Proving roses can bloom in the most unexpected of areas, the gentrification and development of an area that was once home to more brothels than you could shake your stick at has been given yet another nudge in the right direction – as Fort Lane welcomes Cassia to the mix.
Inhabiting an underground hidey hole just up the street from Everybody's and Roxy, Cassia is the brainchild of Sid Sahrawat, the clever fellow behind Sidart (named Restaurant of the Year in 2014). Sid, an incredibly talented gastronomical mastermind, has sought to create a tastefully appointed and modern yet casually relaxed Indian eatery – and it's unlike any Bharat-esque experience you'll have encountered to date (in the good way).
Drawing inspiration from his deep affinity and love for the food of his native India and passion for New Zealand produce, the result is nothing short of spectacular – with a unique fusion and philosophy described (very accurately) by the marketing materials as, "the marriage of seasonal New Zealand ingredients with the flavours and cooking techniques of India creating refined Indian dishes that challenge traditional notions of Indian cuisine."
Our group having never, alas, experienced Indian cuisine from India we cannot in all truthfulness gauge this claim – however we can tell you the flavours, fusions and unique combinations are like nothing we've enjoyed to date. Duck and kumara with lychee? Lamb chops with fenugreek and coconut chutney? Fennel brioche sliders with caramelised chicken?
Ye gods, the flavour combinations and use of Indian herbs and spices are to die for. Mouth-watering and impactful while not overpowering the classic tastes on offer, the dishes elements instead complement each other and prove that substantial planning and development has gone in to the creation of this menu.
However, these courses are just a few of the taste sensations on offer - the menu features many more options, including a suitably heavy nod to fresh New Zealand seafood (soft shell crab with pickled cucumber, carrot puree and cumin salt anyone?), delectable desserts and other side delights - with all dishes best considered and consumed with friends in a shared setting for maximum gustatory and olfactory overload.
To match your food, the ever talented Barney Toy, formerly of Fukuko and winner of best bartender at the Lewisham Awards 2014, has developed what could only be considered an incredibly eclectic and successful list of Indian-flavour inspired beverages that provide something new for everyone. Where else could you experience a 'Cardamom Old Fashioned' with cardamom bitters, or a mango lassi-inspired gin fizz?
Finally to note is the fit out – modern yet intimate (with private dining rooms available), and depending on your location in the long, low and warmly-lit interior (take a barstool for this option) spots can be found where dishes are prepared before your eyes in the open plan kitchen – tantalisingly so as you see traditional Indian cooking practises in use, like the clay oven where all meats are cooked in the tandoor style.
In short, if you've ever enjoyed an Indian dish in your life, Cassia is a must-visit new twist and fresh take on a cultural offering that has become a steadfast element of New Zealand dining.