If you find yourself ambling outside the Ivy on George Street, you may spot a new addition: an understated neon sign stamped with the white letters I-N-D-U. Suspended over a large window which looks down onto two chefs busily cracking coconuts and preparing fresh paratha, you might need to fight the urge to throw a rock through the window and clamber down over them in a fit of hungry rage. But rather, walk around the corner to Angel Place and take a turn before China Lane. From here, head through a small door, and follow your nose down a few flights of dimly lit stairs.
This is Indu, and entering it is an immediate sensory explosion. The ambient space is toasty warm and bustling (and not unlike a cool old-timey opium den), the air is heavy with the aromas of spice, fresh seafood and coconut sugar, and the soundtrack for the evening is the ultimate mixtape of The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin.
The restaurant, which takes its inspiration from the southern coastal regions of India, is owned by doctor, philanthropist and all-round hero Sam Prince. He decided to open the venue after doing aid work in the area. "Myself and others were doing a lot of work in medical aid in Sri Lanka and India," he says. "At the time it was very rewarding, although the villagers couldn't pay us with any money. They always paid us by taking us to their homes and putting on an amazing spread…It just dawned on me that you can't really experience this food anywhere else in the world."
Creating a similarly new experience back here in Sydney, Indu's menu is refreshing, totally innovative and surprisingly light — a far cry from the heavy Indian curries that characterise most Indian restaurants in the city. But traditionalists, don't be dismayed! Fan favourites like Goan curry still get a look in, but it's the inclusion of new flavours like smoked goat's leg dosa topped with bacon and chilli jam ($18) that signify Indu's chefs aren't afraid to mix things up. As head chef Bimal Kumar told us: "If I wanted to cook straight Indian, I would've stayed in India."
The pan-seared scallops served with tempered curd and adorned with smoked coconut ($19) were perfectly cooked, however the delicate flavour of the scallop was a little overpowered by the intensity of the curry. As for mains, the aforementioned Goan pork belly curry ($29) was a creamy, spicy concoction of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Its chilli game was pretty strong, but, as chilli's bitch, I can testify that this dish is definitely worth crying out the nose for. For something less spicy, 'The Great' lamb raan — marinated and slow-roasted over 48 hours — comes served alongside a cool mint chutney, and the watermelon salad tossed with mint, cucumber, and generous dollops of hung yoghurt provides the ultimate recovery from a chilli assault.
The cocktail menu is adorned with an adorable photo of Ringo Starr and boasts an extensive list of particularly beguiling cocktails. Standouts were the Kerala Kolada — a cool blend of spiced rum, coconut and chai syrup and coconut sorbet ($19) — or the Chennai Chiller: gin muddled with mixed berries, basil and curry leaves ($18). If you prefer a more traditional drop, they've sassed up their Negroni with a little garam masala.
If you're feeling stuffed after all that, the watermelon and fresh mint popsicle ($6) is the dessert equivalent of curling up in the shade and having your stomach gently rubbed. But if you you do have the stomach real estate to muster a sweeter dish, the gulab jamun ($16) — deep fried dough balls rolled in coconut sand, and served with saffron anglaise — is definitely not one to miss. Designed for those with a sweet tooth, this dish is the perfect culinary representation of the traditional meeting the modern; the mountainous Kashmiri honeycomb chards that stud the dessert had a mature, slightly burned flavour that were totally moreish. Let's just say, you'll be glad to have them stuck in your teeth on the ride home.