When owner Vinay invited me to come and road test Darbar’s food I was skeptical.
So I asked Vinay to tell me – what makes Darbar different and why would people choose Darbar ahead of the many other Indian restaurants in Canberra?
But, Vinay kept telling me to let the food speak for itself. And he also mentioned that I might want to call in some friends as he wanted me to taste a whole feast of Darbar’s dishes.
I’m so glad I did (and so were my lucky friends) as we were quickly transported from this unassuming Lonsdale Street eatery to a bliss of sophisticated, complex flavours wrapped around, stuffed and infused through tender, succulent meats and carried by creamy, rich and full flavoured sauces. As Glenn, a local Braddonite told me, he dines at Darbar several times a week and could happily just enjoy the sauces and breads they are so wonderful.
It’s actually very hard to pick favourites from our feast. For the first time ever, I can say, every dish is a true winner. And very happily, the menu is extensive, so trying something different each visit is definitely the way to go.
Darbar’s specialty is modern Indian fusion style so the menu features some very special unique dishes like Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, a spice marinated Tasmanian salmon fillet, Bamboo charcoal Tuna Fish , Beetroot Bonda, Prawn Vepadu and slow cooked,spiced Desi Lamb Shanks.
But Vinay also wants to do the favourites like Butter Chicken, Chicken 65 and Marsala Dosa better than anyone else – and he does!!
Then there are also the famous regional dishes that reflect Vinay’s heritage like the Gutti Vankai -baby stuffed eggplants in a dreamy cashew nut sauce and the Bezawada Railway Goat Curry (more about that later).
But let me share our amazingly delicious journey with you.
We started with the Spicy Potato Salad served complimentary to diners along with mint sauce and pappadoms.
This was my first inkling that this was no ordinary Indian restaurant. The mint sauce was thick and rich like none before and the garam marsala spicing of the potato salad had a depth and complexity that I just wasn’t expecting from this simple first course.
Then came the vegetarian entrees, first the Indo-Italian fusion Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, filled with spiced vegetables and a touch of cheese – I really did enjoy these – $13 for a serve of 4.
Followed by Darbar’s signature entree dish – Darbar Chaat, crispy spinach pakora on rice with sweet yogurt, which was the best version of Palak Papdi Chaat I’ve enjoyed and beautifully decorated with with tamarind, mint and tomato sauces – $12
Next came the Masala Dosai – a thin crisp, golden brown rice pancake rolled with spiced potato masala & served with coconut and tomato chutneys and sambar.
Now I’ve eaten many Marsala Dosas, both in Australia and India, but I can’t remember one better than this! The spicing again was careful and wonderful! I loved this too especially the fresh curry leaves $16.
Then came the non-vegetarian entrees – my favourite (and most of our table’s) was the Bamboo charcoal Tuna Fish – fresh tuna, simmered with mustard seed, pepper, garam masala, mint leaf and methi and fried with bamboo charcoal infused corn starch – just so delicious $15
Then Prawn Vepudu – King Sized prawns pan fried in spicy lentil powder, curry leaves, garam masala, cracked pepper, onions and fresh coriander – yummy – three pieces for $17
And Darbar’s Chicken 65 – (traditionally a 65 day old chicken) marinated in exotic spices, lemon juice and deep fried, tossed with curry leaf, fenugreek powder and coriander served with lemon and Spanish onion. Just as Viany promised this was the most tender, succulent and full spiced version of this dish I’ve had – $14
I loved darbar’s version of Butter Chicken – Tandoori Grilled chicken simmered in spiced butter fenugreek and kasoori methi leaves masala gravy with honey and pepper. Again this was tender, beautifully and deeply spiced and just the best! $19
The Bezawada Railway Goat Curry is named after Vinay’s home town near Hyderabad, a large railway junction and one of the many famous for serving Goat Curry. The diced goat is slowly cooked in an unusual but smooth and medium spiced garam masala flavoured with onion, cumin, fenugreek seeds and fresh curry leaves – very excellent! $21
We were wowed by the Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani – basmati rice cooked dum style with chicken, herbs and spices in a poppy seed gravy and covered in the traditional way with pastry to seal the natural flavours along with coconut milk, mint, saffron and rose water $21
The Lamb Chops were also truly beautifully tender lamb cutlets marinated in Kashmiri spices, roasted in Tandoor Oven $22 for a serve of 5.
Also very delicious was the secret recipe Desi Lamb Shanks – 8 hours slow cooked lamb shanks with whole spices, shallots, carrot, garlic cloves and tomatoes, served on a bed of potato mash $22
Another favourite of our table and a traditional regional dish was the Gutti Vankai – stuffed whole baby eggplant (Brinjal) in a ground paste of cashew, peanut, sesame and coconut cooked in the Hyderabadi style $18
I loved the Laccha Paratha bread – soft and flakey $4.50..
…but the Cheese Naan $5 was excellent too.
Vinay has done his research well, wanting to offer competitive prices that are great value for generous serve sizes (great for sharing) and even a better deal with the 15-20% discounts offered on the website.
BYO wine corkage is $3.50 per person but there’s also an extensive wine list with wine by the glass thoughtfully starting at $7
So there’s everything here from a ‘Just Feed Me’ gourmet banquet like we had, to a budget friendly under $20 dinner for two (share an entree, main, bread and rice, BYO your wine and use the discount), to a group menu for twelve under $20 a person including corkage….
3 x Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (12 pieces)
3 x Gutti Vankai
3 x Desi Lamb Shanks
3 x Butter Chicken
6 x Saffron Basmati rice
6 x Laccha Paratha
Do check out the amazing catering packages on the website that are excellent value, starting at $15 per person for three courses with sides.
And the Banquet menu looks good too…
And also consider the Tuesday to Friday lunch specials, equally great value.
The team are a warm and friendly bunch who have come together from various parts of the world with great pride and quiet dedication to serving Canberra these consistently gorgeous dishes.
Vinay from Bezawada, also owns the well regarded Darbar Restaurant in Glebe and more casual Swagath in Wentworthville. His favourites are the Bezawada Goat Curry, Chicken 65, Chicken Biriyani, Lamb Chops and Garlic Naan.
Hari is from Hyderabad so he loves the Chicken Biriyani, but also the Chicken 65, Goat Curry and Peshwari (fruit and nut stuffed) Naan.
Suraj from Nepal is head chef and his favourites are the Jal Pari Hariyali and Chicken Chat Pat.
Raja from Sri Lanka likes the Bamboo Charcoal Tuna Fish best.
Nina has joined the team from Germany and Vamsi (who missed the photo) is also from Bezawada enjoys the Gutti Vanaki – stuffed eggplant, best.
And Glenn’s favourite dish is the Prawn & Scallop Lababdar – King size prawns and scallops cooked to perfection in a delicate sauce based on fresh tomatoes, ginger and shallots, flavoured with coriander and fenugreek $21 (Glenn just gets all prawns, but you can also just have all scallops).
Everything Vinay told me was true! He has every reason to claim Darbar as the best Indian food in Canberra!
I arrived as a skeptic, but left a true believer!
Parking is easy after 6pm either in the lane behind the restaurant (also great for picking up takeway) or underneath.
Open 7 Days:
Dinner: 5:30PM to 10:00PM
Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch: 12:00PM to 2:30PM
Dinner: 5:30PM to 10:00PM
Friday & Saturday
Dinner served up to 11:00PM