The intoxicating smell of freshly roasted spices is a lingering first impression of Zaika.

Zaika

14:19:PM 01/07/2010
Leanne Tolra

Lamb korma and saffron rice.
Lamb korma and saffron rice.
Sunny Singh and his wife, Dimple, know their restaurant is hardly in an exotic location. But Beaumaris is home, the customers are loyal and their business is popular.

Singh’s quality training, from hotel management in Bombay and stints with international airlines, to London and the city’s 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 that’s not for lack of inspiration on the chef’s 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.

Singh’s 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.

It’s 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.

Singh’s 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.

It’s served either medium or hot, but that’s 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 don’t want anything else’. So I give them what they want.”

Verdict

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 chef’s 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, it’s a quick dinner grab and a rapid dash back to more familiar territory.

Eat this

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

Web www.zaikaindian.com.au

Yes, Zaika’s 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 décor’s backbone, but there’s 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 don’t 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.

Zaika on Urbanspoon


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