Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Curry Devotees Should Convene At Times Of India

By Jesse Mulligan
The chicken tandoori and dahi puri on the menu at the new Times of India restaurant in Auckland's city centre. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Indian

Address: 21 Graham St, central city

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: (09) 300 7144

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Dahi puri $12; vada pau $8ea; vege manchuriyan $20; garlic malai chicken $32; bhuna gosht goat $38; carrot halwa $18

Rating: 17/20

Score: Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

Everybody’s rightly excited about the opening of Cassia in its new, watertight home but there is another Indian restaurant on Federal St with a story worth telling.

A few years ago I visited 1947, an upmarket eatery opposite the Rydges Hotel occupying a space recently vacated by Miami Grill, owned by the rapper Pitbull (look it up). It showed great promise and delivered something in the sweet spot between suburban curry joint and Indian fine dining.

There were some familiar dishes but they were cooked from scratch and served on fancy dinner plates by staff who were engaged and happy.

I love Sandringham as much as the next curry hound but there’s also something appealing about eating somewhere with mood lighting and thoughtful music and a glass of wine that tastes like it was made with grapes.

The dining room at Times of India restaurant is charming mix of thoughtful music and mood lighting. Photo / Babiche Martens
The dining room at Times of India restaurant is charming mix of thoughtful music and mood lighting. Photo / Babiche Martens

I wasn’t the only person who liked 1947, and though it is in a spot with approximately as much foot traffic as Watchman Island, word has got around. The owner tells me they’re now serving 2000 people each week, and that the new Times of India is designed partly as a spillover space.

If that’s true there is no sense of it when you walk in. This feels like a new, unaffiliated restaurant with its own charm — a glowing glass box at the end of a street that gets pretty dark once the journos and DJs at NZME go home to bed.

There were few enough customers that we were all served well by two waiters, French, who had just that morning done a full menu tasting and were ready to offer their advice.

The menu looked so good that I would have loved a “feast” option — to put my feet up and be served a rolling selection of the chefs’ favourite things — but with that lazy option unavailable I manned up and picked something from each section: snacks, small plates, tandoor meats and “from the pot”.

(This ordering process was made more pleasant by the wine I was drinking: a Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc which I almost never see offered by the glass. If you see it, grab it — it tastes nothing like a New Zealand sauv (in a good way) and shows how wonderfully different that varietal can be, with touch of oak and some careful treatment.)

The dahi puri. Photo / Babiche Martens
The dahi puri. Photo / Babiche Martens

Our waiter and I almost fell out over the dahi puri, which are insanely good (a pastry shell filled with coriander, mint, rose water and potato, it’s a classic dish that I’ve never had better than it is here). The standard order comes with three portions but you can order an extra one for $5.

Given there were two of us this would have made sense but I didn’t do it — then, when I realised my mistake and asked for “one more”, they brought me another set of three. I don’t blame them for this, though they probably should have taken the hit rather than return to my table and point out (very nicely) that you can order three or four, but not three, then one.*

I sometimes regret when I accidentally order a Chinese-Indian dish — those big bits of onion and chilli flavours are fine when you’re expecting them, but if you go out for a curry, you want a curry — but I think the manchuriyan kofta was my favourite dish of the night. It’s difficult to describe, but was a mix of vegetarian ingredients, cubed and deep fried until the outside had that stretchy squeak, then glazed in the most incredible spicy, tangy sauce.

The chicken tandoori. Photo / Babiche Martens
The chicken tandoori. Photo / Babiche Martens

There wasn’t a dud dish all night — the chicken malai was boneless thighs baked in the tandoor, served with a light, creamy gravy and mint sauce; vada pau is a dish I always order since trying it at Ponsonby’s Mumbaiwala and though Times of India might only earn the silver medal for their version, there’s no world in which you won’t enjoy spicy fried potato patties inside a soft bread slider.

I interviewed Sid Sahrawat recently and asked him his favourite curry. His answer was bone-in goat and, now I know that, I can’t help but order it myself when I get the opportunity.

I didn’t regret it here. The bones are small joints rather than huge knees and knuckles so they’re easily navigated, and the bhuna gosht gravy is a winner: a dark North Indian curry where as little water as possible is added during cooking so the end result is dry and intense, but the meat is fall-apart tender and there’s enough sauce to make use of any bread you order with it.

I don’t have space to dwell on the carrot halwa except to say you should definitely try it if you’re a sweet tooth — it’s intense and uniquely textured and perfect paired with a scoop of something creamy (vanilla ice cream here, but mascarpone works too).

The carrot halwa. Photo / Babiche Martens
The carrot halwa. Photo / Babiche Martens

The owner showed up as we were leaving, recognised me and tried to pay my bill. Unfortunately this was a breach of my strict, mostly-made-up-on-the-spot code of conduct, so I declined his offer, he insisted and the two of us were forced to tussle over my credit card while the poor waiter tried to mediate (being French, I presume he did some compulsory national training in emotional three-way arguments, but still).

Anway, I won the battle and, having paid with my own money, can now say with integrity that this place rules.

*Since time of writing I’ve shared this anecdote with 10 different people and zero of them think that I’m the one in the right.

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