60 Federal St, Auckland
(09) 377 0033
Have you noticed how so many Indian restaurant menus say one dish has "masala spices", another has "Indian spices" and a third "special spices", but they're pretty much impossible to tell apart? Me too.
Mughlai (broadly, north Indian) food in New Zealand is notable mainly for its bland sameness, as anyone who has exulted in the wonderful food found everywhere in India will tell you. The dishes most Indian restaurants here serve were cooked before you had decided to eat there, much less booked. At the last minute they spruce it up, usually in the microwave, with some frozen veges and it's good to go.
At 1947, by contrast, almost everything (the lamb shanks, of which more below, must have started at dawn) is cooked from scratch. We waited 20 minutes (and we were warned as much) before the first dishes came out. But it was food worth waiting for.
The newest Indian restaurant in town has a resonant name: this year (at midnight on August 14) is the 70th anniversary of Partition, which with much bloodshed, marked the end of the Raj and the beginning of an independent India.
Co-owners Angela Gaikwad, Harry Singh and Areeb Taimoori, don't have form in Indian restaurants, which may explain why they are not playing everyone else's game. She's a former teacher, and the two chaps are in IT and they've assembled a team of people who exude vigour and joy.
In the large room, with mostly long wooden tables set up for groups (utensils in table-top tins and so on), an auto rickshaw features prominently, but the rest is hip Auckland, low-lit and welcoming and the bar looks like it belongs in a classy nightclub. In lieu of sitars on endless loop, the PA pours out Top 40 songs, including one that featured the word "bitch" a bit too much, but at least it's not too loud.
But it is the food that puts this place in a different league from your bog-standard Indian. One detects little "Chindian" touches - the veg Manchurian are miraculously crisp balls of cabbage and carrot, drenched in soy sauce but with a decent chilli kick.
But more familiar names and techniques proliferate: aloo paratha (pea-and potato- stuffed flat breads) are a great wrapping for pickle and yoghurt, and dahl kebab (veg patties crammed with cream cheese and yoghurt explode softly in the mouth).
One of our number was attracted by lamb shanks, which I thought a bit of a curryphobic cop-out until I tasted them. The slow-cooked style is called nihari, which, I read, is a name for a dish traditionally eaten for breakfast before going to have a nap until afternoon prayers (no wonder I took such a liking to it). The peppery gravy's taste was deep and complex and danced over the palate in successive waves, and the yeasty khameeri naan that came with it was just the ticket for mopping up the last traces.
The food that comes out of the coal-fired tandoor tastes of the process: knockout lamb chops; the eggplant, smokily baked and then mashed. Like the naan breads, they have the scent of traditional food made with love, rather than secured on industrial scale and processed for the plate.
There are super-mild choices for those who frighten easily and two biryani which we'll return to try soon, but this place is a real find: an Indian eatery that reminds you of the first time you tasted - really tasted - Indian food.