the idea that owner Yashpal Erda wanted to create of his homeland India, exhibiting both the traditional and modern identities of the nation.
Once you have finished checking out the radical interiors, start deciding on what to eat. The menu is set up into different sections. From the Something Small section I had the appertiser Beetroot Poriyal ($5.90). Erda described this to me as a warm beetroot salad, so it has some wonderful earthy flavours. It is mixed with blackened lentils and mustard seeds, which to me gave it an almost popcorn flavour from the grains, a delightful little surprise. Topped with shredded coconut it was a nice little dish to start off our experience at Masala Theory.
A typical street food of southern India, I wasn’t surprised to see Masala Dosa ($14.90) on the To Share menu. Dosa are crepe like flat-breads made from rice and lentils which in this instance are rolled around a Sambar spiced potato and onion mix. Served with a hot lentil broth and a coconut chutney, which was better than any coconut chutney I ate while on a recent trip to India, this dish could easily be split between two as an entree or enjoyed by yourself.
Paying homage to the blending of Australian and Indian cultures, the Three Sisters Chat ($14.90) is a clever way to bring an Aussie touch to a traditional dish. Crunchy pieces of fried English spinach are placed upright onto a bed of garbanzo beans and black chickpeas to resemble the Blue Mountains icon. They then are healthily doused in yogurt, mint, date and tamarind chutneys. Its a perfect example of an authentic Indian street food, and the mixture of flavours create a harmony that dances across your taste buds.
If you’re looking for something a bit more filling, they also have a great selection of mains and curries. Indian cuisine has lot of vegetarian options, which you can explore at Masala Theory. For a main I had the Eggplant Bharta ($20.90) which was smoked eggplant mashed together with tomatoes, onion and chilli. As soon as this dish is set down you can really smell the smoky aroma coming from it, and the aroma carries on into the taste as well. It is a really unusual vegetarian dish, with big smoky flavours usually found solely in meat dishes so it’s a nice change from usual dishes.
It wouldn’t be right to go to a South Indian restaurant without trying a fish curry. The Patra Ni Machchi ($23.90) is village fish recipe, made using barramundi. This thin curry is quite tropical, with aromatic coconut notes being the most dominant in the dish. There is also a slight chilli kick and hints of coriander and mint through the sauce. The steamed, boneless fish pieces melt in your mouth. I found the sauce was best enjoyed when soaked up on a shredded piece of the cheese, chilli and coriander naan ($6). The tastes of the Patra Ni Machchi and naan fuse together into a spicy bite of tropical heaven.However if the heat gets too much for you, I would suggest ordering a lassi to cool you down. Traditionally prepared, but with experimental flavours, the Lassi ($7 each) are another great way to enjoy modern Indian cuisine. The traditional mango lassi was quite pleasant but it was the lavender flavour that really caught my eye for it’s uniqueness. It was perfectly balanced so that you could still taste the yogurt, and weren’t overpowered by the lavender. I was intrigued to hear that they are launching a bubblegum flavour lassi in the coming weeks, which means I’ll be back to try out that one too.
No meal is complete without a little bit of dessert. I was hoping to try the smoked beetroot and buttermilk panna cotta but found out on the night that it had been replaced with a Chai Panna Cotta ($13.90). The chai was still quite enjoyable, with an authentically brewed chai mix made in house that made me think back to the chai vendors in India. Masala spices brewed in hot milk make a mighty comforting dessert, topped with nut praline and mint glass it was a nice, light dessert to top off the mains.
A more authentic Indian dessert would be the Paan Kulfi ($12.90). Paan is a traditional Asian mix used to refresh the mouth after meals with lots of flavours and spices like garlic and chilli. It is made using the betel leaf, and forms the basis of this dessert. The Indian style icecream, Kulfi, is prepared with a layer of Paan on the underside. Be warned, it is quite a strong tasting dessert due to the paan, and has strong flavours of mint and licorice. It is a great dessert if you are in the mood for something very different, but it definitely requires an acquired taste.
I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience at Masala Theory, the meals were divine, the customer service from owner Yashpal and manager Vittal was fabulous. It truly was a great dining experience. The menu at Masala Theory is set to be changed every three to six months so if something takes your fancy make sure you get in there before it flies out the door, or organise a return visit to try more culinary gems from this Surry Hills up and comer.
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