Very happily I was proven wrong when Kenny checked out Pandu's, reporting an exciting Indian-Chinese menu at prices guaranteed to make even the saltiest sea dog grin from ear to ear. It closed down and again thanks to Consider the Sauce, we learnt that Mr Pandu would be taking up new deluxe digs where the old Western Mart had been on "Upper Barkly" (if you like).
It was a long time coming but Pandu's is finally open. It's quite quirky inside, with pimpin' cream lounge suites almost levitating on tinted wooden blocks instead of legs.
There are lots of little nooks and kind of "private rooms". I can totally see a Bollywood dance scene happening in here, with the star crooning on the table while big wok flames jump out of the kitchen and a flash mob of bodacious Indian babes start grooving seductively. As it stands, though, the only sound is the hum of the kitchen extraction fan, and the lack of colour makes it feel a bit like a bunker. With some art or other decoration on the walls and a banging sound system, there's great potential here for a very cool hang-out spot.
Indian Chinese is the result of Chinese restauranteurs in India adapting their cuisine for local tastes. According to this quite authoritative article from CNN Go, the Chinese Hakka community has been resident in Calcutta since the 1700s. Thus began the authenticity acrobatics which see migrant communities all over the world begin to adapt traditional recipes for local palates. As author Sanjiv Khamgaonkar puts it, "Quick to figure out that Indians love spicy, oily preparations, the Chinese merely masala-fied and greased their cuisine into a glutinous, winning combination".
That's extremely matter of fact (and rather unappealing) but it's essentially Indian Chinese in a nutshell - take (sometimes vaguely) Chinese recipes like battered chicken and fried rice and add Indian flavours like curry leaves, spices, tomato, chilli, plus a generous helping of soy sauce.
Chilli India, CBDOh, put those eyebrows down! I know it sounds horrible, but I am a big fan. Aangan in West Footscray do great Indian Chinese like gobi Manchurian - battered cauliflower florets in a dark, almost sticky sauce with onion and green capsicum, and Chicken 65 - battered chicken tossed with an intense, spicy red sauce, cashews and glistening green curry leaves. Aangan are known for their Indian Chinese and it's what you'll see many Indian customers enjoying, rather than what we might see as "the classics" like butter chicken and Rogan Josh.
Cashew milk, $3.95
But anyway - onto Pandu's! A liquor licence is in the works, so while waiting we imbibed this homemade cashew milk. Holy Bolly(wood), this was delicious. The honey drizzled down the sides mixed with the cardamom-scented, slightly frothy milk for a cooling taste sensation.
Szechwan chicken, $10.95
Likewise the gobi Manchurian, battered cauli in a moat of sweet brown sauce, lacked that intense flavour punch I covet. Moral - make sure you have your choices "dry" or "without sauce". Check out Kenny's more successful visit for how your dishes should look.
Sometimes I want something but I can't order it because I can't bear to say the words. The very hip "magic" falls into this category - it's a double ristretto in a 3/4 cup and is quite a lovely drink (especially for single origins) but every time I try to say, "I'll have a magic, please", the hipsterese jams in my throat. Likewise, don't you sometimes see things on a menu and have such a giggle that you simply have to have them? Ladies and germs, I give you SEVEN JEWELS OF PANDU'S. This Indian-style fried rice was delicious, each separate grain dusted with turmeric and other spices, and nestling amongst them crunchy almonds, fresh pops of colourful capsicum, juicy egg and nutty nuggets of well-fried chicken. Yummo.
So unfortunately our Pandu's experience wasn't as good as it could have been, but that was probably our fault for not investigating what "sauce" entailed (it's probably served like that because they figured we were having rice and wanted to have lots of sauce to wet the rice - a really southern Indian thing to do). "Indian barbecue" is coming soon, plus the liquor licence. Good on you, Captain Pandu, and looking forward to climbing aboard your love boat again soon!
Pandu's Indo-Chinese Restaurant
351 Barkly Street, Footscray
Phone: 0468 378 789
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