Horn PleaseApril 14, 2013
Desperate to escape the the library and gasping for some fresh air and social conversation, I asked (coerced) H and D into having dinner with me at Horn Please last Friday night. H in particular wanted to go to an African place in Footscray, which I’ve promised we’ll visit next time, and now that it’s published on the internet I have no choice but to uphold my word so expect a post on African food in the coming months. For now though, Indian will have to do: Horn, Please!
Having opened in the last year, Horn Please is owned by the lovely couple behind the Dhaba at the Mill in Kyneton, and the ever-roaming Dhaba food truck, Jessi and Jennifer Singh. The idea was mid-priced, accessible Indian street food without the oil slick and with more than a touch of sophistication. And the outcome is pretty damn good, I must say.
The menu is a good length – long enough for there to be variety, not too long to be overwhelming. They also rotate through different curries depending on what’s seasonal or best in produce, most meats being sourced from the Macedon Ranges.
D and H, in true manly form, were happy for me to order for the table. If you’re looking for something to munch on with your beers before dinner, look no further than a bowl of Papdi Chat, India’s answer to nachos. I was expecting a hot dish but this is room temperature, a slightly spicy yet refreshing bowl of papadum chips, chickpeas, salsa, raita and pomegranate pods. Great for a nibble before the main event.
A quick word about serving sizes. When I asked the waitress if three curries was a good amount, she very strongly suggested that was too much and we should get two curries and some rice between the three of us. But I have to say, and I don’t think I’m being a glutton here, that one more dish wouldn’t have gone astray – the serving sizes are not huge and I would recommend, perhaps not a third meat curry, but a vegetable dish. When our mains were delivered we ordered a serve of the dhal and it arrived shortly afterwards.
The dhal, a southern indian version with yellow lentils, was cooked al dente, such that the lentils had a slight bite to them. I don’t think this was a good or a bad thing, I’m just used to a softer, stewed texture, so this was a new experience for me. With mustard seeds, ginger, and a strong taste of turmeric, this was one of the lightest dhals I’ve had and I wouldn’t have minded seeing a little more conviction from the spices. A tad drab compared to the curries.
The lamb Rogan Josh was a great success – beautifully tender meat, with the true flavour of the lamb coming through, underscored by the aromatic flavours of fennel, clove and cardamon. A goat curry was also good and they (mostly) succeeded in keeping the goat tender. The two curries were visually indistinguishable but the goat tasted quite different; a stronger and more acidic curry with a chilli kick.
You can’t go wrong finishing your meal with a round of homemade kulfi ice creams. Even D, who doesn’t like dessert (weirdo), enjoyed these. They’re like chai tea in ice cream form, poured and then set into metal cylinders, these are slightly sweet and intensely flavoursome with cardamon, clove, cinnamon and honey. Simply wonderful.
So what did I think? At times it felt like your local Indian joint: the help-yourself beer fridge, the comfort of spicy and complex curry, the pull and stretch of the garlic naan. At times it felt like something quite different: the provenance and high quality of the ingredients, the aesthetic pleasure of a table full of beaten copper pots, the undeniably trendy atmosphere and the price point belying your expectations of Indian food.
Old-age Bollywood movies projected onto one wall and a host of regal looking portraits from the Punjab remind you of the genesis of these dishes, the history and the culture of the cuisine, even if North Fitzroy and the Edinburgh gardens seem miles away from Rogan Josh and Vindaloo.
This is good Indian, but not like you’ve seen it before.
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