Let me start at the end because I am still dreaming of the flavours that we finished our meal with last night at Urban Turban. They make their own ice-cream at this Indian restaurant down on North Wharf. The trio of flavours was so wildly fantastic that each mouthful took me and my friend by surprise.
First was the fresh mango, which burst with sweet exotic coolness. Then I dipped my spoon into the soft sphere of pastel pink - aah, the perfumed scent of rose. Extraordinary. But it was the last flavour that brought tears to my eyes, such was the wave of longing for the mysterious, incense-laden India that each mouthful evoked. Paan, from the betel-nut leaf, lends a pistachio green colour to the ice-cream and a flavour that is almost medicinal in quality but much more magical and aromatic, a heady mix, almost not of this earth, much like the great country herself. Sigh.
Now, let's go back to the start, which started with tears but of a different kind. Our early arrival seemed to coincide with the chefs frying off their chillies which had us coughing and spluttering, with eyes watering, in a matter of seconds. Urban Turban do prepare nearly everything from scratch - the spice pastes, curry bases, poppadums, naan and, of course, the ice-cream.
We ignored the right-hand side of the menu (a travesty of pizza and burgers, albeit with an Indian theme) and turned our attention to the Bombay "tapas", surely the most misused word on menus these days.
Ginger prawns came out piping hot, big and juicy, smothered in a rich paste of fresh ginger, on a bed of slaw-like salad that did a great job of cooling our tongues after the spiciness of the dish. Chicken tikka was the usual - succulent, orange, slightly soured with lemon juice pieces of chicken cooked in the tandoor oven and served with a sprightly minted yoghurt dipping sauce - and dahi puri, those cute little puffs stuffed with potatoes, yoghurt and spices, were the flavour bursts they were billed as. These are a favourite street snack of mine in India and popping them whole in your mouth is a texture and taste sensation of minty, tamarind-sour hot and cold.
They have an interesting offering with their curries at Urban Turban - they're served bottomless meaning that you can have a refill as many times as you wish. Though we adored them, we struggled to even finish our first bowls but our waitress told us that "hungry young people sometimes get three or four refills". The coastal fish curry was rich with coconut cream and coconut flesh, giving it a marvellous texture, the accompanying naan soft like a pillow, blistered and charred and a pile of basmati was splendidly fragrant. Our steaming bowl of lamb masala was full of tanginess, with plenty of chunks of lean lamb immersed in the thick spicy gravy.
Not everything at this restaurant is as fabulous as the food though. The ambience is left wanting, due mostly to an unoriginal fit-out that offers little reminder of anything related to India or street food and a sound system that during the evening pumped out a range of desperate and disparate tracks. The other aspect that lets them down is their well-meaning but unsure and under-trained staff - I felt nervous on their behalf. So on balance, I'd return for the food at Urban Turban of a balmy evening. It's worth it for the ice-cream alone.
From the menu: Ginger prawns $16, chicken tikka $14, flavour bursts (dahi puri) $8, coastal fish curry $25, Bombay lamb masala $25, poppadum cones $5, home-made ice-cream $9, paan shot $2.50.
Drinks: Fully licensed