Singhs quality training, from hotel management in Bombay and stints with international airlines, to London and the citys Bombay Brasserie, is obvious.
He arrived in Australia in the late 1990s, working first at the then Carlton Crest Hotel and later ezard at Adelphi.
His experiences show in the authentic Sikh food and the confident, polished fusion dishes on offer. They are probably the reason Zaika, which means taste, has lasted in this quiet location since 2002, often challenging better-known Indian restaurants for acclaim.
The menu has changed little in eight years, but thats not for lack of inspiration on the chefs part. He says his conservative clientele often resist his efforts at experimentation, they prefer his traditional cuisine. But sometimes he sneaks a few specials past the unadventurous, and they stick.
Singhs lamb cutlets a la Zaika, is such a fusion dish French-cut, Australian lamb, cooked Indian style and is a source of pride to the chef.
His secret blend of spices is a combination of his varied kitchen experiences and a definite must-order. The chicken tikka entrée five pieces of tender, boneless chicken grilled in the tandoor is another standout.
Its rich, ruby blush and charred flesh are instantly appealing and the visual explanation for the flavour blast that follows.
Vegetarian entrée dishes are noteworthy too, particularly the chickpea-floured pakoras.
Try the tender onion variety, the delicately battered cauliflower pakora, or the melt-in the-mouth spinach version.
Singhs haryali, or green, chicken curry is renowned too. Its base is created with a blend of green ingredients basil, coriander, lime juice and lime leaves that renders the poultry a moist, tender delicacy.
Its served either medium or hot, but thats a personal preference and is irrelevant to the flavour experience.
The shai lamb korma is mild, velvety marriage of cashews, almonds and yoghurt that will appeal to almost any palate.
Accompaniments such as saffron rice and roti are good supporters for the mains, which are prettily presented in traditional metal dishes.
Singh says some of his regular customers will request his failed specials, such as his cheese-stuffed mushrooms cooked in the tandoor, but mostly they tell him not to bother too much with the fusion cuisine.
People say to me, we come to an Indian restaurant to eat Indian food we dont want anything else. So I give them what they want.
Locals love this unfussy suburban restaurant and frankly would prefer out-of-towners stayed home. But Zaika justifies urban border crossing for its refined traditional northern Indian food and cosseting service. The occasional Western twist inspired by the chefs background and his obvious dedication to quality add enough interest to justify regular forays into beachside Beaumaris. For some, the habit becomes hard to break. For others, its a quick dinner grab and a rapid dash back to more familiar territory.
Zaika, 459 Balcombe Road, Beaumaris
Chef Sunny Singh
Prices Lunches $13-$17; Entrees $9-$20; Mains $16-$20
Open Thursday-Friday 11.30am-2pm; Monday-Sunday 5pm-10pm
Bookings 9589 6677
Yes, Zaikas location is off the beaten track in the quietest part of Beaumaris. And, yes, its interior is very plain. Terracotta walls, beige carpet and glossy brown-painted dado boards are the décors backbone, but theres little more to flesh it out. Upholstered black metal chairs, that boldly say late 1990s, and some framed tourist photographs of India are the few visual diversions. But honestly, the customers dont care. The intoxicating smell of freshly roasted spices cumin, cardamom and cinnamon is a lingering first impression and the luscious ingredients and flavours of the food are the lasting memories. Service is efficient and considerate, with a touch of charming formality that seems to transform the surrounds into a more regal destination.