Satya, Mt Eden

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday rating: 4/5
Address: 57 Mt Eden Road
Phone: (09) 551 1000
Website: satya.co.nz

Satya sticks to a tried and true formula. Photo / Doug Sherring
Satya sticks to a tried and true formula. Photo / Doug Sherring

I told them I didn't want the ballpoint. I hate cheap plastic giveaways. I can't help thinking about the environmental impact of their manufacture and disposal.

And anyway, who needs another pen with the name of a business on it? They just clutter up that drawer in the kitchen where you put things that you can't think of a better place for. And when you actually want a pen it doesn't work and you end up writing the phone number in the dust on the window.

But the folks at Satya's new branch were insistent. "Look," the nice man said, tugging at a tiny metal rod on the side. A small plastic sheet unwound and retracted, like a Lilliputian holland blind. It contained highlights from the menu, contact details for all four (count 'em) branches and a promise that, if I could produce the pen when picking up takeaways, I would get "a free papadam or a surprise free gift".

I can't avoid suspecting that the surprise free gift would be made of plastic. It could even be a pen containing a small plastic sheet that unwinds and retracts ...

well, you get my drift. But I'll never know, because as we were walking back to our cars I showed my mate Tom how the small plastic sheet unwound, and it failed to retract.

The eviscerated pen lies on my desk as I write, its innards curled beside it. I glare at it and wonder how many trees I need to plant before I can justify introducing it into the waste stream.

I wouldn't have thought that Satya needed this sort of promotion. For as long as I can remember it has been the benchmark Indian restaurant operation in town. From humble beginnings in the Sandringham shops, it expanded to Hobson St in a block now demolished.

There, founders Swamy and Padmaja Akuthota presided - she in the kitchen and he at the front of house. It was the second restaurant I reviewed for these pages and I gave it five stars. In hindsight, such a reaction was perhaps intemperate, but I was just so excited to have found an Indian restaurant whose menu ranged beyond butter chicken and lamb rogan josh.

Since then, Satya has expanded - there are branches in Great North Rd and K Rd - and the new branch follows the established recipe: same menu, similar fitout (the ceiling is hidden by drooping swathes of silk).

The Akuthota empire is, like the couple, modest - not like that of a Mughal Shah, not least because the emphasis is on south Indian food. In contrast to the creamier and fattier Persian-influenced mughlai cooking of the north, south Indian food reflects its tropical origins: the tastes are sharper, brighter, lighter - and hotter.

The heat won't frighten you off at Satya (and they will do you that tikka masala just like the Glasgow original). But you'd be much smarter to try the specialties of the house. For me, the starting point always has to be a masala dosa (a crisp pancake, folded over mild potato-and-onion curry and eaten with a fragrant, thick relish of coconut and a bowl of the tomato and lentil soup called sambar).

But my mate Tom, being an American and a Phillies fan, probably thinks a hot dog is exotic so I had to stretch his horizons: I threw in a gingery eggplant curry (coconut and green peas, sensational); prawn done in tomato and coconut, and a lamb curry in the Madras style, with cinnamon and coriander. We washed it down with Kingfisher beer, imported all the way from Papakura where it is made under licence.

The place was pretty quiet when we went but that won't last long: the only other decent place in the neighbourhood is The French Cafe. Have a pint at Galbraith's and stroll down the hill as the sun goes down. But when they offer you the pen, just say no. You can have mine.

Need to know

Value: $

$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)

Also try

Kairali South Indian Restaurant (754 Manukau Rd, Ph 09 624 5859, near the Royal Oak roundabout, is a new arrival that is well spoken of.

- Herald on Sunday

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