If you haven’t heard about Tonka yet, you may need to get out from under your rock.
This new venture by Coda chef Adam D’Sylva which opened in March has already claimed itself a hat and been listed as a ‘hot and new’ restaurant in the Age’s 2014 Good Food Guide. Tonka’s modern, fine-dining take on Indian food is one of a kind in Melbourne and has certainly captured everyone’s interest.
I found myself quite taken with the decor; wire mesh had been twisted and curled across the ceiling and strategically lit, resembling clouds. Perhaps Cumulus Inc should do this too? (Geddit, cumulus, clouds… Ok, I’ll stop).
The front of the restaurant consisted of bar-like stool seating, while further back there were seated tables in front of a large, open window with a leafy view out over Flinders street.
(Also, spotted: Adam himself, at the bar, in the white shirt.)
The menu, which was divided into ‘Smaller’ and ‘Bigger’, was a little hard to negotiate on our own. Our waiter suggested ordering 2-3 of the smaller ‘Smaller’ dishes each and then sharing 2-3 of the bigger ‘Smaller’ dishes and 2-3 of the ‘Bigger’ dishes (just take a moment to read through that again. Got it? Yep).
I’d heard many things about the pani puri, so we got one each ($4.50).
These crispy parcels were filled with spiced potato, mung beans, and date and tamarind chutney. They were served with a little bottle of ‘aromatic water’, which was to be sprinkled over the parcel immediately before eating as otherwise the delicate pastry would disintegrate. The parcel had a perfect balance of flavours and textures, finishing with a nice spicy kick. Very moreish.
Smoked trout betel leaf ($6)
The peppery leaf balanced well with the fresh, fragrant mix of smoked trout, fresh grapefruit, coconut, chilli and kaffir lime.
Soft-shell crab pakora ($8.50)
I couldn’t help but steal a bit of Bob’s dish. I’m used to eating soft-shell crab tempura-style, so it was interesting having it in a chickpea flour batter instead. Crispy, meaty and delicious.
Crispy calamari salad ($20)
The calamari was presented with a mountain of apple matchsticks, coriander and mint tossed in a creamy green mango dressing. This was probably the least impressive dish. The calamari only had a thin flour coating, which wasn’t really enough to make it ‘crispy’. The fact that it was sitting underneath the salad didn’t help either. The dressing, which had pooled around the bottom, was extremely sour and a bit overpowering when we got to the bottom of the dish. Perhaps we should have mixed it through first?
We couldn’t help but be intrigued by Tonka’s take on the burrata, which was one of the more obviously non-traditional items on the menu. This creamy ball of mozzarella, often served with basil and fresh bread,was presented here with its south Asian counterparts coriander and roti. Slightly unusual but nevertheless satisfying.
Pork belly ($18)
Spice-rubbed, chargrilled pork belly and buttery Kashmiri cabbage were topped with peanuts, crispy slivers of salty crackling and pickled radish. The fatty layer melted in the mouth perfectly, contrasted nicely by the crunch of the peanut and crackling topping.
Rajasthani duck ($38)
The duck was amazing. I eat a lot of duck, both out and at home, but I would be willing to go so far as to claim this some of the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It came easily off the bone and was beautifully soft and tender. The punchy, fiery sauce was neutralised slightly by the accompaniments of cucumber, mint and buffalo milk curd.
‘Pindi Chana’ chickpea curry ($20.00)
The chickpeas were tender yet firm, sitting in a slightly sweet and and rather spicy base. Some of us were quite thankful that they had supplied us with a little bowl of raita. The chickpea curry also came with bhature puri bread, which was a large, hollow, yeasty-tasting puff. For some reason I had a brain melt on the night and took a photo of the naan bread instead. I know you’ve all had naan before, but here’s a photo anyway.
Roasted banana parfait ($17)
I immediately suspected that the banana parfait with chocolate mousse, salted caramel and candied popcorn would be extremely popular, given its inclusion of on-trend, crowd-pleasing flavours. I was right: my three fellow diners all chose it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; the creamy parfait had a fantastic roasted banana flavour and of course all the flavours worked together. I was quite tempted by it myself. In the end, however, I decided to be a bit more interesting.
Ginger cake ($16)
Not wanting to neglect the other dessert options, I chose the ginger cake. It wasn’t overly strong or bitey; it was more like gingerbread in flavour, which I quite liked. The caramel and Darjeeling tea-flavoured custard went well with it and the milky sorbet helped to balance out the sweetness. The blood orange added freshness and a little tartness into the mix. A lovely dessert, which I hope gets ordered more rather than being overshadowed by its popular chocolaty neighbour.
Believe the hype.
Going in I was a bit wary of pricing and portion sizes based on what I had read on urbanspoon, however the food bill for the four of us only totalled $224.60, or around $56 a head, and we were pretty full. I know not everyone likes to spend as much on food as I do, so for many this would understandably fall into the ‘special occasion’ category. As fine dining goes though, $56 is pretty good for what you’re getting! I’m starting to think that perhaps a few people went there expecting butter chicken and BYO.
The food here may not be authentic, but that’s not the point. Clearly a place that puts burrata on the menu is not trying to be authentic. It’s modern, it’s interesting, it’s a new way to eat Indian. And I like it.Tonka 20 Duckboard Place Melbourne