When we think of Indian food in Australia, often traditional hearty dishes come to mind like butter chicken, tikka masala and of course curries. But with new modern restaurants popping up across the country, it’s time to say hello to the next generation of Indian food.
Just off Melbourne’s iconic Flinders Lane on Duckboard Place, amongst walls of graffiti, is Tonka.
A modern take on Indian food, Tonka celebrates some of the most vibrant flavours and cooking techniques of this wonderful cuisine with a creative twist.
Tonka’s restaurant design is smart and simple. The walkway into the dining room passes the bar and open kitchen, which looks busy and is filling the restaurant with some amazing aromas. The dining space is bright, with windows overlooking Flinders railway lines. The restaurant design is built on shades of brown and grey and features an impressive ceiling installation of steel mesh floating above you like clouds in the sky.
The menu is also very vibrant and creative. Executive Chef Adam D’Sylva has channeled his Indian heritage and is joined by Head Chef, Mumbai born Ved Navghare. They have created dishes using traditional Indian recipes but you can tell they have had a lot of fun adding a modern touch. Two Tandoor ovens, operated by Tandoor trained experts, are the stars of the kitchen.
Designed for sharing, there is something for everyone on the menu. The problem with this menu? There are so many great dishes you want to try – you really are spoilt for choice! I recommend getting a big group together so you can try as many dishes as possible.
The spanner crab salad with puffed rice, green mango, peanuts, coriander and green chilli ($22) is a beautiful bright dish. The chilli and mango are fresh, bold flavours that bounce off one another. I like the way they plate the spanner crab on top of the puffed rice rather than mixing it in allowing you to enjoy the full flavour of the crab. The peanuts were also a great crunchy addition to this dish.
We ordered a bottle of red but the Sommelier kindly gives us a complimentary glass of crisp Riesling to try with the puffed rice salad. The citrus flavours in the wine are a perfect match with the mango and green chilli in the salad!
The mustard chicken tikka from the tandoor oven with radicchio and puffed Quinoa ($8.5 each) is a dish to be eaten with your hands. These were a standout for me. The mustard marinade is creamy yet packed with flavour. The tandoor oven coats the chicken with crunchy orange layer without overcooking it inside. These pieces of chicken are the perfect snack – full of flavour, they leave you wanting more.
Also cooked in the tandoor, the Petuna Ocean Trout ($38) is incredible with a wonderful smokiness right through the fish that falls apart as soon as the crisp outer layer is cut open. The ocean trout is also served with a crispy salad on the side.
The side of fried cauliflower with garam masala salt, fenugreek and yogurt dressing ($10) is another adventurous dish! Who would have thought adding yoghurt to cauliflower could taste so good.
There are also some excellent more classic Indian dishes on the menu including Avani’s lamb curry with roasted coconut, black cardamom and white poppy seeds. We ordered a half serve and it was perfect for two people to share.
Tonka’s dal with black lentils, kashmiri chilli and smoked garam masala butter ($10) is beautiful and buttery and perfect with the curry.
The dessert menu is one of the most interesting I have ever seen! Dishes include the Tonka carrot cake, carrot halwa, cream cheese ice cream, whipped mascapone, apricot coulis and cinnamon walnut crumble ($18), roasted cocoa sorbet, pineapple lime chat masala sorbet, cardamon chavde and macadamia brittle ($18) as well as a spiced apple souffle, caramel powder and chai ice cream, ($20). Next time I will definitely need to save some room for dessert!
The final say
Standout dish – Mustard chicken tikka from the tandoor oven with radicchio and puffed Quinoa ($8.5 each)
Positives – Great Indian flavours, fun menu to share and great space. Also very affordable
Negatives – There are so many great things on this menu, you really are spoilt for choice
Opening hours – Open Monday to Saturday
Lunch Midday – 3pm
Dinner 6pm to late
Address – 20 Duckbaord Place Melbourne